The History Of Phish’s Album ‘Farmhouse’: A ‘Cluster Flies’ Companion
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.
Phish’s album, Farmhouse, was released in May 2000 and marked a significant period in the band’s history. The album came out between two monumental events in Phish’s career: their New Year’s Eve festival in Big Cypress Florida during which they played from the stroke of midnight to sunrise on January 1, 2000, and a concert held on October 7, 2000, that began their first hiatus.
Farmhouse was the first Phish album recorded at The Barn, guitarist Trey Anastasio‘s recording studio in Vermont that has since become something of a home base for the band who has continued to record there through 2020’s Sigma Oasis. The 2000 release of Farmhouse was further notable because Anastasio assumed a role as co-producer alongside Bryce Goggin. Anastasio co-wrote all of the songs on Farmhouse, including a number with his longtime writing partner Tom Marshall.
But unlike its 1997 predecessor The Story Of The Ghost, which included several songs co-credited to all four members of Phish, bassist Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman did not help write the songs on Farmhouse. Bassist Tony Markellis and drummer Russ Lawton, who at the time had just backed Anastasio on what became the first Trey Anastasio Band tour, are credited on a few of the songs that crossed over from the guitarist’s burgeoning solo project.
Many of the songs on Farmhouse have evolved over the past 20 years, much like the band itself. The songs on Farmhouse capture a band both riding the success of pulling off an all-time historic concert and heading toward a much deserved and likely needed break.
As part of the Cluster Flies project, JamBase compiled a history of Farmhouse in order to tell the story of the album in the words of Trey, Mike, Page and Fish, as well as others like Goggin, Marshall and more.
Welcome This Is A Farmhouse
Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and his longtime writing partner Tom Marshall wrote many of the songs on Farmhouse and Cluster Flies during writing retreats held in the late-1990s at rented farmhouses in rural areas of Vermont. Anastasio would go on to purchase a 200-year-old barn and convert it into a recording facility in Vermont known as The Barn where Farmhouse and subsequent Phish albums were recorded.
Trey Anastasio: In the 1990s, Tom and I began renting houses in the Stowe area of Vermont and disappearing for long weekends to hang out together and write. To be perfectly honest, the hanging out part was even more important to me than the writing. With Phish’s exponential growth in the mid-1990s came a whirlwind of confusion and frantic energy that I don’t think any of us in the band were completely prepared for. Our quiet little scene in Burlington and on the road exploded. Suddenly the idea of hiding out alone for three days and nights on a farm with one of my oldest friends became a precious idea that I anxiously looked forward to for weeks in advance of our trips. At that time I had neither a cell phone nor a computer, so when we disappeared, we really disappeared. [Relix, 2020]
Beth Montuori Rowles (General Manager at Phish, Inc): 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 [Trampled By Lambs & Pecked By The Dove].
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.
Trey and Tom spent two three-day weekends there in March and May of 1997. They recorded on a small demo studio that Phish sound technicians Paul Languedoc and Pete Carini put together for them consisting of a Tascam DA88, a Mackie board and some various drums, guitars and keyboards. The songs that were written and recorded during those first two writing sessions were “Olivia’s Pool,” “Piper,” “Limb By Limb,” “I Saw It Again,” “Ghost,” “Dogs Stole Things,” “No Regrets,” “Wading In The Velvet Sea,” “Dirt,” “Twist,” “Flat Tornados,” “I Don’t Care,” “Water In The Sky,” and “Vultures.”
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. [Trampled By Lambs & Pecked By The Dove liner notes, 20o0]
Trey Anastasio: “Farmhouse” was written and recorded in the first five minutes of one of those trips. I picked up Tom at the airport in this cool old 1970s RV that I had bought that had an eight-track player in it, and we drove to the farmhouse we had rented. It was kind of late since Tom had left from work, and we pulled over for a second and jumped out next to a field. When we looked up at the sky, it was exploding with these deep greenish colors that we soon realized were the northern lights. We stood there and just stared in awe.
We continued on and found our house down a long secluded dirt road. We walked in and I ran over to the gear and picked up a guitar while Tom plugged in a mic. There were some sliding glass doors that we opened, and though it wasn’t as intense as it had been when we pulled over, we could still see traces of the northern lights through the door. Mostly, we were both buzzing from that magical feeling of being completely alone, and knowing that we didn’t have to talk to or see a single soul for three whole days and nights, which to both of us was heaven.
I started strumming and Tom started singing, and since he didn’t have any lyrics, he reached over and grabbed the note that the owner of the house had left for us and began reading it, verbatim:
“Welcome! This is a farmhouse, we have cluster flies, alas, and this time of year is bad…”
And on it went from there. I love the chorus, “I never ever saw the northern lights, I never really heard of cluster flies!”
After that I quickly constructed all the instruments. I will always to this day believe that this version of “Farmhouse” is the perennial version, mostly because of the genuine joy in Tom’s inspired and spontaneous vocal. Also, for the record, of course, we immediately recognized that it sounded similar to “No woman no cry,” and sort of threw that “be all right” thing in specifically for that reason, amidst the frenzy of laughing and singing. It felt like the perfect sentiment for our escape. “In the farmhouse things will be alright.”
