Trey Anastasio on Phish’s Bond, His Man Cave and the Dead’s Big Gigs
Trey Anastasio isn’t taking his job as singer-guitarist at the Grateful Dead’s reunion shows lightly. In preparation for the Fare Thee Well concerts (which start on June 27th), Anastasio has been shuttling between the houses of surviving members of the Dead in Northern California to practice and talk set lists. “There’s certain things you can’t pick up without sitting there,” says Anastasio, as he talks about visiting Bob Weir at home, “like some of the changes in ‘New, New Minglewood Blues.’ ” A few weeks after the Dead shows, Anastasio will return to his day job in Phish, who are starting a U.S. tour in Oregon on July 21st. For those rehearsals, the guitarist only has to travel to his Vermont barn, where he was heading when we spoke. “I haven’t seen the guys in a couple of weeks,” he says. “I can’t wait!”
What’s surprised you about Dead rehearsals so far?
It’s been a great experience in ways I might not have anticipated. I hung with Bobby [Weir] at his beach house for about a week. He said, “Just fly out and we’ll sit with a couple of amps and just play.” We played through all the tunes, but being given the opportunity to hear stories about how they were written – Bobby would tell me what bands they were listening to when they wrote a particular song – that stuff is really informative.
Then Phil [Lesh] invited me out, and we had a barbecue at his house, and I got to see Phil walking on the beach with his grandson, which was really touching. Bobby, Phil and I just sat, talking about the set list. Watching them reminisce about the day they wrote “Truckin’ ” and laughing – that’s the stuff I love. One day, Bobby started talking about how much he loved Brent [Mydland, the Dead keyboardist who died in 1990]. He said, “Make sure you listen to those vocal harmonies from the late 1980s.” I also thought Brent was great and miss him. Life happens. People come and go.
I have a little studio in New York and Bobby came and we were just jamming in there for about a week, just a little windowless room, and then Bill [Kreutzmann] was in town so we called him and he came over, so the three of us were just rockin’ in this room.
What have you learned from Bob that’s helped your approach to playing?
There’s little things with each song. Music has a back-porch oral tradition, as we know. There’s certain things that you just can’t pick up without sitting there. I’ll give you a sort of a weird example: If you’re playing “Minglewood Blues,” it’s basically a 12-bar blues, but he would say, “We don’t really go to the five chord, we kind of play the one chord.”