Sunday 05/22/1994 by phishnet



An interview with Michael Snyder, originally posted to

Phish, the wry, progressive rock quartet out of Burlington, Vt., fell together in the late '80s.  Since then Phish...wooed and won a rabid following by relentlessly touring.  Five albums -- including the recently released "Hoist" on Elektra -- have ranged in stule from complex jazz-rock fugues to good-time latter-day country-rock to concept-laden flights of fancy.  But it is Phish's unpredictable, improvisational nature in concert that has made it one of the most successful live attractions in pop music. 

[and this when they were still playing 3000 seat theatres!] 

Furthermore, the band's good-natured humor, cyber-hippie spirituality [so that's what that is!] and instrumental expertise brought the Grateful Dead's [gotta be at least one] fiercely loyal, tie-dyed crowd into the Phish fold.  Phish plays [locally this week]....  Last week, Anastasio discussed Phish in a phone call from a Tempe, Ariz. hotel room. 

Q:  Do you believe that Phish is, as many contend, the Grateful Dead of the '90s? 

A:  Not really.  But there is absolutely a connection.  We do share fans.  I think its an energy thing and a sense of adventure.  There's a similarity with the Dead shows because of the risk in improvisation.  They do it.  We do it.  And you never know what's going to happen. 

Q:  Was the Dead a primary influence? 

A:  I've seen the Dead once in the past seven years, but I saw them a lot when I was in high school.  Personally, I've always listened to a lot of different kinds of music.  I was just watching an old Zappa video on the bus last night.  I always loved Zappa's compositional sense and his bands.  We draw on bluegrass and the harmonies of traditional American music.  And there's jazz.  I just did a short, three-night tour with Michael Ray, who was a trumpet player with Sun Ra and did horn arrangements for Kool and the Gang.  [Interesting!]  He also came out and jammed with us on a couple of occasions.  As far as the Dead, I like the sort of spirituality and transcendance thing they get into when they write and improvise. 

Q:  Is the erratic nature of improvisation daunting for you and your band mates? 

A:  It's not as much of an on-off thing as it is with the Dead.  [Meaning that the Dead could be really "on" one night and "off" another?]  But it ensures that each night is different.  We try to let the spontaneity take over.  We just played Dallas [the Bomb Factory] the other night, and the last 65 minutes of the show were completely improvised.  It wasn't planned, but it happened, and we just took off.  [I remember back then reading this and thinking, "ooh, i'd like to hear that some day!"  sure enough....]   If it wasn't for nights like that, I wouldn't be doing this.  I'm not traveling eight months out of the year just to sit in hotel rooms. 

Q:  "Hoist" is definitely more song-oriented than your earlier albums.  Why is that? 

A:  It's probably a reaction to the last record "Rift."  It's a polar opposite.  "Rift" had few songs.  It was a darker concept album with all kinds of heavily composed stuff.  Which was a reaction to the album before "Rift," " A Picture of Nectar," which had a lighthearted fantasy vibe.  There's another difference from earlier recordings.  We arranged the new album for the studio.  We decided to record it without taking the new songs out on the road first. 

Q:  How was it working with "Hoist" guest artists such as Oakland's Tower of Power horn section, banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck and vocalists Alison Krauss and Sly Stone's wife, Rose? 

A:  We worked with Bela and his band before.  You get to be friends when you see them on the road all the time.  They're amazing musicians.  The most exciting thing for us was having Alison on the record.  We listen to her albums all the time.  We wanted hornig, so (producer) Paul Fox said, "You might as well get the best." 

Q:  Your albums don't give you much room to stretch out as you do in concert.  Is that problematic? 

A:  Well, we've only sold a total of a half-million copies, and this is already our fifth album.  We know we built our audience with the live thing, but we love it. 

Q:  How did this all get started? 

A:  We met in Vermont.  Three of us graduated from Goddard College, an alternative school from the '60s, where you design your own wourse of study.  For example, I worked with a composer, Ernie Stires, who taught me arranging for three years.  [Thanks Ernie!]  I wrote a couple of musicals, big-band arrangements, atonal pieces.  Meanwhile, Fish was locked in a room with a drum set for three years.   [Supposedly virtually true!]  So we got together and played in Burlington, then New Hampshire.  It just spread acroos the country.  We built the whole thing up through word-of-mouth and a network of people trading tapes.  Like, we went to Telluride, Colo., and played seven nights at a bar for the door.  We met everybody in town and made friends. They told their friends.  Next time back in Colorado, twice as many people came to the shows.  The time after that, twice as many again.  We're still doing that.  [And they're *still* doing it!] 

Q:  What accounts for your fans' devotion? 

A:  It's the experience at the concerts.  [Amen!]  There's a real feeling between us.  I don't feel like I'm performing *at* the audience.  It's like a party.  Or it's like some night in high school, where you blew off some plans and, instead, you and your friends stayed out all night.  You went to the lake and watched the sun rise. It was a spontaneous bonding experience that you remember all your life.  Tha's how I feel at a show when everything goes right.  It's much more powerful than a planned-out show.  When people have that experience, they're hooked. 

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, comment by devid17
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