20 Years Ago Today Phish Released ‘Farmhouse’: Listen to Title Track Demo with Trey Anastasio’s Reflections
20 years ago today Phish released Farmhouse, which has endured as one of the band’s most popular studio efforts. To mark the occasion we look back to January 2012 when Tom Marshall released a demo of the title track and Trey Anastasio chimed in with his thoughts.
I know Tom is writing these blurbs, but I wanted to write one. Tom and I have been writing and four-tracking together for over thirty years now, and I have so many incredible memories of our adventures: I could probably fill a book writing about them. One of my favorites is about the songs Farmhouse and Bug.
In the nineties Tom and I began renting houses in the Stowe area of Vermont and disappearing for long weekends to hang out together and write. To be perfectly honest, the hanging out part was even more important to me than the writing. With Phish’s exponential growth in the mid nineties came a whirlwind of confusion and frantic energy that I don’t think any of us in the band were completely prepared for. Our quiet little scene in Burlington and on the road exploded. Suddenly the idea of hiding out alone for three days and nights on a farm with one of my oldest friends became a precious idea that I anxiously looked forward to for weeks in advance of our trips. At that time I had neither a cell phone nor a computer, so when we disappeared, we really disappeared.
Farmhouse was written and recorded in the first five minutes of one of those trips. I picked up Tom at the airport in this cool old 1970’s RV that I had bought that had an eight track player in it, and we drove to the farmhouse we had rented. It was kind of late since Tom had left from work, and we pulled over for a second and jumped out next to a field. When we looked up at the sky, it was exploding with these deep greenish colors that we soon realized were the northern lights. We stood there and just stared in awe. We continued on, and found our house down a long secluded dirt road. We walked in and I ran over to the gear and picked up a guitar while Tom plugged in a Mic. there were some sliding glass doors that we opened, and though it wasn’t as intense as it had been when we pulled over, we could still see traces of the northern lights thru the door. Mostly, we were both buzzing from that magical feeling of being completely alone, and knowing that we didn’t have to talk to or see a single soul for three whole days and nights, which to both of us was heaven.
I started strumming and Tom started singing, and since he didn’t have any lyrics, he reached over and grabbed the note that the owner of the house had left for us and began reading it, verbatim.
“Welcome! This is a farmhouse, we have cluster flies, alas, and this time of year is bad…”
And on it went from there. I love the chorus, “I never ever saw the northern lights, I never really heard of cluster flies!”
After that I quickly constructed all the instruments. I will always to this day believe that this version of Farmhouse is the perennial version, mostly because of the genuine joy in Tom’s inspired and spontaneous vocal. Also, for the record, of course we immediately recognized that it sounded similar to “No woman no cry”, and sort of threw that “be all right” thing in specifically for that reason, amidst the frenzy of laughing and singing. It felt like the perfect sentiment for our escape. “in the farmhouse things will be alright”.
I don’t think Tom and I have ever written a single song for any reason other than to entertain ourselves. We don’t really think about the fact that anyone will ever hear this stuff. It’s in the moment. If we took the time to think about it more, we would probably edit ourselves into submission, and take a lot of the joy and spontaneity out of the songs. I know for a fact that if Tom had his way, “Yanked on my tunic and dangled my stash” would not be in the public consciousness. Personally, I happen to love that line. -Trey.
[TOM’S note: I added the “alas”, that wasn’t on the note. No one has written “alas” — and meant it — since the 19th century. Some of the songs I’m posting, this one included, were released in 2000 on a CD of 25 demos that Trey and I recorded in 1997 called “Trampled by Lambs and Pecked by the Dove” which is available on LivePhish.com. Also…Trey didn’t write much about Bug, so I’ll release that if/when he writes another “blurb”…or I’ll write one…soon!]