December 1997 Volume 2 Number 2
Story/Interview taken without permission from Sno magazine, a publication of
the American Skiing Company.
"Rock and Roll Rope Tow" by Carter Alan
Quick: Name the band that has been responsible for the best attended musical
gatherings in North America for the past two years running.
It wasnÕt U2 or the Stones or Lollapalooza. It was Phish four brightly
talented players who live near Burlington, Vermont. Phish created a huge cult
of fans with an improvisational style of playing that combines everything from
country western to 70Õs jazz rock fusion.
No one ever knows what to expect at a Phish concert, including the band. They
go onstage without set lists. One moment the players can be locked in a
maelstrom of dark funk and then suddenly ditch their instruments to sing as a
barber shop quartet into one microphone.
That sort of unpredictability, as well as the virtuoso ability of each
musician Trey Anastasio on guitar, keyboardist Page McConnell, Mike Gordon on
bass and drummer Jon Fishman is exactly what their audience craves time and
Phish has released eight discs since 1988, including a new live opus, Slip,
Stitch and Pass, which was recorded in Hamburg, Germany, during the groups
1997 Summer Tour of Europe. Of course, all Phish shows become a permanent part
of the bandÕs canon because a battery of hometapes is always allowed to bring
tape decks to the concerts, creating their own copies to enjoy and trade.
The band is incredibly busy this year alone mounting the European tour, their
Great Went Festival extravaganza in Maine in August, a fall/winter US tour and
the live album. So we were pretty excited when word came that Trey would give
Sno a call and chat about the band and his rarely mentioned love of skiing.
Who knew? Who ever asked? ThatÕs here we come in.
Sno: Youve lived in VermontÉ
Trey: About fifteen years.
Sno: College brought you up?
Sno: Then, once you met your bandmates, you decided to stay?
Sno: With PhishÕs success, you could really move anywhere you want. What keeps
Trey: I would never leave Vermont. I love it. ItÕs the lifestyle the quality
of life. ThatÕs what brought me here in the first place, when I came up and
camped and visited saw the lakes and the mountains. But itÕs also an attitude
that people have up here. IÕve got two daughters now and I want them to grow
up in this atmosphere. IÕm moving nowÉI found a guy who was tearing down a
175 year old barn. We took it apart and moved it. So IÕm finding my way
deeper into the woods.
Actually, this is an interesting thing for Sno we found a guy who had, in the
back of his farm, a ski lift a real old rope tow. So, weÕre going to put a
rope tow up!
Trey: WeÕre on a very steep hill. So, (laughing) weÕre going to have a little
rope tow in the back of the barn! ItÕs a 1000 foot rope tow.
Sno: (ThatÕs) so you can practice your quick turns?
Trey: ThatÕs right. ItÕs woods pretty much (most) of it will be woods.
Sno: How long have you been skiing?
Trey: Probably since I was eight or nine.
Sno: So you were into skiing long before you got to VermontÉ
Trey: Yeah. And I had been up a couple of times (visiting Vermont) to ski.
Sno: Down in ÔJersey, itÕs just molehillsÉ
Trey: Yeah, I used to ski Bell Bump, which was the molehill of all molehills.
It had a rope tow. And Vernon Valley, Great Gorge. ThatÕs where we used to
Sno: So how would you rate your skiing?
Trey: (Pause) Not so good. (Laughs)
Sno: Do any of the other guys in Phish ski?
Trey: Not really. Page can kind of ski. We used to play in Colorado a lot, so
sometimes weÕd get free lift tickets. We played Steamboat, Crested Butte at
the El Dorado and Telluride a number of times. WeÕd all go out there on the
mountain and it was pretty funny (laughing) to see Fishman up there.
Sno: Kind of like (the show scenes in) the BeatlesÕ "HELP?" Everybody falling
Trey: Yeah, it was a lot like that. Page, I think, could make his way down a
Sno: Do you ski like you play?
Trey: I definitely can draw some parallels. If youÕre skiing well, the more
you relax and let go, the better you ski. ItÕs the same thing with music.
Sno: Do you take your time going down the mountain? Like youÕre jamming
Trey: Yeah, I think itÕs a fluidity thing the more you relax the faster and
better your skiing or the better your playing. Tension or trying to beat
something into the ground never really worked (for me) in music or skiing.
ThereÕs such a parallel. One of my best high school friends lives in Crested
Butte and heÕs an incredible skier. I always try to play like he skis. IÕll
follow him and heÕs so completely relaxed, it almost looks like heÕs doing
nothing. ItÕs the opposite of that sort of show off, bashing kind of style.
ItÕs really fluid the less I try, the faster I go.
Sno: I suppose thereÕs this magic point you get to where you let go and relax.