I don’t think Tom and I have ever written a single song for any reason other than to entertain ourselves. We don’t really think about the fact that anyone will ever hear this stuff. It’s in the moment. If we took the time to think about it more, we would probably edit ourselves into submission and take a lot of the joy and spontaneity out of the songs. I know for a fact that if Tom had his way, “Yanked on my tunic and dangled my stash” would not be in the public consciousness. Personally, I happen to love that line. [Relix, 2020]
Tom Marshall: So we pulled up to that farmhouse, this is like one of the ‘96, ‘97 Stowe, Vermont farmhouses, and on the way there Trey and I did see the northern lights — my first time ever. And so that was in my head. And some other things were in my head from that drive there because the drives there are hugely fun things too, because … Trey’s kind of a strange driver.
He’s an incredible athlete. He’s an incredible athlete. But sometimes he tries to do seven things at the same time and driving becomes neglected. You know, he’s always going fast and Vermont isn’t known for every one of its roads being paved. So, you know, anyway, that leaves the door open for some interesting stuff.
But we arrived at this farmhouse, my head brimming with ideas, Paul and Carini we’re just leaving.
And Paul said, “Before we leave. You know, we set up the whole thing. There’s a bass station, there’s a guitar station. There’s two vocal stations for you Tom, you can choose these two mics. There’s a station near the keyboard for you guys. And there’s some drums, we’ve got some percussion set up and bongos, blah, blah, blah. And, uh, you know, what? Why don’t you test each one?”
And I was kind of just like, uh, I don’t know what to do.
And Trey just said, “OK.”
And he jumped onto like the keyboards and started playing and then he jumped on the guitar and started playing. And so I immediately ran to the recorder cause I realized there’s actually a song sort of being constructed here. So rather than let whatever he was doing disappear, we recorded it and kind of was overdubbing. And, and so then finally Trey goes, “The only thing we haven’t checked was the mics. So Tom …”
And then he rewound and pressed go and I’m like, fuck! I don’t know! So I grabbed this note that the cleaning lady left and I was just like:
“Welcome, this is a farmhouse. We have cluster flies.”
And then I added “alas.” [Under The Scales, 2017]
Beth Montuori Rowles: When I got back to the office the next week, Trey had dropped off the tapes from that weekend. I smiled when I heard “Farmhouse.” It must have been quite a sight from the house where they were recording.
Though the process didn’t always work this way, Trey would usually drop off the tapes from the weekends to Kevin Shapiro (Phish’s archivist). I’d listen to the songs in bits and pieces all day long as Kevin made dupes in his office, which is across from mine. After work, we’d sit around in Kevin’s office for hours becoming even more familiar with the new material. His office became a cool place to be at that moment.
Of course, I made Kevin play “Farmhouse” over and over again in the beginning, not only because of the lyrics, though I’m sure that had something to do with it. I’ve always been a big fan of “Bug” too. I have to say that the songs that came out of the Kaplan house (“Sleep,” “Blue and Shiny,” “Farmhouse” and “Bug”) are my favorites of the four writing sessions. That was a perfect autumn weekend so I’m not really surprised. [Trampled By Lambs & Pecked By The Dove liner notes, 2000]
Trey Anastasio: “Sleep” was another one that was just an incredible experience for me. We were running around in the woods. We left the house for a while and went running around in the woods for two hours, taking pictures of weird things, and then came back into the farmhouse, sat down and in 10 minutes wrote “Sleep,” just as it is.
A lot of the tracks that are on the album, Bryce [Goggin] ended up using the original guitar tracks from the farmhouse demos in the barn … Actually, probably a lot of the vocals are the same. I remember Tom was sleeping upstairs and I started to put together “Twist” at four in the morning. I played drums, bass and guitar, and then started putting on “wouldn’t twist around.” I was singing through this amp, and it started to get good, started to come together.
I remember Tom coming down like, “Oh my god, this sounds great!” And then we started throwing in the whoo!’s, all that stuff, as it started getting more and more cathartic. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Beth Montuori Rowles: From Mountain View Farm session #1, “Limb By Limb” and “No Regrets” are my favorites; from From Mountain View Farm session #2, “Vultures” and “Water In The Sky;” from Mountain Road House, which was the final house I rented, “Driver,” “Windora Bug,” “Name,” “Heavy Things,” “Never,” “Brian and Robert,” and “Somantin” were also written during the fourth weekend. Somehow in my memory, most of these songs sounded so complete as demos, as good as the finished-off productions they turned into albums – maybe even better. There’s a spirit to them that doesn’t need the extra fluff.
In the end, Trey and Tom wrote and recorded for about eight or nine days. All of the material on this disc was completed at those sessions and remains untouched since they left the farmhouses. It’s cool to think that these few days ultimately produced the bulk of material that Phish recorded and performed over the next three years. Many of these songs ended up on the two Phish albums that followed these sessions – The Story of the Ghost (1998) and Farmhouse (2000). Others became part of the live Phish repertoire for the same time period.
Credit should also be given to Scott Herman, whose lyrics have been used in previous Phish songs and whose poems can be found in bits and pieces throughout these works. [Trampled By Lambs & Pecked By The Dove liner notes, 2000]
Improving The Groove
Phish’s ever-evolving sound was beginning to lean into a more groove-oriented approach. The new elements were spurred in part by Anastasio’s burgeoning solo career and the songs he wrote with original Trey Anastasio Band members, drummer Russ Lawton and bassist Tony Markellis.
Trey Anastasio: I was really in the mindset of writing a kind of music that combined classical composition with rock ‘n’ roll energy that wasn’t progressive rock, you know what I mean? When I wrote “First Tube,” “Sand” and “Gotta Jibboo,” that was after a couple of years of the four of us talking about how important it was to us to groove. It had never been our strong point. If you listen to early tapes, you know, the groove was the last thing that we thought about.
