TREY ANASTASIO: THE HOPE OF A NEW SONG

 
It's hard for me because, on the one hand, I care so much about the fans, so it genuinely upsets me after 20 years of seeing joy etched all over peoples faces to suddenly have people be really mad. But I know in my heart what I need to do, so that's what you do, period.

-Trey Anastasio

 

Because Trey's most recent efforts are less about guitar freak-outs and more about vocals, poetic ideas, and deconstructing emotions, some followers have questioned his motives. Fans wonder if Trey is searching for a Dave Matthews Band or John Mayer type of hit. "That's such a gross over-simplification that it's almost ridiculous," he says. "I can tell you, I'm never gonna have a hit, forget it. And by the way, Dave Matthews is amazing. So to those people, the first thing I would say is that if I could write a song that had one iota of the emotional impact of either that 'car crash' song on his solo album or that 'Stay or Leave,' I would be very, very happy and proud, because the guy is incredibly talented. So in that sense, absolutely I'd like to write a song like that."


Trey in the studio by Danny Clinch
For older Phish fans - the ones who fell in love with Trey's heavy guitars, dark improvs, and sweaty marathons of instrumental weirdness - his current approach to songwriting may require an adjustment. But Phish also had concise, three-minute vocal tracks and a number of gentler, emotionally direct compositions. It's not a new development, but a slow progression, a constant evolution.

"To me, [Shine] was just more songwriting," he explains. "It was like when Hoist came out, everybody was so furious. It was the same response. And lo and behold it had 'Wolfman's Brother,' 'Down with Disease,' 'Julius' - wasn't that bad of an album. I know that's gonna happen with that record too; I just know because there are really good songs on that record. It's gonna take time for certain people and less time for others." That said, Trey is still concerned with how his fans receive the new music. "It's hard for me because, on the one hand, I care so much about the fans, so it genuinely upsets me after 20 years of seeing joy etched all over people's faces to suddenly have people be really mad. But I know in my heart what I need to do, so that's what you do, period."


Trey Anastasio by Statia Molewski
But how do you do it? How do you stand in the public eye and make the transition from Phish, the only thing you've ever known, to just Trey? "What you do is look at all the artists before you who you admire: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Miles Davis, the list goes on. Every single one of them changed constantly. The ones who changed the most are the ones who have the long, prolific careers. There's Dylan pissing everybody off and going electric, then pissing everybody off and going born-again Christian. That's the way you gotta go through your changes and that's it, because if you start trying to cater to people, you're doomed. So luckily there's a model I can look at for inspiration in terms of that."

The fear for some artists is that if you don't evolve you will either collapse under the weight of your own creation, something Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead battled, or lose touch with your muse. If an artist stops following their intuition and allows outside factors to cloud his vision, the music suffers. Looking back, Trey couldn't be surer that ending Phish was the right thing to do. "I thought it was just gonna be obvious to everybody that this was the best thing we could have done," he says, "and there's one thing I know, it absolutely was, no question in my mind. We were naïve and we were idealistic and young when we set up our organization, the way we were gonna live our lives, without any sense of needing to be individuals. I had to change a lot of things that were very far outside of the music and the band, and those things have changed. [Phish ending] was really a success in that sense. I had to get out of [Vermont], I moved, Fish moved, we dropped the giant overhead and all the pressure. And the social scene that we had, that was just..." He trails off. "The end result of all that was that I was losing perspective on the band and the music. I couldn't hear it, I just couldn't. I didn't understand what was going on, but it was just too much in some way, and I lost my ability to hear Phish music."


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