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Trey Anastasio on Improvisation
July 2, 2011 8:04 AM   Subscribe

BLVR: This is all a pretty analytical approach to improvisation, where I think a lot of people consider Phish’s music to be just “made up on the spot.”
TA: We’re the most analytical band, in some ways. We’d talk and talk for hours about this stuff. I see improvisation as a craft and as an art. The craft part is important. There’s a lot of preparation and discipline that goes into it just so that, when you’re in the moment, you’re not supposed to be thinking at all.
The Believer - Interview with Trey Anastasio
posted by lemuring (41 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
TA: Today what I do is—I do this every night we play—I have a little quiet moment where I picture some guy having a fight with his girlfriend, getting into his car—the battery’s dead—then he gets to the parking lot and it’s full. Meets up with his friends. Comes into the show. I try to picture this one person having their own experience, and I picture them way in the back of the room. And I try to remember how insignificant my experience is, and how people’s experiences with music are their own thing. We put it out there, and if it’s of service to someone, great, but I try to get away from the idea that it’s even starting from us. And when you do that listening-exercise stuff, when I actually get into a moment where I’m only listening, I find that the music gets so much… beyond us. And I can tell that from the reaction I hear from the audience. It always feels more resonant if I can get my hands off it. If all four of us were here, they’d all be saying the same thing. It’s great as long as you listen to anybody but yourself. Anything but yourself.

This entire interview is fantastic.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:32 AM on July 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Never been a fan, but can't stop reading this.
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:52 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really need to resubscribe to The Believer.
posted by penduluum at 9:00 AM on July 2, 2011


That was an excellent interview, and now I need to listen to "Rift" and dance around my living room.
posted by redheadedstepchild at 9:15 AM on July 2, 2011


Overt Phish fans fawn with major capital. Isn't that interesting?
posted by Mblue at 9:29 AM on July 2, 2011


There's an opening quote in paragraph four of the introduction, at “Time Turns Elastic.

It never closes.

Really changes the context of the interview.

...


posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:33 AM on July 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


...It never closes.

Really changes the context of the interview.


Ohh, what's really going to bake your noodle later on is, in Believer's second question in Part III they do it again with the same song.

it's called... Inception


















".
posted by nanojath at 9:42 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


A Phish post with 4 comments before the first snark? A new record! Great interview.
posted by muckster at 9:44 AM on July 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hey, hey, my snark is out of love. This is one of the best interviews I've ever, ever read, on any subject, and anyone who's ever picked up an instrument is likely to find at least one revelatory item inside.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:49 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have never listened to a Phish song. Would somebody in the know go find me a favorite youtube performance?
posted by neuromodulator at 9:51 AM on July 2, 2011


Someone stop me from linking to their cover of "Watcher of the Skies."
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:52 AM on July 2, 2011


Favorite is damn near impossible, but you might as well start with their Vimeo page, where they've been posting one song from each night of summer tour. Also, this weekend is Superball IX, their festival at Watkins Glen, and Live Phish radio is going to broadcast the shows tonight and tomorrow live.
posted by muckster at 9:54 AM on July 2, 2011


I don't know much about Phish, but I love their rendition of the Ewok song from the original ROTJ soundtrack.
posted by hippybear at 9:59 AM on July 2, 2011


Blah?
Goal.
Blah?
Interception.
Blah?
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzip
Blarghhhh.
Goal
posted by Mblue at 10:00 AM on July 2, 2011


This is probably the best Phish performance on YouTube.
posted by dydecker at 10:01 AM on July 2, 2011 [9 favorites]


"The craft part is important. There’s a lot of preparation and discipline that goes into it just so that, when you’re in the moment, you’re not supposed to be thinking at all."

I don't even listen to Phish but I just love that remark, to death.
posted by blucevalo at 10:25 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not big into Phish but Trey gave an incredible monster performance with Phil and Friends on October 20th 2007. He was just emerging from a rough time personally and you can hear all of these emotions pouring out into the music in such a positive way. His versions of Deal and Bertha were both better than anything played before or since. The whole concert is on Archive and there are some video clips online too but they're of poor quality.
posted by euphorb at 10:47 AM on July 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is probably the best Phish performance on YouTube.

