Moving Full Circle With Vampire Weekend’s Chris Tomson: TRI, Phish and Old-School Geeking
You have talked at length about your love of Phish and even some younger jambands like The String Cheese Incident and The Slip. How much of an influence was the Grateful Dead on you and a musician and music fan?
I mean, you saw me jam years [before Vampire Weekend] with The Ripple Effect at Excelsior so you know I was into this scene. I think the Grateful Dead, obviously, have their own aesthetic, but for most people our age, the Grateful Dead are more rooted in the ‘60s cultural mythology and even our parents’ [generation]. My dad was kind of turned off by the whole Deadhead thing of traveling—he wasn’t really part of that world and wasn’t sure what it was all about—but obviously everyone’s got fuckin’ Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, which isn’t the whole thing but for sure. [But even people like my dad] had their other albums, too. I think my dad’s favorite was actually their first [self-titled] album with “Viola Lee Blues.” So I definitely knew them, and they obviously have some stone cold classics that we play next to Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad or whatever on Q104. For me, Phish was the band I had a more personal connection to, obviously, because I could see them live. You feel like you’re there as it’s unfolding and that this thing is happening and that sort of thing. Growing up, I was really into sports and then, sort of got into Phish. I felt really comfortable listening to them and that opened the door to so many different types of music for me.
I think, I personally connected more with Phish at first, but then—as I’m sure any number of people would say—that was definitely a gateway to other types of music. They wear their influences on their sleeve and you kind of say, “Oh that’s cool, and maybe did they get this idea from there, or did they get this from this sort of thing.” Even as just a grand overarching concept, the Grateful Dead is sort of like, if not a stylistic then a conceptual predecessor. So yeah, I think from there I kind of maybe delved more into the live show and tape culture and more, instead of just American Beauty, Terrapin Station and Wake of the Flood and stuff like that.
So for sure, the Grateful Dead I’ve liked for a long time. One of my favorite box sets I’ve ever gotten was The Golden Road, which had their 10 albums.
You have made a point to talk about Phish in interviews and also, as you said, wore a lot shirt on national television. Did you consciously try to say to indie rock fans, “Don’t knock Phish and the Dead.”
I think that pretty much when I wore it on SNL and I kind of flashed it a little bit—I think that was more a pointed moment of something. I’ve always worn it, and I have never worn it in jest. It’s just one of my favorite t-shirts [Laughter.] I think it’s pretty comfortable and I remember I actually got it at a Trey solo show, to be fair. I think it was October 26, 2002 in Lehigh, PA, which I went with my friend Buddy Harem. It’s just a shirt that I’ve worn and always liked. I never really wear it for a specific purpose other than just to wear it.
I’m glad that you gave Trey’s solo band some credit because it does not always get that much credit.
Sorry, I should just call it TAB! [Laughter.]
Trey’s new album features appearances by The National’s Matt Berninger and Bryan Devendorf, Mates of State of other indie rock musicians. Have you ever talked about working with the members of Phish in a more formal context than the TRI Show?
I’ve heard that there’s vague connections and that Trey might be a fan so you never know. It was really nice to meet Mike and I’ve gotten pretty good at playing it cool at this point—I don’t think I really freaked him out, but I was such a huge fan. It was really cool to get to play with him. I’m sure I’m not as talented as some of the drummers he could play with, but I think I did alright.
When Phish first came back in 2009 I think a lot of closest fans come out of the woodwork—both musicians who are playing in other types of bands and professionals who stopped seeing the band for any number of reasons. Now that they have been back for a few years and seem to be here for a while, do you still find yourself listening to them?
I will admit that I probably have six 120-capacity CD binders of mid-90s burned CD shows that I probably haven’t listened to in a few years. But yeah, I still go back, I listen to Ghost, I listen to _ Nectar_. I definitely go back and I really enjoy listening to it. I think my personal favorite is December ’97. I feel like the show in Columbus is like 12/7 or 12/5/97, I really like those. And Slip Stitch & Pass is something I really enjoy. I’m still out here [on the West Coast] for the TRI show and am going to try to make it to one of Phish’s shows of here.
The thing I always loved about Phish is that you didn’t have to be a certain type of person to like them. I think it peaked for me and I don’t want to downgrade what they meant or mean to me, but I think anyone who doesn’t like them, has to respect what they did and still do. I attended the first Bonnaroo and it was very cool, and I saw Trey and Jack Johnson, but I remember looking at the barrier and wondering who was on the other side.
I think the ultimate experience, for me, is when Vampire Weekend headlined Merriweather Post in the fall of 2010. The first Phish show I was at was September 17, 2000 at Merriweather Post. Then, ten years later, it is early September and, as it happened, on our last big US tour, the fall of 2010, and we played Merriweather Post within a week of the 10-year anniversary of me seeing that first Phish show. That was kind of one of the cooler conceptual experiences for me, to remember how much that show meant to me and then playing a show at that thing 10 years later. That was probably the most full-circle thing I could ever achieve.