Fans of the rock band Phish have much to celebrate right now. Five years ago, the group broke up after more than two decades. Now, it's back together and on the road, playing sold-out shows across the country. Next week, Phish releases its first studio album in five years, titled Joy.
The band's singer and lead guitarist, Trey Anastasio, says reunion talk all began on his birthday. Phish lyricist Tom Marshall gave Anastasio a poem, and those words became the first song on the album. A couple days later, three bandmates showed up with a gift of their own.
"[It was] an album they had made for me that was songs I could overdub onto," Anstasio says. "More importantly, it came in this amazing package that was a triangle. Inside of it was an actual album with album cover art. It was unbelievable and very, very moving."
To host Ari Shapiro, this sounded like a courtship.
"It's much more complicated than that," says keyboardist Page McConnell. "Trey and I had been talking on the phone quite a bit about our history and our relationship — that happened over the course of two years. It was just a gift. There were no strings attached."
Lessons Learned From Coventry
When Phish performed its last show in Conventry, Vt., there were 3,500 people on the backstage guest list.
"There were more people backstage than a lot of bands have in their audience," Anastasio says, laughing.
It was an epic event. Tens of thousands of people were in attendance, caked in mud up to their knees.
"The point that I'm making is that it's tiring when all your friends are there. It's fun, but it became very unhealthy. Today, that's all gone," Anastasio says.
Live Vs. Studio
Hardcore Phish fans often say that you haven't experienced Phish until you've seen the band live.
"I have to agree with that statement," Anastasio says, laughing. "Not that I'm trying to promote a record."
"It's interesting," McConnell adds, "because when we're in the studio making a record, I already know that most of the fans aren't really going to think much of it. I don't necessarily worry that I'm going to please them, because what they want is the live show — they don't really want this album. So many previous albums we've released have come out, and the hardcore fan base doesn't really embrace it."
Because Phish is so good playing, its members recorded most of the songs on Joy live. One notable exception is "Time Turns Elastic," which clocks in at 13 minutes.
"This was written, at first, as a full orchestral piece with guitar. It's going to be performed with the New York Philharmonic on Sept. 12," Anastasio says. "When we got to the studio, our producer said it wouldn't be a Phish album without one of those big, epic Phish tunes. We arranged it — the four of us — bit by bit as a Phish tune."
The song reportedly took 260 takes.
"We liked number 217," Anastasio says, laughing.
Phish played together for 20 years virtually non-stop, took a five-year break, and is now back together with a new album. Will Phish just continue on?
"What we have is a second chance here," McConnell says. "It was so successful for those first 22 years or so, and then it went away. And if it hadn't come back, that would have been a lot. But to come back and have a second chance and tweak some of the things that weren't exactly right ..."
"We're aware of how rare it is for a band, after 27 years, to have all the original members and to still be playing together," Anastasio says. "It's a very precious thing."