For a couple of years, starting at the end of ’96, we started talking a lot about how we were going to improve the groove. Finally what I did was I set up a power trio tour with two musicians that I know who do nothing but groove: Tony Markellis and Russ Lawton. You know, Tony’s never taken a bass fill in his life. He refuses to. All he thinks about is groove. So I got them up into the barn and I had them start grooving.
I said, “start to groove in the key of C sharp.” So they would groove. And I told Russ, “I want you to play the simplest beat that you know on the drums, the beat that you’ve been playing since you were 12-years-old, the easiest thing you know,” and he did.
And then I said, “Now Tony, join in in the key of…” whatever and we did one in each of the 12 keys. And then they left. Then I wrote songs around these grooves and I took what I thought were the best nine or 10 songs written in that style and brought them over to Phish.
So, the songs were written completely from the concept of groove first. We had to learn new grooves in Phish and it’s probably the first time that you’ve ever heard Mike [Gordon] play the same three notes for six straight minutes. [Jambands.com, Jefferson Waful, 2000]
Tony Markellis: When Russ and I first got together with Trey, he encouraged us to build some basic grooves from the bottom up, based on things we liked or had been working on individually. He then fleshed the grooves out with his own ideas. We came up with the foundations for about 12 or 15 tunes from our first rehearsals. After we left, Trey continued to tweak ideas, eventually adding some of Tom Marshall’s lyrics onto the finished tunes. [NYSMusic.com, Pete Mason, 2013]
Page McConnell: [Trey’s songwriting evolution has] been a process over many years. If you look at Farmhouse, and even Story Of The Ghost and Billy Breathes, there’s a sincerity, more lyrical depth than on the first few albums. Songs like “Farmhouse,” “Heavy Things” and “Bug” are really great songs in the raw song form. A great melody, bridge, chorus and memorable hooks both in the guitar lines and in the lyrics.
The quality is improving, and I know that there are fans out there, and if I was an old fan, who like the old stuff, and they’re always going to like the old stuff. There’s something about a “Golgi Apparatus” or a “Tweezer,” but it’s not exactly what we’re doing now. They’re wonderful songs, and we’ll always play those songs, and I’m not saying that the new songs are better than the old songs. But from a purely compositional point of view, these are better songs (laughs). [Downbeat, 2000]
Trey Anastasio: Anywhere you go in life, if you hear somebody playing music on the street or listen to a stereo, there’s sounds all around you all the time. If you’re in a car, which is a lot of people’s favorite place to listen to music, your brain is used to hearing life going on. So it seems kind of odd you would work so hard to eliminate that.
I started thinking about that, interestingly enough, when I was doing the trio tour with Russ Lawton and Tony Markellis shortly before this album. That’s when I started getting all those boomerangs I was using. My idea was that I wanted to create layers of looping sounds that had nothing to do rhythmically with what the band was playing. In the back of my mind I was thinking “cityscape vibe.” If you’re walking down the street and there’s [makes rhythmic street noise], there’s something comforting about that.
And the country, of course, has crickets and streams. In any environment, if you listen closely enough, there’s always 20 or 30 rhythmic sounds going. So that maybe ties in with how we did Farmhouse: letting people talk while we were recording. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Bringing TAB Songs To The Phish Stage
Many of the songs debuted on Trey Anastasio’s May 1999 solo tour became part of Phish’s repertoire as well. The majority of the songs Phish recorded for Farmhouse, including “Heavy Things,” “First Tube,” “Back On The Train,” “Sand” and “Gotta Jibboo” were played first on that tour by the Trey Anastasio Band featuring Anastasio, Lawton and Markellis.
Trey Anastasio: It’s [Mike playing a deep, grooving bass line like in “First Tube”] something we’ve been talking about a lot, and it’s not something he might naturally do. Basically, the solution to that was I called up Tony, who does that better than anyone I’ve ever heard. That’s all he does; he’s never taken a bass solo in his life. Then we did the solo tour, and I wrote these songs with them, assuming that I’d then have songs that were based around really simple grooves, which ended up being the case.
I took the best three out of seven or eight songs we worked up, moved them into Phish, and then everybody added their personality and Phishiness to those songs, and I think it worked fairly well. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Russ Lawton: Trey asked me about [Phish performing songs co-written with Russ and Tony] when we first got back together and I said, “I had to get used to it.” And not that it was bad. What they did with it was really great. But especially when somebody told me about “First Tube,” I was like, “Wow! They’re doing ‘First Tube!'” That beat was such a part of me and it’s my attitude as a drummer too.
But it transformed and they did a good job and it took me a couple listens, but I got into them. It wasn’t that it was ever bad, it was just like, “Woah!” I used that beat in a song from Zzebra called “Shabadoo Day.” It’s like a real African thing. So that was kind of a part of me from a long time ago. [Jambands.com, Benjy Eisen, 2001]
Trey Anastasio: That song, “Gotta Jibboo,” we were learning someone else’s groove. So, that’s kind of a hard thing for bass players and drummers to do if it’s not their natural feel and it just wasn’t working in the beginning. We were really unhappy with it. I remember we played one show right before the last Hampton show [Providence Civic Center, December 13, 1999]. We all came off stage and we had just played this horrible, non-grooving version of “Gotta Jibboo” and everyone was steaming around the band room, like gritting their teeth (laughs). Everybody wanted to say something, but we were all just kind of storming around, honoring the no-analyzing rule.