But you also have to be aware of what youÕre doing and think of things (to do).
Trey: Right. Like, you have to be in shape, for instance. ThatÕs my big
problem with skiing.
Sno: You havenÕt been doing those deep knee bends on stage enough?
Trey: Right, I donÕt do enough and then I go a couple of runs, and my thighs
are burning! ItÕs the same sort of thing with playing, you got to have the
tools to begin with. ItÕs having the technique to execute ideas as fast as
they come to you. ItÕs amazing how you can suddenly find a groove and youÕre
skiing like youÕve never skied before, everythingÕs perfect, then, just as
quickly, youÕre not! YouÕre fighting it, you donÕt have the rhythm, youÕre
bashing into moguls. ItÕs really simple when youÕre playing music it seems
like the simplest thing in the world, suddenly everythingÕs clickin g
Sno: IÕd imagine when youÕre playing, you come to places where everything is
just so perfect that you never want to break out of it.
Trey: Right. And you think, "this is the easiest thing in the world," youÕve
figured it all out. And then, just as quickly
Sno: Boom. YouÕre out.
Trey: itÕs not happening! (laughing) "WhatÕs going on here?"
But in the end, to me, itÕs not about technique. You have to be able to ski a
bump, turn quickly both ways, stop fast. TheyÕre all tools so you (can) get to
a place where youÕre kind of free.
Sno: Can you think of your worst experience on skis?
Trey: Well, the one I am most embarrassed about was probably when I took my
wife, who had never downhill skied before (to the mountain) and said, "just get
on the lift."
Sno: Oh, Man!
Trey: (laughing) took her right to the top of the mountain! (I said) "DonÕt
even think about it, just point them down to the bottom and relax. IÕll follow
behind you." She went about a hundred yards down the first trail and crash!
She completely bit it. She screwed up her knee; we had to take her down the
Sno: Has your wife ever skied with you again?
Sno: That was it?
Trey: That was it! She skis cross country all the time.
Sno: So, thereÕs no family day on the local ski slope for you.
Trey: We ski in the woods. I actually do a lot more cross country skiing in
the woods behind my house than I go to the mountain.
Sno: So this your new thing cross country skiing?
Trey: Just about four years ago we started because we moved to where thereÕs a
lot of woods. ThereÕs other skiers nearby, people are cutting trails. I go
almost everyday when IÕm home. I wake up, have a cup of coffee, strap on the
skis and IÕm out into the woods. When thereÕs just two inches of powder on top
of a soft crust, in the spring when it melts and refreezes at night. ThatÕs my
favorite thing you can go anywhere. I actually, for the first time, skied Mad
River, last year. ItÕs great, when thereÕs snow (of course). The vibe is
incredible; itÕs just a bunch of really mellow locals.
Sno: Now, was that downhill orÉ
Trey: Downhill. But Mad River is all trees, itÕs tough. ItÕs just that the
woods are such a magical place. ItÕs so quiet. I also like going up
(laughing) as much as I like going down. That friend I was telling you about
in Colorado? They always skin up these mountains and then ski down on telemark
skis. HeÕs been trying to get me out there to do that.
Like I said, the worst thing for me, by far, is touring (laughs) thereÕs no way
to get in shape. ItÕs so bad all you do is stay up all night eating and lying
around. And, you donÕt get to go (skiing) much. I feel that if I was in shape
I could be so much better.
Sno: You need to take more control of your touring schedule and give yourself
(some) days off.
Trey: I like playing, though. I donÕt like days off on tour itÕs boring.
(laughs) I guess it depends on where you are I like days off in Europe because
youÕre in (some place cool like) Prague or Amsterdam. But, I get anxious to
play, you know? WeÕre such stage hogs!
Sno: When youÕre skiing, does music go through your head?
Trey: Oh Yeah! That definitely happens. For a while, I was skiing with a
Walkman and I really liked it, but it was just too much junk on your head.
But, itÕs very musical, you know (chanting) boom boom boom boom. I took some
tennis lessons once sports to me in general are very musical. But skiing
probably, other than maybe surfingÉskiing more than anything, because your in a
Sno: I suppose you could just sit back and do the (music) youÕve been doing for
the past ten years, but I donÕt think youÕd settle for that.
Trey: Nah. Nope, you got to keep moving forward.
Sno: What have you been listening to lately that you really like?
Trey: IÕve actually been listening to Dark Magus. I donÕt know if you know
Miles Davis Columbia just released five live Miles Davis discsÉ
Sno: What period?
Trey: ItÕs like Õ74. Dark Magus is one show at Carnegie Hall. ItÕs just the
sickest you got to hear it. If youÕre into that sort of thing, itÕs just
totally its sort of like Pangaea but itÕs a little bit more extreme in a
certain way. They didnÕt release it in this country it was released in
Japan but they never released it (here) because it was too much! It was like
(loud) WOW WOW WACKA WOW WOW you know what I mean?