I honestly cannot tell if this is a joke or not. Complete toss-up. I'm guessing... not?
posted by nathancaswell at 11:05 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's "what Phish sounds like to people who don't like Phish."
posted by muckster at 11:06 AM on July 2, 2011


I wonder if people think Kasparov is a talentless hack because he just makes up chess moves as he goes along?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:10 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love Bouncing Around the Room.

I can't explain why, but it always makes me tear up a little. It's so full of joy.
posted by winna at 11:27 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good interview. Anastasio is a cool guy. But I wish improvising were not as important to Phish. I've always found them to be so much more interesting when they're playing meticulously arranged music. Anastasio's saying there's not much of a difference between improvising and composing, but, on the evidence of the music (to my ears), there's a huge difference. The middle section of "It's Ice" is pretty great--harmonically interesting, dramatic, adventurous, and exactly the same every time--ditto the end of "Reba," for example, especially right around 5:00 or so. Then all the languid improvising starts...deedle-deedle-deedle...and the air gets sucked out of the room.

Not hating on em; obviously this is a personal taste thing. But for what little it's worth, I know plenty of other people with the same basic feeling about Phish. Perhaps persons on this very thread...
posted by Zerowensboring at 12:26 PM on July 2, 2011


They just want on at the Super Ball, so tune into livephish.com for actual live Phish. Tube > Kill Devil Falls so far.
posted by muckster at 12:35 PM on July 2, 2011


I liked Rift quite a bit. That was kind of a concept album. The deedling improv noodlery is a big turnoff to me. Shades of "you are witnessing the rebirth of Spinal Tap".
posted by nathancaswell at 12:40 PM on July 2, 2011


Phish has been on the forefront of digital music distribution since, well, since the beginning. In no uncertain terms, they have absolutely figured this shit out. Long live Phish.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:33 PM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


That was a fantastic interview.
posted by rtha at 2:40 PM on July 2, 2011


Would somebody in the know go find me a favorite youtube performance?

Guyute (Sessions at West 54th, 1998)
Taste (Sessions at West 54th, 1998)
posted by prinado at 6:43 PM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's red and looks good on Phish?


Fire.
posted by gcbv at 6:53 PM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's really weird how these guys talk so much about improvisation but seem so completely ignorant of the last 40 years of development and variation within free improvised music.

What would they make of Cosmos' Tears or Ryu Hankil's Becoming Typewriter or Mimeo's Hands of Caravaggio or Seymour Wright's Seymour Wright of Derby?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:31 PM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Zerowensboring, I've felt that way about Phish as well. Not all the time, but often enough that I've never been able to cross into hardcore fan territory.

Regardless, great interview!
posted by danb at 9:35 PM on July 2, 2011


He mentions love of the festivals that "sprang" up around them. And not being sure why that happened. I know why: hippy revival. Twenty years had passed and the fad came back. I remember having to endure that hellscape. 1970, again? No! Woodstock was back. The Dead were just as popular as ever. Everyone in college was growing long hair and being "earthy" (dirty) again. Neil Young was suddenly a rock God again. And along came Phish. I don't miss this era one iota and it's why I purposefully became an anti-fan of Phish. I never even gave them a chance. Perhaps that's shameful, but I have no remorse.
posted by readyfreddy at 2:29 AM on July 3, 2011


I believe that's a case of begging the question, readyfreddy. Why the hippie revival?
posted by muckster at 4:43 AM on July 3, 2011


I really wish that people who comment in threads just to point out how much they dislike the band or whatever that's being discussed would find something better to do with their time. Seriously, if you find yourself with the urge to piss on a conversation to demonstrate how much cooler you are than the people who like the band and want to actually discuss the article, maybe you should turn off the computer and go outside.
posted by Wroksie at 5:57 AM on July 3, 2011


I listened to a lot of Phish when I was going through a bit of a dreadlocks and Birkenstocks phase as a teenager, but when I moved away from that I didn't listen to them for years. I've started again recently and I've found myself really liking them, maybe even more than I did in my 17 year old weed-and-patchouli haze. This interview was amazing, thanks!
posted by Wroksie at 6:08 AM on July 3, 2011


The festivals that sprung up around Phish had nothing to do with a hippie revival. Good grief.