Finally, there was just an outburst and everybody started yelling at the same time, “What the fuck,” you know? [laughs]. And, lo and behold, by talking about it, we figured out what was wrong. Fish wasn’t “swinging the ride.” That’s basically it. He was playing the ride straight. It’s a swung feel, you know? Imagine if you were playing the drums. Even though the kick drum is in the same place in the pattern, if you’re right-handed, it’s like (Trey sings the melody). It’s basically the simplest swung versus straight and he had been playing it straight, but it wasn’t feeling right and his solution had been to kind of play it louder, you know? He was trying harder, which doesn’t work either [laughs].
As soon as he said that, the next time we played it was in Hampton, it was the first time it was really great and that was right before we went into the studio. Had we not analyzed it, it may not have ended up on the album. [Jambands.com, Jefferson Waful, 2000]
“Gotta Jibboo,” Hampton Coliseum, December 17, 1999
Tony Markellis: [Trey] eventually took a few of them to Phish, and now they’ve become standard parts of the Phish songbook -– so much so that when a lot of people hear us play them, they think we’re covering Phish tunes. [NYSMusic.com, Pete Mason, 2013]
Trey Anastasio: They ended up translating really well. At first, it was a bit of a struggle, before we got into the studio because the ones that I wrote with Russ and Tony were written around grooves. I had those guys set up and do some grooves. The grooves ended up becoming “Gotta Jibboo,” “First Tube” and “Sand.” Then they left, and I ended up doing the rest of the writing with those grooves.
So the only thing that was sticky about it at first, when we translated those three songs over to Phish, is that Mike and Fish had to learn somebody else’s grooves. For a lot of bassists and drummers, that would’ve been impossible, as far as I’m concerned. But those guys are so experienced and so talented at it – this is where learning all those cover albums comes into play – that within five or six gigs of playing those songs, they had digested the basic feels and then turned them into their own thing. And then once that happened, there was no problem. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Page McConnell: Some of the grooves on the new album (Farmhouse) were real different sorts of things. Some of it came from studying the things that the bassist and drummer that Trey had been on the road with for his solo tour were doing, songs like “Gotta Jibboo” or “Sand.” Maybe even “First Tube.”
When I look at this album, I don’t say, “Wow, these guys are going off in an entirely new direction.” It doesn’t strike me as completely different from Phish. It actually strikes me more of what I think of us as. “Back On The Train” is a great kind of country-rock thing, and if you look back, country rock and bluegrass have been influences on us for years. But I think that we’re playing that style better now than before. “Bug” has a sort of alternative feel to it, and it’s a different kind of groove that we’ve ever had on an album before. I love the acoustic element in “Sleep.” It’s one of the best vocal takes on the album. And it has some great, thoughtful lyrics. [Downbeat, 2000]
Trey Anastasio: [The material on Farmhouse was] never gonna be on a solo album. That’s a myth. I did a solo tour with Russ Lawton and Tony Markellis. I did that tour as a way to get myself to write some new songs for Phish. I mean, the tour was completely geared around helping Phish. [Sonic Sessions, 2000]
Phish Chooses The Barn To Record Farmhouse
The 200-year-old barn Anastasio brought to his property in Vermont provided a relaxed and comfortable recording space for the sessions that yielded Farmhouse. The Barn has been used by Phish to record nearly every album they have released since Farmhouse.
Trey Anastasio: The Barn was set up as a model of the way I wanted to record in the future. It’s not really a recording studio; it’s kind of a hangout place. The Barn was put together with salvage: There were no plans when we put it together. It was improvised. There are stained-glass windows and ramps and garage door openers that were turned into elevators. There’s no control room; everybody’s out in the middle of the room. You don’t even know you’re recording an album. You drop your guard and start to have a good time. [Trey.com, 2011]
Phish.com circa 2000: “A Brief History of The Barn”
Trey Anastasio: As a band, we’ve learned that we’re most comfortable in our own space. Recording studios have a cold atmosphere. You’re paying by the hour, and you have to deal with this strange staff and their command hierarchy. In your space, you make the decisions.
