Tom Marshall Discusses Phish Lyrics On ‘Under The Scales’

By Scott Bernstein Oct 14, 2019 10:27 am PDT

Phish lyricist Tom Marshall talks about the meanings behind the lyrics to four songs he co-wrote with Trey Anastasio for the latest episode of Osiris network podcast Under The Scales. Tom and co-host RJ Bee discuss “Dirt,” “Guyute,” “Undermind” and “Light” in the fourth lyrics-analysis installment of the show. Previous Under The Scales episodes devoted to lyric deep dives are available here, here and here.

As in the past, the songs selected were picked from suggestions provided by listeners. Marshall and Bee start by analyzing the lyrics for “Dirt,” which Phish debuted live in 1997 and included on their 2000 studio album, Farmhouse. The pair note Scott Herman contributed to the “Dirt” lyrics. Tom recites the words and explains Scott set the tone by providing the opening lines:

  • I’d like to live beneath the dirt
  • a tiny space to move and breathe
  • is all that I would ever need

Marshall reveals his part is a response to Herman’s lines that begin “Dirt” and calls the song, “The ultimate resignation” and feels Trey’s whistling in the song “is almost enough to make you forget that they guy wants to be underground forever.” RJ thinks the song is about death and explains the lyrics took on a different meaning after his dad died.

Next comes a discussion of “Guyute,” which Phish debuted live in 1994 and released on 1998’s The Story Of The Ghost. Tom states “my lyrics skate on top” of Trey’s composition “but also become it as well which is really cool.” Both RJ and Tom pick up on the whistling Trey inserts as he did for “Dirt.” Marshall explains he provided the lyrics to Trey long before Phish performed the song and notes the main character is a screwup and someone you wouldn’t want around. Tom notes how a particularly dark part of the tune is followed by its triumphant ending. “I’m proud of ‘Guyute,’ despite his foul disposition, holds a place near and dear to me,” Marshall remarks. RJ feels this is one case where the music reflects what’s going on in the lyrics and Tom then shares his thoughts on how Trey put the song together.

The third song covered in the episode is “Undermind.” Marshall tells the story behind the tune, which served as the title track of Phish’s 2004 album but wasn’t played live by the quartet until 2009. He recalls using a drum kit during a songwriting session and how they laid down the foundation for “Undermind” with the kit and a particularly thumping bass line. Tom plays the “Undermind” demo that was recorded in 2003 as part of a prolific day of composing in Nantucket. Marshall explains the lyrics came out of an exchange with Scott Herman and each set of words start with a specific prefix (“Un,” “Re,” “Mis”).

Finally, Tom and RJ dive into “Light,” the title track of Phish’s 2009 studio album. Marshall says in a way Trey gave him the lyrics. Tom shared a story of visiting Anastasio in 2008 while the guitarist was completing drug court related to his 2006 arrest. The lyricist explains Trey handed him a book entitled “The Power Of Now” by Eckhart Tolle and Marshall was underwhelmed by the book. He then wrote all the lyrics to “Light” as kind of his response to the book.

Listen to Episode 57 of Under The Scales below:
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