For starters, if you're putting 1970 forward as some kind of peak of hippiedom, then you're doing it wrong. By Woodstock it was already starting its descent post Summer Of Love in 1967, and by Altamont it had finally lost its innocence completely and was dissolving.

But anyway, to the Phish and the festival thing... Music festivals had been making a comeback for a while. They're a cheap way for a promoter to pull together a whole slew of bands into a single location and leave the cost burden of travel to the attendees rather than putting the bands on tour. The Phish festivals were probably organized a bit differently because of the culture out of which they sprang, but the concept is the same.

The big thing which was the driver of a lot of whatever vibe was happening back then was the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995. The Grateful Dead touring machine was like a miniature city with a free-floating population which moved across the country regularly, and when Jerry died, it left a giant hole in the lives of a lot of people, who went looking to other places to find their improvisation-based rock concert fix. Phish was one of the places that a lot of those people turned to fill that hole, and it's no coincidence that the Phish Festivals started in 1996.

Anyway, it's obvious that you were bitten by a hippie as a small child or something, your hate for them is so strong. Maybe you should take a walk rather than commenting in threads which remind you of such dark times in your life.
posted by hippybear at 6:30 AM on July 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's much more friendly and centered, hippybear. I mean, all we are saying is give peace a chance and try to drive opposing opinions out of our conversations, amirite?

The hippy revival had a shit ton to do with Phish's rise, just as the (similar 20-year cycle) punk revival had to do with the OC pop-punk bands hitting the pop charts.

And why kids these days are wearing those black rubber bracelets that were so damn cool when I was in middle school ('84-'86). Dammit, Mom, why wouldn't you buy me those...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:41 PM on July 3, 2011


Everyone in college was growing long hair and being "earthy" (dirty) again. Neil Young was suddenly a rock God again. And along came Phish.

Also, just because I can't bear to see such incredible ignorance go unchallenged, Phish started in 1984.

So, there goes that part of your little argument.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:46 AM on July 4, 2011


Yea but they only got big later
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:12 PM on July 4, 2011


I have been a Phish fan for over half of my life, and I love those four guys as much as I love anybody on the planet. They take on a huuuge amount of responsibility to provide a safe environment for my friends and I to get together and party. These friends are scattered all over the country and very often we only have the chance to see each other in this context.

Every single modern, American festival has Phish (and the people surrounding them over the years) to thank for paving the way. And nobody does it better. Let me just go ahead and say, this ain't your momma and daddie's kinda party

Phish is and always has been a party band. If you take your fun seriously, come to a show. But if being serious is fun to you, it might be better to stay home.

Phish's popularity is not part of some returning hippie fad, it is the result of hard work and creativity that comes straight from the heart.

btw, their festival this weekend? One of the BEST weekends of my life!

My favorite quote from the article: I try to get away from the idea that it’s even starting from us. That is how they make us fans feel every time.
posted by sneakyalien at 8:41 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Phish also sends out a manual that includes a profile of the fans, including their tendency to enter a venue at the last minute before show time, and "dance and twirl in any open area" during the show.
"Phish fans are a peaceful, intelligent group of people," the document says.
Local police should be made aware of "the special handling many situations require," it adds.
posted by Flashman at 2:54 PM on July 8, 2011


Every single modern, American festival has Phish (and the people surrounding them over the years) to thank for paving the way. And nobody does it better. Let me just go ahead and say, this ain't your momma and daddie's kinda party

This is entirely not true.

Coachella was inspired by a Pearl Jam concert.

Bonnaroo was inspired by Coachella and Glastonbury.

Bumbershoot has been going on since the early 1970s when it was started as a city-sponsored music and arts festival.
posted by hippybear at 5:26 AM on July 9, 2011


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