This barn is where we practice, so we were really relaxed when it came time to record. It’s a vibey place that was originally built out of salvage. Some of the doors are from India, hand-carved by monks 400 years ago. I had in the back of my mind that someday the band would bring our recording in-house, so a lot of thought went into turning the barn into a space where we could successfully make music. For example, it’s fully insulated–a necessity, given that we recorded Farmhouse during the winter in Vermont. [Flippertronics: Phish’s Trey Anastasio trips out on guitar loops. Guitar Player, 2000]
Page McConnell: It was nice to get out of traditional recording studios that can be sterile and you gotta go away for months at a time to go to your album. Living at home and recording, it was very relaxing. [A-List, 2000]
Mike Gordon: There’s always a lot of downtime in the studio. So if one person is overdubbing a vocal part or a guitar part, the other people can go home and relax and come in when they’re needed. Rather than waiting around for 15 hours or something. [MTV, 2000]
Trey Anastasio: The whole place is completely pieced together. It’s kind of an improvisational project of its own, putting the place together. And as soon as it was done, we went in there and recorded, and that was the Farmhouse album. We felt like it was sort of an extension of the way we do these big outdoor concerts, where we build the whole concert from the ground up. It’s the album equivalent of that, where we actually built the studio and recorded there. [MTV, 2000]
Page McConnell: [Bryce Goggin] walked into the barn the first day and we had him and our engineer up to the studio. I was like, “what do you think?” And he’s like “this is heaven!” He couldn’t believe it. And it really is beautiful too. It’s not just the structure that’s beautiful. The view is beautiful. It was snowing most of the time up there. A lot of times we actually got snowed in and were stuck there for two or three days. But he was so easy to get along with and very confident and really had had his opinions and wasn’t afraid to assert them. But he really was most interested in enabling us and helping us pick the tracks and that sort of thing. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Bryce Goggin: I slept there a couple nights because of the weather. There were more problems leaving. There were a couple nights we had to get extra kerosene heaters to heat things up because it just didn’t seem like the Barn was ever going to get warm enough. But that’s all sort of like a siege, which is part of making a record anyway, you know, fighting against the elements. Sometimes those external elements can keep your mind off the internal elements that you’re always fighting anyway. There were definitely real distractions, but they were very endearing and an awful lot of fun to contend with. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Page McConnell: It’s got a great vibe, We recorded this album much more quickly as a result of being relaxed about it. [Phish: The Biography, 2009]
Trey Anastasio: In a funny way, I will say that the really relaxed album that will come out of the barn is yet to come. Because we still did record this album in between two tours. We tour frantically, as most people know. Nonstop. So most of these songs were songs that we knew. We kind of went in and set up and played. That being done in the back of my mind, I kind of had this idea for an album that would be a little bit more experimental, that would really be relaxed. I mean, in the sense that you just start recording from ground zero and if it takes two years then it takes two years. But we haven’t had that luxury recently cause we’ve been touring so much. So we kind of had to go in and play and get out. [MTV, 2000]
Bryce Goggin: This particular room had positive energy for everybody in the band. It was a very, very comfortable place. They had played there before and really liked the sound. Though I’ve worked in major studios all around the world, I’m comfortable just recording where everybody feels comfortable, and this seemed like the location best for that. It’s comparable to the Bearsville barn, at least in my philosophy of usage of that barn, which is that everybody’s in the same room and everybody can communicate – not just the band members but everybody involved in the production, so we’re all sort of feeding off of the energy being generated …
I’ve done a lot of records where I go on location, sort of escaping central activity. This record was more of an escape for me and less of an escape for the band, I think, because we did have a lot of people come down and hang out, but it was pretty much an environment that Phish was in control of. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Trey Anastasio: There were times like when Sue [Trey’s wife] was going up and down in the elevator during takes while we were doing acoustic guitars. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Page McConnell: We’ve played so many more concerts than we have recorded albums. You know, we’ve only recorded a handful of albums. And it’s just become more and more comfortable with time. Both have become more comfortable. The energy playing off the crowd… you can really feel it and taste it when you’re playing live. And I think creating an environment that we played in for this last album… it just brought it all together. The energy was still there. We were still playing live, the four of us were playing. It was all in one big room. We had our techs there and we had our recording engineers there and everybody was just in this one big barn area. [A-List, 2000]
Trey Anastasio: I think that for our first few albums, we had seen recording as a chance to re-create what we’ve been doing live on stage. And with this album, and with actually the last three starting with Billy Breathes, there was more of a sense that we wanted to have the recording be an event in itself. And the greatest example, I think, would be Exile On Main Street. When you listen to this album, it’s such a document. It’s almost like a journal entry of this period that they spent in Keith Richards’ basement. And you get a taste of what it was like to be there by listening to that album.
And I think that this album, to us, became more about the event. The experience itself. So if the experience was being in a cold windowless room, it wasn’t working for us. So instead we got the space that was rich with vibe and our friends were around and we let the tape decks roll. [A-List, 2000]
Farmhouse As A Response To The Story Of The Ghost
Phish took a democratic approach to recording their 1998 album The Story Of The Ghost, with mixed results. Anastasio assumed a more prominent role when it came to writing and recording the songs that appeared on Farmhouse.
Trey Anastasio: I’m especially proud and excited of that aspect of the way things have gone with the band, because at Billy Breathes, a lot of discussions came up and each, it seemed like each band member had sort of a concern, of over the course of the last three or four years those concerns have been addressed pretty directly. Starting with concerns that Page had, and then concerns that Mike had about songwriting issues and what was so upsetting to me was that I had these songs written for Farmhouse before we did Story Of The Ghost. And I had a vision in my mind that was pretty clear of what became the Farmhouse album.
At the time, we were in a different place and it was important to us to write songs as a group. So for a number of the songs on Story Of The Ghost we chose the songs that were written as a group. And this album kind of had to be put on hold. And I think there was enough good feeling after the follow-through of that album that Page and Mike kind of came to me and said, “OK, this would be a good, good time for you to follow through on your vision of this next album.”
I felt like in the midst of them giving me the space to do this project that they saw that I needed to do, we have just a great feeling among the band. And I think moving forward now, all the discussion right now is about trying to find some of Mike’s songs and really supporting those and some songs that Page and Fish wrote.
