‘Cluster Flies’: Sylvan Esso Covers ‘Farmhouse’
JamBase presents Cluster Flies, a covers compilation reimagining Phish’s album Farmhouse, complete with bonus songs and revamped tracklist. The limited-edition 3LP release was mastered by engineer Joe Lambert and includes custom artwork and a poster created by longtime Phish collaborator Jim Pollock. A pre-order is underway now through May 3 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern. Visit www.clusterflies.com for purchasing information as well as full album credits and tracklist details.
Each of the songs on Cluster Flies will be featured via daily episodes of The JamBase Podcast with interviews with the musician that recorded the cover. Today’s episode features Sylvan Esso’s cover of “Farmhouse,” which premieres today on SiriusXM Phish Radio. Explore additional Cluster Flies podcast episodes here.
Phish’s song, “Farmhouse,” served as both the first song and title track of the band’s 2000 album, Farmhouse. Guitarist Trey Anastasio wrote “Farmhouse” with his frequent writing partner, lyricist Tom Marshall.
The genesis of “Farmhouse” dates back to 1997 when Trey and Tom wrote the song during one of several writing retreats they held that year. Beth Montuori Rowles, general manager at Phish, Inc., was tasked by Trey and Tom with helping find a location to write and record new songs. In the liner notes for the Trampled By Lambs & Pecked By The Dove collection of demos from those retreats, Montuori Rowles detailed the experience, writing:
In early 1997, I got a message from Trey that he and Tom Marshall, his longtime writing partner, wanted to get together to come up with some new material for Phish. They asked if I could help them find a quiet place to write and record some demos. Not really having anything particular in mind, I spent a day driving around north-central Vermont looking for a place that had a good vibe and at least one big room.
I found three farmhouses that were available for rent, and we took the first one, Mountain View Farm, to begin the first of four sessions of writing and recording that produced all of the material on this disc.
Mountain View Farm is a big old farmhouse with a big old barn. It sits on 125 acres of land and has a 65-mile view in one direction. The house is pictured on the cover …
The next house that was rented, the Kaplan House, where “Farmhouse” was written, is small but it has great views – 360 degrees of Vermont hillsides up in the Green Mountains. I visited it for the first time in early autumn just as the leaves were beginning to turn. Trey and Tom moved in for the weekend of October 10, 1997, just in time for the colors to peak.
The lyrics to “Farmhouse,” from which Cluster Flies takes its title, were inspired by a note left by the owners of the Kaplan House, which read “Welcome! This is a farmhouse, we have cluster flies.” Marshall revealed on an episode of the Under The Scales podcast that he then added the “alas” that became part of the lyrics.
Phish publicly debuted “Farmhouse” by surprising fans watching their November 7, 1997 appearance on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. A few days later on night three of their famed Fall Tour 1997, “Farmhouse” made its concert debut in the first set of Phish’s show in Denver on November 16.
Phish has kept “Farmhouse” in regular rotation, logging a total of 77 performances to date and never going more than 34 shows between setlist appearances, which have been spread almost evenly between first sets, second sets and encores. Anastasio often played “Farmhouse” during the acoustic portions of his first solo tour in May 1999. While remaining acoustic for the majority of subsequent Trey solo performances, in 2018 “Farmhouse” was played several times by the full Trey Anastasio Band.
Phish’s most recent offering of “Farmhouse” was on February 23, 2020, in Riviera Maya, Mexico, which was also the last time they performed together in public before the COVID-19 pandemic. “Farmhouse” was played by TAB at last year’s The Beacon Jams livestream concert held on November 13, 2020, at The Beacon Theatre in New York City.
Since its inception, “Farmhouse” has undergone a variety of changes to the way Phish plays the song. Over the years “Farmhouse” has changed keys, altered its intro, added and dropped measures and more. The evolution of “Farmhouse” is explored in detail by JamBase’s David Onigman in the episode of The JamBase Podcast below.
The episode also features an interview with Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso who covered “Farmhouse” for Cluster Flies. Nick and Amelia recently spoke to JamBase’s Andy Kahn about participating in the project and how they created their version of “Farmhouse.” Nick’s Phish fandom dates back to the mid-1990s and he talked about the ways the band has influenced his career. Newer-fan Amelia discussed her experience attending her first — and so far only — Phish concert and how her love for the band continues to grow.
Sylvan Esso’s cover of “Farmhouse” premieres tonight (Tuesday, April 20 at 7 p.m. ET) on an episode of SiriusXM Phish Radio’s Crowd Control. Sanborn hosts the episode that also features his hand-selected live Phish tracks focusing solely on “Tweezer.”