“Everything seems to be dialed in right now,” Phish front man Trey Anastasio told Rolling Stone while on the road with the band. They’re currently on a massive summer tour, and they’re having a blast: At a recent gig, they lost themselves in a blissful 25-minute spin through 1994’s “Down with Disease,” and have been breaking out stellar covers of Beatles, Stones and Zeppelin songs (on Sunday, they paid tribute to E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons with Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”). We spoke to Anastasio shortly after the tour kicked off about the band’s three-day Super Ball IX festival, which starts July 1st in Watkins Glen, New York; his love of the band Beach House; and Phish’s next studio album.
How does it feel to be onstage again after the break?
It feels great. The sound onstage is killer, partially due to some fine-tuning we’ve been doing over the last two tours, and partially due to this badass new sound system we broke out in Bethel. I always try to listen to the sound coming back from the room, and this new system is so tight. It really helps. The band feels loose in all the right ways, and it’s just so cool looking out and seeing all of these people that I haven’t seen in a while. It’s a pretty tight-knit community. You’d be surprised how many people I recognize when I look out there.
You’ve played some Zeppelin and Beatles covers on this tour, among others. Have you heard any great songs lately you want to cover?
I went through an obsession with Beach House recently, and I actually found myself trying to copy that gorgeous pattern picking style of guitar during one of the jams in Bethel. I’ve been listening to a record by the Grates called Teeth Lost, Hearts Won that I love. I haven’t heard a song screaming to be covered recently, though I did learn “Zebra” by Beach House on the guitar because I love the way Alex Scally picks so cleanly with a pick, as opposed to finger picking patterns. In terms of rock songs, I’ve kind been toying with this idea of covering “Master of Puppets” for quite some time.
When do you hope to record a new Phish album? Any idea what it will sound like yet?
We are talking about opening the door to some kind of new album this winter. Next year is looking like it will be a less busy touring year, mostly because of family obligations for some of the band members. We want to get together in the winter and start working on something new. What that thing is undefined, and we’re keeping it that way on purpose. We just want to get together and see where it goes.
The Super Ball IX is coming up July 1st. Any big plans you can share with us?
We have loads of plans for Super Ball IX! The four of us have a backstage brainstorming meeting tonight with the artists about the festival. That’s all I can say though.
Phish are pioneers of the self-curated festival – something Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band and others are doing this summer. It must take a lot of work and planning – what is the appeal of having your own festival? Why do you think more bands are doing it now?
The festivals grew organically out of our early scene in Vermont. We were always a party band and we used to play outside a lot. People always seemed to show up. I remember a big pig roast at our friend Ian’s farm one summer – everyone came and slept in the field. We did a gig at our friend Amy’s farm in Maine and suddenly it was 5,000 people. Then we went to Plattsburgh and it was 50,000. You have to keep in mind, though, that there were no festivals to speak of when Phish was doing those early ones. I remember hearing about Burning Man, but even that was just getting going in the Nineties. Now there are tons, but it all felt very cutting edge in the mid-Nineties. There was no playbook. We were making it up as we went along.
We always felt like we were throwing a party for our friends, regardless of the size or the place, because we actually were throwing a party for our friends. We’ve always had a very tight knit community. We talked about what we would want if we were going. The four big ones in the Nineties – the Clifford Ball, the Great Went, Lemonwheel and Big Cypress – were some of the best times I can remember with Phish. Indescribable. I’ll never forget them.
Now that Phish has been playing for 25-plus years, do you get tired of playing long sets? Or has time made it easier?
Not only isn’t it getting tiring, but it’s getting harder in some ways to kill the time between gigs. Music has always been my protection against the world, from a very young age. I feel safe inside of a jam.
What’s you’re favorite all-time summer song?
Hmmm… How about “Wipeout.” Now that’s a summer song.