But I think everybody sees that the career is long and that there’s room for all different types of things. Nobody’s really threatened. And that I think is fairly rare. That may be something that sets the band apart. [A-List, 2000]
Mike Gordon: All of our albums are in some way a reaction to the previous album. That’s my theory. And we were reacting partly to the process of being so democratic in the decision-making. That’s why we gave Trey more of a free reign, untie his hands to run with it. We wanted to have crafted songs, to have all of them be strong. Trey said that several times. [Downbeat, 2000]
Trey Anastasio: We started questioning our roles during the last couple of albums. The Siket Disc, of course, was all improvised, there are no overdubs or anything. But on The Story of the Ghost especially, we were really questioning each other’s roles. I think what we found was that everybody’s hands were tied being who they were. So, we kind of untied our hands on this one and I had a lot of ideas. Probably the oddest thing is that there’s usually at least one song by Mike and there isn’t on this album. I think it’s because he was working on his film for the last three years. He hasn’t written a song in a few years. He’s been really working on his film. [Jambands.com, Jefferson Waful, 2000]
Page McConnell: A lot of it does have to do with just the amount of time and the number of years that we’ve been together and, and it does help, it does help to be able to see things in the big picture. There is time for everything and, and, and the more albums come and go the bigger … the more items you have behind you, you can sort of see, Oh, this is what that was. This is what that was. And they don’t all have to be everything. Not every album has to be everything, you know, and if they try to be they’re going to miss something along the way. [A-List, 2000]
Trey Anastasio: We went on to do Story Of The Ghost, and for this I had a lot of new songs, most of which actually appear on Farmhouse. But we were in this heavily democratic thing, where if anyone had any issue with a song, a verse or the way a sequence went, it got voted off. We ran with that for that album. We wrote together about half of the songs on that album. My feeling was that we’d overlooked the best songs. It’s almost as if the process had become more important than the result. Which was good. But we really threw out some great songs.
So I called each person in the band before doing this album, and asked them if I could run with it. I really had some ideas, and they said OK. It’s something I’m really proud of with this band. When someone has some issues, we address them. Mike had some issues around Story Of The Ghost, which we addressed. I didn’t want to go through the laborious democratic voting process. “Should there be a cymbal here? What do you think?” It really started to drive me crazy.
The two songs that I really wanted on Story Of The Ghost were “Farmhouse” and “Dirt.” The musical part of “Dirt,” I really had some clear ideas, but it was hard to explain that. When I played it for the guys, they weren’t sure if it was their favorite one. I told them that they should give it a chance. I told them that the previous process had been frustrating to me. And they gave me the reins here. [Downbeat, 2000]
Trey Anastasio As Co-Producer
Phish further distanced themselves from their previous record by giving Anastasio the freedom to co-produce Farmhouse along with Bryce Goggin. Prior to Farmhouse, Goggin’s credits included working with Pavement, The Lemonheads, Spacehog and others. He also produced Phish’s 2002 album, Round Room.
Bryce Goggin: I had hung out with [Phish] in Bearsville during Billy Breathes, and after seeing them play live I became excited with the concept of making a record that represented more of the spirit that I was feeling when I saw them play live than I had ever heard on an album. There were just a number of things that attracted me to the band, I have to say, not the least of which were getting to work with them up in that space and getting to create a studio environment for them to work in. It just seemed like a really stimulating challenge. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Trey Anastasio: I didn’t set out to [co-produce Farmhouse] and I don’t even know that until the end, it became clear that I had kind of done it. But I’ve produced my own album. The one that I did myself is called One Man’s Trash. It’s a little bit more experimental.
What happened was Mike has been working on a film for the last four years. He was just finishing up his film. He directed, edited and did everything on it. So he was kind of busy with that. And didn’t have a lot of songs. Didn’t have any songs on this album. Which is different for a Phish album. And Page just had a baby. So he was pretty busy. So it was almost by default that I just started kind of taking the reins on this project. So I dunno, that’s just kind of important to see that there was no plan from the beginning for me to produce it. I think if there had been, it may have been even more… I don’t know. This album is what it is. And, if I was going to produce one myself, it might be a little bit more weird. [MTV, 2000]
Page McConnell: One thing I really like about this album is that Trey primarily, with Bryce and with all of us, but really, it was a lot of Trey’s vision. And I think that’s what’s nice. That comes through, to have to have a singular vision, because there can be millions of decisions made over the course of making an album. And most of them are really just so minuscule that if you get bogged down with everybody trying to help in every little decision, you can miss the big picture or skew the big picture somehow. I think that comes through, the sort of simplicity. That’s part of the reason I think it flows well for me … [A-List, 2000]
Mike Gordon: With this album, Trey said he needed to be able to stretch out and make decisions without having to check with everybody. With music, learning to get your ego out of the way makes it better, so in a sense surrendering the democratic process was a way for us to do that. As a result, we were better able to be ourselves, to do our thing and jam and have a loose attitude and come up with good-sounding songs. [Phish: The Biography, 2009]
Trey Anastasio: Nobody was threatened by the fact that I had all these arrangements in my head. I had written all these songs and had a pretty clear vision of how I wanted them to sound. The other guys let me step forward, and they were cool about it. [Phish: The Biography, 2009]
Mike Gordon: There was one point when I definitely felt jealous because there was a creative process going on I wasn’t part of. But the stuff sounded good. And then Trey came up and said, “I really want to thank you for letting me do this, because I was in a mental rut.” The fact that he said that made me feel that it was the right thing that we did. [Phish: The Biography, 2009]
Bryce Goggin: I’d have to say the making of this record opened up my eyes to an awful lot of reality as far as how well you can do when you allow things to happen. There were an awful lot of moments where I wasn’t sure whether what we were doing was exactly the right way of pursuing it, but just by sitting back and seeing how everybody was responding to what was going on, I could see that things were becoming more and more musical and exciting.
There were times we were recording and there were 30 people in the Barn who were all talking and drinking and carrying on. We would be working on very difficult pieces of music that were not in the same mind frame of everybody else at the party, but I could see the band digging in and concentrating even more because there was that distraction around. It just forced them to focus, and they also would get a response from the people at the party to what they were doing.
