ARI SHAPIRO, host:

Fans of the rock band Phish have a lot to celebrate right now. Five years ago, the jam band broke up after more than two decades. Now Phish is back together and back on the road, playing sold-out shows across the country. Next week, Phish is releasing its first studio album in five years, called simply "Joy."

(Soundbite of song)

SHAPIRO: Phish is one of rock's most popular touring bands ever, with some of music's most zealous fans, called Phish-heads. The band's singer and lead guitarist, Trey Anastasio, and the keyboard player, Page McConnell, sat down to talk with us about reunion. Trey says it all began on his birthday with a gift, a poem, from Phish lyricist Tom Marshall. Those words became the first song on the album. A couple of days later, his three band mates showed up with a gift of their own.

Mr. TREY ANASTASIO (Phish): An album that they had made for me that was songs that I could overdub onto, but more importantly, it came in this amazing package that was a triangle that opened up and inside of it was an actual album with album cover art. And they had done a photo for the cover. And it was unbelievable, and very, very, very moving.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. ANASTASIO: (Singing) (Unintelligible) leave the presence all its time, take my hand…

SHAPIRO: Page, it almost sounds like you and the other band mates were trying to court Trey - almost the way you would court a love interest to get him back into your life.

Mr. PAGE MCCONNELL (Phish): It's much more complicated than that, I think, because Trey and I had been talking on the phone quite a bit just about our history and our relationship. And that sort of happened over the course of two years leading up to that, maybe. It was just a gift. There were no strings attached.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. ANASTASIO: When we did our last show before we stopped, it was in Coventry.

SHAPIRO: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ANASTASIO: And there were 3,500 people on the backstage guest list.

SHAPIRO: This is Coventry, Vermont, right?

Mr. ANASTASIO: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Thirty-five hundred people on the backstage…

Mr. ANASTASIO: There were more people backstage than a lot of bands have at their…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANASTASIO: …in the audience.

SHAPIRO: And the audience itself, from what I understand, it was tens of thousands of people in mud up to their knees.

Mr. ANASTASIO: Right.

SHAPIRO: It was flooding. It was - I mean kind of an epic event.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANASTASIO: It was - it was an epic event. And it was a little sad. It's - the point that I'm making is that it's tiring when all your friends are there. Its fun, but it became very unhealthy. Today that's all gone.

SHAPIRO: And so now you have this new album. And listening to it, a lot of the songs do seem to look back. Let's listen to one of them. This is the last track on the album, "Twenty Years Later."

(Soundbite of song, "Twenty Years Later")

Mr. ANASTASIO: (Singing) I can hold my breath for a minute or so, five days without food is as long as I'll go. I didn't sleep once for four days and three nights. I once didn't stop for seven red lights. I jumped into water that's fifty degrees…

SHAPIRO: There seems to be kind of a wistfulness in this, like, it sounds like you're saying I made mistakes but those mistakes kind of made me who I am.

Mr. ANASTASIO: That sounds pretty accurate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Twenty Years Later")

Mr. ANASTASIO: (Singing) Twenty years later, I'm still upside down. It's a small world, but it's turning real fast. We're upside down. It's a new day, and the morning has passed…

SHAPIRO: I've heard many of your fans say that you really can't experience Phish until you've seen the band live. And I'm sure many people listening to this haven't seen you live and may buy the album but may never see you live. What do you say to the fans who say, look, you really don't know this band until you've attended a concert?

Mr. ANASTASIO: This is Trey talking.

SHAPIRO: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ANASTASIO: I have to agree with that statement.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: Really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANASTASIO: Not that I'm not trying to, you know, promote the record…

SHAPIRO: Not that people shouldn't buy the album.

Mr. ANASTASIO: We absolutely love the record.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCCONNELL: It's interesting, because when we're in the studio making a record, I already know that most of the fans aren't going to really think that much of it. I don't necessarily have to worry that I'm going to please them, because what they want is the live show.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

Mr. ANASTASIO: 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.

SHAPIRO: Because Phish is so good at playing live, they recorded most of the songs on this album live, some in just one take. One notable exception is the song "Time Turns Elastic," clocking in at 13 minutes.

(Soundbite of song, "Time Turns Elastic")

Mr. ANASTASIO: (Singing) In and out of focus, time turns elastic…

SHAPIRO: Trey, tell me a little bit about the origins of this song and how it's different from the other tracks on the album.

Mr. ANASTASIO: Well, this was written, at first, as a full orchestral piece for guitar and orchestra. And interestingly, it's going to be performed…

SHAPIRO: With the New York Philharmonic.

Mr. ANASTASIO: …New York Philharmonic on September 12th. When we got to the studio, our producer said it wouldn't be a Phish album without one of those big epic Phish tunes. And we arranged it with the four of us, bit by bit, as a Phish tune. We had to kind of go through…

SHAPIRO: Something like 260 takes, from what I've read?

Mr. ANASTASIO: That's what I hear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCCONNELL: We liked number 217.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Time Turns Elastic")

Mr. ANASTASIO: (Singing) Now that the leaves turned to gold, the moments all glow, frozen and free from time. And out here on my own.

SHAPIRO: So you guys played together virtually non-stop for 20 years, you took five years off. Now you're back together with a new album. What happens next? You just keep going till you're 85?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCCONNELL: What we have is a second chance here to do this. And 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 then to be all to come back and have a second chance at it and to tweak some of the things that weren't exactly right…

Mr. ANASTASIO: We're aware of how rare it is for a band, after 27 years, to have all the original members.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

Mr. ANASTASIO: And to be still be playing together. It's a very, very precious thing.

(Soundbite of music)

SHAPIRO: Trey Anastasio is the guitarist and lead singer and Page McConnell is the keyboard player for the band Phish. Thanks, guys.

Mr. ANASTASIO: Thank you.

Mr. MCCONNELL: Thanks very much.

SHAPIRO: There's live video and songs from Phish's new album, "Joy," at nprmusic.org.

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