Trey: No talking. Nothing! (ItÕs) just two hours of just thick extreme stuff.
But itÕs so good.
Sno: YouÕve got a new live album out. Why would you do a live album if
everybodyÕs out there taping your shows anyway?
Trey: Really, because there was just a lot of stuff that weÕve been wanting to
put out. ThereÕs a lot of songs on it that have never been released. If I had
my way, weÕd release a lot more albumsÉone (album) a year is a lot for the
industry. IÕve got it backed up stuff I want to put out. SS&P was just a
really good night, we played in a little club in Hamburg and we really liked
it, so we just thought, "hey, what the heck?" (laughs)
Sno: I thought you did such a great job with Billy BreathesÉthe solace of being
in the trees and off on your own seems to filter through it. It seems like
every noteÉ counts.
Sno: Is that how you recorded it?
Trey: It was in a barn, in a section of Bearsville (studios in upstate NY). A
lot of people record at Bearsville, but the barn is just becoming a place where
people do albums. ItÕs very, very (quiet), thereÕs a little stream going by.
They call it the outpost because you donÕt interact with people at the studio;
youÕre way out on your own.
It is a lot what were talking about, with the skiing. It gives you a chance to
settle down from the kind of wildness of being on tour and everything. We did
a lot of that album at five in the morning, when the sun was coming up. It
kind of sounds like that, especially the stuff on side two like "Billy
Breathes" and "Prince Caspian," "Swept Away" all that stuff was recorded as the
sun was soming up with the stream gurgling (laughs) next to us.
Sno: So youÕve got the live record out and then youÕll be working on the studio
record next year. Do you think youÕll follow the same course or react against
Billy Breathes go for a louder sort of thing?
Trey: WeÕve kind of had a bad habit of reacting (laughs) when I look back at
our albums more than our concerts. I see them all as a reaction against the
one before! Like, I really thought Hoist was a good album, but I didnÕt like
the cover. I felt it wasnÕt us. We had hired this graphic designer, which is
what bands do. (The design) always rubbed me the wrong way. So we finished
Billy Breathes and our manager kept saying, "What are you going to do about the
cover?" So, finally, it was the LAST day, and it was, like three in the
morning. They (management) said, "We NEED a cover tomorrow." You know all
those pictures on the back? We cut them out and stuck them on with scotch
tape. Mike (was) on the cover he just shot a picture of himself. The whole
thing took like five minutes! ItÕs funny, because in retrospect, it was a
reaction to the (album) before it.
Sno: We loved MikeÕs nose!
Trey: Like, Picture of Nectar was all over the map, stylistically. For Rift,
we decided, "letÕs do a concept album where everything is tied together." In
some ways it was a reaction to fact that the record before it was everywhere!
For this one, I hope I donÕt know, weÕve been writing a ton of new songs. So,
weÕre just going to move forward. WeÕre kind of taking this, Ôwhen the spirit
moves youÕ sort of attitude. If we feel like doing some jamming weÕre going to
do some jamming so thatÕs kind of where we are.
Sno: Eventually, if you put a studio in your house, youÕll never leave!
Trey: (Laughs) The only thing about studios is that theyÕre bottomless pits.
You start buying gear, then you need more gear. Then it breaks and you have to
maintain it, then itÕs outdated. A studio like Bearsville has such a good
staff, everything works. When youÕre recording, inevitably a couple things
will break, like the tape deck will break in the middle of the best take always
happens. ThatÕs why I wouldnÕt start my own studio.
Sno: But you do have your own ski slope!
Trey: Yes! Quote, ski slope, unquote. ItÕs (just) this 1950 wheel from an old
rope tow. We havenÕt found a rope yet.
Sno: Get a good one. WeÕd hate to read (something bad) about you in Random
Trey: Well, the funny thing about this rope tow that me and Matt, who I live
next to, (are building) is that this place weÕre skiing is very steep, thereÕs
a ravine about half way down, so you have to hang onto the rope your feet
actually leave the ground!
Sno: Oh, man!
Trey: For about fifteen yards!
Sno: So, what youÕre saying is that you have a black diamond rope tow!
Trey: Yes we do!
Sno: Taking this rope tow could be a rite of initiation!
Trey: Yes. ThereÕs a little sign at the bottom (that states), "NEVER LET GO OF
THE ROPE!" You go over the ravine, (laughing) youÕve GOT to hang onto the
Postscript: Story/Interview by Carter Alan, Musical Director at Boston Modern
Rock powerhouse WBCN. Story included several pictures.
Andy's Phish Page