I think that was an essential part of the recording, and that’s something I probably would never try in a conventional recording studio because you’ve got all this expensive equipment around and you’ve allotted all this time to do X, so why are you doing Y? It’s obvious that doing Y yielded this result, but it was definitely an unexpected surprise and byproduct, and it opened my eyes up to the realities of musicianship and the ways musicians involve themselves with their environment. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Mike Gordon: Farmhouse was one I felt very not involved with. I didn’t have any songs on it and we had given it to Trey to produce, which often Trey was doing anyway. But beyond that, maybe it was the headspace I was in at the time. I was really going through hard times on my own and I just felt very distanced. So I don’t think I ended up with as much a feeling of ownership. [Phish: The Biography, 2009]
Trey Anastasio: That was honestly part of the reason Phish had to take a break. If you think about that Farmhouse album, what was weird about it was that I got together with Russ and Tony, and there was this creative outburst. We wrote all these tunes, and the ones we didn’t write, we arranged. So that’s “Heavy Things,” “First Tube,” “Gotta Jibboo,” and “Sand” — half the Farmhouse album — in like a weekend. And then the next couple of weekends I got together with Tom and wrote “Farmhouse,” “Bug,” and other songs on Farmhouse. I played all the instruments and Tom wrote all the lyrics and did vocals. So I had drum parts and bass parts and everything.
When we got together to record Farmhouse, it just had been so intense with Phish for so long that we weren’t really doing anything together anymore except for the live playing. They weren’t even there, basically, for that album. I mean barely at all. Basically Mike and Fish played the exact bass lines and drum parts that either Russ and Tony or I had played, and then left. You can hear on the Tom/Trey album [Trampled by Lambs and Pecked by the Dove, an album of Anastasio— Marshall demos released via mail-order in late 2000] that those songs are virtually identical. And then normally Page would’ve been more involved, but he had his baby right then, so he couldn’t be there, either. So even some of the piano parts I played.
I really like the album and everything, but I felt like we needed to—you know what I mean—something weird was going on. [Phish: The Biography, 2009]
Inside the welcoming confines of The Barn, and with Anastasio and Goggin co-leading the sessions, Phish recorded what became Farmhouse between October 1999 and February 2000.
Trey Anastasio: The whole goal with this album was to have the recording process seem just like another show. What we did was we went into the studio October 11th , the day after the Albany shows. I think October 10th was the last day of Fall Tour. So we just set up the gear. Everybody came in and we just kept playing.
It was really fun. It really was just such a good vibe. Not to overspeak it, but everybody’s just getting along incredibly well right now and they were during the making of that album. That’s why I was saying it’s funny. It’s like on the one hand, I had a really heavy role in the making of this album. It seemed more like the way that Phish really is in terms of the way that we interacted compared to a couple of the previous albums because everybody was just playing their roles. Nobody was threatened. If you look all the way back to Rift or something, it’s always been basically the same vibe.
Certain people are more prolific. For example, let’s say I was sitting at the board for ten hours doing a mix with Bryce and we were deciding whether or not the high hat should get erased or something, or should be overdubbed. If Fish was just sitting in the room, on the couch, blabbing away in the background, I felt more confident. So, it’s not like his role isn’t important. He likes to stay up late, so he would come hang out at the barn while we were doing a really late night. I was always really encouraging him to come over. So, he was not actually producing the album, but still, it wouldn’t have been the same without him. [Jambands.com, Jefferson Waful, 2000]
Jon Fishman: There’s a couple of songs that are really just the original take with just the four of us. You could still manipulate the sounds (after they’d been recorded), but the tracks are essentially the bare bones. [Portland Press, 1998]
Trey Anastasio: The first five or 10 seconds of “Piper” there’s a cross-fade. We couldn’t get the intro together as good as it was live. I’m talking about the very quiet stuff in the beginning. We edited a bit of a live take but as soon as those 10 seconds are up it’s completely live in the studio. We played it all in the barn. [Philzone, 2000]
Bryce Goggin: We would get together and blow through a lot of music, and just try and capture it all, and then go back and collate later. That way, the band could get hot and not think about what was going down. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Trey Anastasio: We decided some basic concepts, such as recording to 2-inch analog tape. Beyond that, most of those decisions were made by John Siket, our engineer, and Bryce Goggin, who co-produced the record with me. John engineered Billy Breathes and The Siket Disc, co-engineered The Story of the Ghost, and he has mixed a bunch of live material for us. We like his aesthetic–he’s part of the gang now. [Guitar Player, 2000]
Bryce Goggin: You have to remember that John Siket owns two studios in the New York area and I’ve also been involved in the building of a couple of studios, so between the two of us we could strip it down to the bare essentials of what was needed to record. Also, the Dionysian Productions support staff was there for us and provided us with almost unlimited resources. It was certainly a fantastic experience. We were really well supported all the way through.
It seemed like whenever anything went technically wrong in The Barn, we could always say, “Hey, we’re in a barn,” so it was a lot less of a calamity than if we were in a professional recording studio where the expectation is that everything is supposed to work all the time and be 100% bulletproof. Which is basically a fallacy anyway. There were glitches here and there, but it was all sort of like, “Hey, we’re just rolling with it.”
It was very much a team effort. The band was in an environment they were really comfortable with, and they were also in an environment where they didn’t expect to be recording and having things sound as wonderful as they did. So they didn’t get too disturbed when things slowed down for a minute. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Trey Anastasio: It was just so cool. It was hard to believe what a cool experience it was. It was an event. I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite like that with an album before. I’ve felt like that with shows, you know, like with the last New Year’s show, which was an event that was deep and exciting and cool. Normally, albums feel a little bit less like an event and more like work to me. Whereas when I think about making the new album, I don’t think about the album itself as much as I think about all these great nights in the Barn. By the end, we had this rolling thing going on.
