We got together when we were in our early twenties or late teens, and living in our insulated world, we all remained the same to an extent. As much as I enjoyed it, I was stuck as that person I was when I was 23 or 24 years old.
-Page on Phish
Photo by Danny Clinch

An Album Is Worth A Thousand Words

While only writing lyrics for the second time on his own, there's huge growth on his solo debut. The seemingly straightforward words reveal metaphors and paradoxes that point to several major themes, though that wasn't McConnell's original concept. "It wasn't with intent. As it was getting close to done, I looked back and said, 'Oh, there are some common threads that run through it.'"

Those themes focus on change, transition, uncertainty, but also new beginnings and rejuvenation. The perfect example is the album's opening track, "Beauty of a Broken Heart." McConnell comments, "It's been quite a bit of transition, and certainly people know about [Phish] and other stuff as well. Transition can be a good thing and it can be a painful thing. That's sort of the theme for me I suppose, if there is one."

McConnell by Jeff Kravitz
He's quick to warn speculators that things are not always what they seem, especially in regards to his personal life or Phish. "The songs are not really literal. They're just kind of feelings that float around that end up in words that rhyme [laughs]. They're just stories, and it's easier for me that way. They are personal but not in the ways you might think."

Songs like "Close to Home" and "Maid Marian" seem to be extremely personal snapshots of McConnell's recent past, namely the Phish breakup and his divorce. When I ask him about singing his own lyrics as opposed to Phish lyricist Tom Marshall's words, he replies, "I don't know if it's been more satisfying but it's certainly more exposed. I am enjoying it. It's a different feeling to be singing something that you wrote but I love singing all of those songs, too. So, to answer your question, I feel more gratified and more exposed [laughs]." Just as I feel McConnell is about to tip his hand, he slyly adds, "They are just stories and songs, and they have personal meanings for me, and no one will probably ever really know exactly what those meanings are."

Keep What's Important, Know Who's Your Friend

Phish 1985 by Margie Minkin
In August of 2004, McConnell's primary band for over twenty years came to an end. Phish had taken an indefinite hiatus in October of 2000, only to return New Year's Eve of 2002. This time it seemed it was over for good. "My life in Phish was nonstop," McConnell says. "If we weren't touring, we were making a record. If we weren't making a record, we were promoting one. It was like suspended animation. We got together when we were in our early twenties or late teens, and living in our insulated world, we all remained the same to an extent. As much as I enjoyed it, I was stuck as that person I was when I was 23 or 24 years old."

Rumors have swirled around the breakup, and when I ask McConnell about watching the band implode from the inside of the Phish bubble, he responds, "I'm here now with my new album that I'm so excited about. If Phish had continued rolling on there was no way I would have this year and a half to work on an album. So, I'm really excited about it. I feel really lucky to be where I am."

A new song, "Rules I Don't Know," offers a snapshot of McConnell's slow return to the public eye post-Phish:

How can I leave this behind me with all that's around to remind me?
How can this road help unwind me
When it's the road I don't go that defines me?

Anastasio & McConnell - Coventry by Tony Stack
"I think that's true for anything in life. That's not just about the band. It's in any decision that you make," offers McConnell. "You make choices based on what you understand, what you see and what you know, or think you know. But, a lot of the time, you don't even see the big picture. It really could just be about anything."

He's certainly not afraid to talk about Phish, and that could be the reason he brought all of his former bandmates into play on his album. Jon Fishman appears on most of the tracks, while Mike Gordon and Trey Anastasio guest most notably on "Back in the Basement." A funky number that gains steam as it chugs along, "Basement" shows that even though McConnell is dangling his toes in the songwriting tide he remains fully submerged in the jam waters that made him famous. On playing live outside of Phish, he says, "I would say the confidence is growing [laughs]. I wouldn't say I was immediately self-confident about it. Having a couple of shows under my belt certainly helps. I'm looking forward to developing the repertoire a little bit, working on stretching it out with the band and rehearsing some more."

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