Trey Anastasio Reflects on Phish Summer Tour

August 30, 2010

The September/October issue of Relix (with the great Keith Richards on the cover), includes commentary by Trey Anastasio on the songs and performances of Phish summer tour. Here is an extended look at Trey’s thoughts…

Photo by Dustin Weiss

Phish has always covered a range of artists. But last fall and this summer the band has placed a special emphasis on covering more contemporary songs including those by Neutral Milk Hotel, Tom Waits, TV on the Radio, Rage Against the Machine and MGMT. Can you talk about your decision to cover some of these acts more associated with the modern indie/alternative rock world versus the band’s more typical, classic rock covers?

Trey: I think the simple answer to that question would be that those are the bands that I actually listen to. Everything you just named, those are some of my favorites. You know when the band started, considering we’ve been playing for 26 years, some of those classic rock bands were the bands that were our earliest influences and contemporary at the time. But I can’t say that I really listen to them much these days.

All the ones that you mentioned, I think, were pretty much my idea, those are the bands that I listen to but we all bring in ideas. Mike brings in a lot of those bluegrassy and country covers. He’ll just show up and say I want to sing this song and we’ll learn it. All four of us are pretty quick when it comes to learning songs which took on a whole new meaning when we started the Halloween albums. Sometimes I will just walk in after listening to something on the bus and say “Fish have you heard this tune? have you listened to TV on the Radio? They’re great.” Next thing you know I’m at the computer looking up the lyrics and I will read them and go “this is a great song – oh man, I’d love to sing this song” and then there’s a set up backstage, drums and stuff and the four of us will go over there and we’ll start playing it and if it sounds good, we’ll play it that night. It’s almost like a skill that you learn. And certain songs just fit, you know? I mean the thing about the Tom Waits song Cold Water, I just really like the lyrics. My wife and I used to listen Frank’s Wild Years and all those albums when we first met and we still do. He’s the best. I think he’s probably America’s greatest songwriter, at least in the top two or three in my opinion.

One of the other things that’s also really exciting now in my house is that I have a daughter going into eighth grade and a daughter going into tenth grade. And that was exactly the age I was when I really started to get serious about my love for music. And I can see it happening to them and they listen to stuff that I don’t listen to. It’s an incredible gift. I can kind of poke my head past their door and occasionally they’ll be playing something. My younger daughter got into Paramore and she took me to the Paramore concert at Webster Hall and I thought it was an incredible concert. I really liked the whole band. I loved the drummer and I thought the band was tight, the guitar players are tight and obviously the singer’s just fantastic. You know, I never would have gone to see those guys if my daughter wasn’t into it. I can see the world through their eyes a little bit, it’s exciting.

Phish’s summer tour has featured a good amount of new material. Several of these songs were either written with the help of the Dude of Life or developed on tour with Classic TAB. When you’re writing now, do you write for a specific project or try to create songs like the “Show of Life” that could work for both Phish and TAB?

Trey: I’m trying to write songs that work for both. or I’m actually I’m thinking after this run of Phish shows of maybe doing a couple of very, very small sort of acoustic shows. And I was just thinking this morning that I’m trying to get songs that work in every context. Actually Steve, Dude of Life, just called me this morning and he wants to write more. The way it usually goes with me it’s always been pretty much the same pattern which is I’m usually working on something myself, kind of alone. In the early days it might have been “AC/DC Bag” and “Reba” and songs where I’d write the songs and lyrics and whatnot. I love collaborating with my friends cause it’s almost a form of socializing for me. So that song, “Show of Life,” Steve and I met for lunch and we were out on the sidewalk jumping up and down, singing into my multi-track recorder that I have in my phone. And it’s fun, you know, we’ve been writing songs, Steve and I have been writing songs since 10th grade. And I wrote a couple with Tom Marshall and I also have a friend in New York City now, Amanda Green, who’s a Broadway songwriter. She and I have written three songs in the past couple of weeks. We actually just got an email from a band that wants to cover one of them. She and I wrote “Burn that Bridge” and there’s a song called “Julie” that I think we’re going to do on the next leg of the Phish tour. Phish already learned it, but just haven’t done it yet.

Beginning in Camden and continuing through Atlanta, Phish played a number of very old or rare songs like “Alumni Blues,” “Tela,” “Letter to Jimmy Page,” “Walfrado,” “Saw It Again,” “Harpua” and Bob Marley’s “Mellow Mood.” The band even played “Fuck Your Face” for the first time in 23 years. What catalyzed the decision to relearn some of these older songs that fell out of rotation over the past 20 years?

Trey: Enthusiasm. I think we were just having a good time hanging out together, the four of us, and rediscovering some of these songs. We’re really having a good time right now. Maybe a fresh perspective and just having fun remembering songs. You know, we pulled into Merriweather Post Pavilion and we suddenly remembered that there was a song called Walfredo that has a line in it about Merriweather Post Pavilion because we had played with Santana at Merriweather Post Pavilion in like 1991. We’re like “oh, we should learn it.” We get the recording and we learn it backstage and off we go. And that’s a lot of fun, so maybe we do it again.