For a long time, me and Bryce were trying to keep up with Siket in the all-nighter department. By the end, we couldn’t do it anymore. There’s just no keeping up with him. So we would leave at like eleven and go home and go to bed, and Siket would stay up all night. Doing a mix. Hanging out. People would be stopping by, and he would do a mix.
We would come back in and in the morning and he would still be up, sitting there with a piece of burlap over the window to block the sun from his eyes. And he’d have done some really incredible thing, and probably like the last few hours he may have started to lose perspective and thrown some kind of flanger on there or something. You could tell by the mix what his night had been like. It’s like, “Oh, is that what it sounds like in your head?” We’d go in and change a few things around to move it back to reality. But it was a great system.
Amazingly, I remember the album was done, but nobody wanted to leave. There was snow and everybody was parked up there, and Siket kept saying, “I want to do one more remix.” We hadn’t slept in four days. And lo and behold, it was the first half of “First Tube.” [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
“First Tube” Animated Promo Video
Bryce Goggin: There’s a hell of a lot of effort that went into the album that actually occurred during touring. An awful lot of the work on the album went on during touring. I mean, these guys went and arranged their songs for the most part during soundchecks and would perform all these tunes. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Trey Anastasio: It wasn’t only just the party, too. There were times, there was this one moment when I had an epiphany. I was sitting in the Barn doing some kind of overdub. We had taken down the dividers. Sofi [Page’s wife] was on the couch nursing Delia. Three or four people were drinking wine and talking. Siket was on the phone saying it was a low-fi evening to his girlfriend. Bryce was at the board. The fire was going. Somebody was packing up their jacket, getting ready to leave. And it was weird. I was right in the middle, sitting on the stool getting ready to record, and I looked around and thought to myself, “Around me, as I’m recording this track, is my whole life.”
It’s like Phish, which started off as a band of 18-year-olds, by this point, to me and to the four of us, it’s become our entire … You know, children have been born and people have had good times and tragic events and all the things life has to offer, and it’s all in this Barn that I plan on living at someday. Here are all my friends and new friends I’d met and the babies and the fireplace and Ann was serving food – we had the dinner table right behind the board – and it just felt right … I don’t know …
Something hit me, like the whole thing had become completely full, like a full, rich life experience that had nothing to do with, “Now we’ll go hole ourselves up in a little white-painted hole and make music that we’ll sell to people.” It didn’t feel that way at all, and that, to me, symbolized the whole thing. [Parke Puterbaugh Interview, 2000]
Page McConnell: We’re not so different than we were as people 15 years ago. We’re pretty much the same four guys. We’re older and more successful, but what people liked when they used to see us at a club in Richmond, Virginia, or Dayton, Ohio, was that they could stand up there and see us live. and that’s still how people see us. Sure, the venue may be a whole lot bigger, but they can still see us. We’re right there, and we still enjoy playing live. It’s what we’re known for, how we’ve made our name, and I hope that over time an album like Farmhouse is received with the same enthusiasm as people have when they see us live. I want people to listen to it and appreciate it. We’ve captured something. [Downbeat, 2000]
Phish recruited additional musicians for three songs on Farmhouse. “The Inlaw Josie Wales” featured Jerry Douglas (dobro) and Béla Fleck (banjo), “Gotta Jibboo” featured Dave Grippo (saxophone), James Harvey (trombone), Andy Moroz (trombone) and Jennifer Hartswick (trumpet) and “Dirt” featured John Dunlop (cello), Roy Feldman (viola), David Gusakov (violin) and Laura Markowitz (violin).
Trey Anastasio: That’s Jerry Douglas [playing dobro] with Béla Fleck playing banjo [on “The Inlaw Josie Wales”]. We’d recorded the acoustic guitar, bass, and piano, but I didn’t know where to go next. When Jerry and Béla were in town to do a show, they came by to see The Barn, and I asked them to play on that tune. They probably did four takes, and there was something great about each one.
It was really cool to see musicians of that caliber, and how with each take they would dig in a little bit deeper and get their hands a little bit more around the heart and soul of the song. [Guitar Player, 2000]
“The Inlaw Josie Wales”
Trey Anastasio: I write out the [strings] charts and give them to the musicians. It’s really fun. We used four horns and a string quartet … They rehearsed at my house, so I could make adjustments along the way. I discovered that you can write parts that are too smart. That happened a lot. You come up with this complicated passage that sounds so cool by itself, but when you put it in the song you go, “Well, we don’t need that.” So you simplify.
Also, string players will give you phrasing options. For instance, on a violin you can play a different number of notes with one bow stroke. You can bow three notes with one stroke or use a different stroke for each note. It’s a different sound. Beyond that, you can interpret a phrase in a baroque style or use a more dramatic vibrato …
We would get to a section and the string players would ask, “Do you want three notes on a bow or six?” And I’d say, “Play them both.” One would sound better, so they’d write that onto their parts. That’s how the arrangement comes together. I wasn’t even aware of some of these subtleties until they asked me.
These considerations apply to guitar as well. People don’t think about it much, but you can usually find the same notes in two or three places on the fretboard. I’ve found that the same melodic passage can sound completely different, depending on where you play it. [Guitar Player, 2000]