Towards the end of 1992 it stopped being a question of not if but when Phish would find a large audience. Guitarist Trey Anastasio, keyboardist Page McConnell, drummer Jon Fishman and bassist Mike Gordon were still at the theater level, yet had a taste of the big time by opening for Santana at huge amphitheaters across the U.S. during the summer of 1992. With that in mind, armed with some of the best songs Anastasio and Gordon had ever written, the quartet entered the studio with producer Barry Beckett of Muscle Shoals fame. The result was the concept album Rift, a 15-song LP released 25 years ago today.
As they assembled with Beckett at White Crow Studios in their hometown of Burlington, Vermont; Phish had achieved a level of success that finally enabled them to focus squarely on the music. No more hauling their own gear, no more switching spots driving Fish’s van, they were a major label act with a tour bus and all. Remember, the quartet was far from an overnight success, as it took them nine years to put out their first major label studio album and to make enough money to rent a tour bus and driver. Beckett was the first big-time producer Phish had worked with and while White Crow was sure close to home, it was, in the words of Anastasio, “a complete wreck.” Parke Puterbaugh in Phish: The Biography quotes Trey as saying, “All the wiring was messed up and nothing worked.” A huge problem reared its head when, just ahead of the overdubbing process, Phish, Beckett and the recording crew realized the recording levels were through the roof. After a few days of fearing all of their work had gone for naught, engineers were indeed able to fix the issue and save the basic tracks.
Late last year, Phishbase ran an interview with Sue Drew, Phish’s A&R Rep who helped Elektra sign the band. Drew helped the quartet and label select Beckett, yet the issue was the songs on the LP had been fully developed both on the road and in the heads of the band members. As such, especially with pal Kevin Halpin engineering, Phish went their own way with Rift moreso than truly collaborating with Beckett. It didn’t help that Sue Drew left Elektra’s employ during the sessions.
Puterbaugh does point out one particularly good collaboration between Phish and Barry Beckett: Trey’s solo on Gordon’s quirky “Weigh.” The guitarist told Puterbaugh, “I wanted to overdub a guitar solo, and I started to get on a roll with Barry.” Anastasio, talking to Parke in 1995, went on to explain, “It was myself, him and this great engineer. It took five or six hours to do that guitar solo, and it was such an incredible team effort ’cause I’d come up with an idea and he’d make the littlest suggestion. ‘Just bend it a little bit.’ Or he’d say, ‘You’re playing the seventh. Try the sixth.'” Listen to the resulting track:
As noted, Phish released Rift 25 years ago today. Perhaps Elektra wasn’t as happy with how it did when it came to sales, and perhaps Phish looks back at it as a whiff, yet Rift features 15 tracks that have stood the test of time. The quartet still plays all of the songs fairly regularly with the exception of “All Things Reconsidered,” which has been mothballed since 1996, and the Fish-penned rarity “Lengthwise,” which still rears its head from time to time at concerts. Phish continues to break new ground with some of the tunes in concert. A recent live version of “It’s Ice” at MSG stands out among the best takes on the song in the past 25 years:
For a fun look back in time, watch a six-minute promotional video Elektra and Phish put together to help sell Rift in 1993:
Listen to Rift in its entirety:
This July, Phish returns to the road for an extensive summer tour. If past trends are to be followed, fans can expect to hear approximately 1.4 Rift songs a night.