“We call this band the love affair,” Three Fish frontman Robbi Robb says with his seductive South African inflection. “Pearl Jam is Jeff’s marriage, and Tribe After Tribe is mine. Three Fish is the other woman.”
The story of Three began in 1992, when Robb purchased the Pearl Jam album Ten in order to impress a cute record store clerk. He nearly wore grooves into the CD and publicly proclaimed himself a disciple.
“Then I get a phone call from Pearl Jam,” Robb says. “They [wanted] to know if Tribe After Tribe would open for them. I thought it was one of my friends kidding me.”
When Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament greeted Robb outside London’s Brixton Academy on July 13, 1993, the two free spirits discovered they were reading the same book: Aleister Crowley’s Moonchild. Needless to say, they bonded. After Pearl Jam’s Vs. sessions later that year, Robb, Ament and drummer Richard Stuverund (Whiskeytown, Fastbacks) entered a Big Sur, Calif., rehearsal space and emerged with thirty-five tracks.
“I’m going through post-natal depression right now,” says Robb, who finished the last recording session for the second Three Fish album late last week in Seattle. “It’s like after you’ve acted in a play on Broadway for months and the show is over. I’ve just been wandering around saying, ‘Man, I love those guys.'”
The follow-up to Three Fish’s self-titled 1996 debut was conceived during a trio of seven-day retreats beginning last spring — two in Ament’s Montana home studio and the last one in his Seattle digs. Tentatively titled The Quiet Table, the forthcoming album grooves on the same exotic vibe as Three Fish, utilizing Middle Eastern instruments like the vina and the sag — both played by Robb — as well as distinct African drum beats.
“When Richard and I first met, I introduced him to all these strange tribal instruments,” Robb says. “He actually went on tour with Tribe After Tribe playing the hand drums this summer, and to see this guy blossom like that is just stunning. He’s taken on a whole new way of drumming and designed a new drum kit. It’s gorgeous.”
Then there’s Ament, who plays all of Three Fish’s traditional stringed instruments. “Jeff loves playing guitar and I love watching him because he makes decisions that a guitarist wouldn’t make,” Robb says. “There’s an innocence in there, a naive art. Even after all these years of experience, those two sides clash together quite nicely.”
That clash will be heard early next spring when Epic Records releases the next Three Fish experience. The track listing remains uncertain, but Robb says three of his most cherished compositions will make the final cut. The first is “The Myth of Abdul,” which he says is “about a guy who wants to show us what causes the rain.” The next is a parable of sorts about the wind playing postman to the mountains and the sea. The third, “Shiva and the Astronaut,” took its inspiration from a Hindu goddess and John Glenn.
“It’s got a very, very special meaning to me, but I can’t explain it, I just feel it when I sing it,” Robb says. “In the first verse he is drifting through the air, left and broken. In the second verse, drifting through the air has left him open. And then he leaves the world without a cheer when he crosses over.”