Less than twenty-four hours after Phish called it quits, Trey Anastasio visited Rolling Stone‘s New York offices to talk about his decision. “Not everybody’s fully in agreement,” the frontman says of the band, which formed twenty-one years ago while the members were in college in Burlington, Vermont. “But for three of us, it seemed like the natural thing to do. Bands break up, you know?”
The split comes at a time when Phish appeared to be firing on all cylinders. The band’s tenth studio album, the excellent Undermind, will be released on June 15th; a friendly, rocking first single, “The Connection,” released on May 24th, is shaping up to be the group’s biggest radio hit. Band members have been saying that some recent shows, such as the four-night New Year’s run in Miami, have been among the best in Phish’s history.
In addition, a thirteen-date summer tour in support of Undermind begins on June 17th in New York (a show that will be simulcast in forty-seven movie theaters nationwide) and culminates in a two-day festival in Coventry, Vermont, on August 14th and 15th. That gig will now be Phish’s farewell. Upwards of 65,000 fans are expected to hear the band bid goodbye to its old material. “I’d like to revisit that stuff one more time,” Anastasio says of the upcoming tour. “But I just can’t play that shit anymore. If that makes somebody angry, I’m sorry. I gotta do something new. I cannot spend my entire life going around the country playing ‘You Enjoy Myself.'”
According to bassist Mike Gordon, his bandmates came to his Vermont home for a meeting on Friday, May 21st, and sat around the kitchen table to discuss band business. After some joking around, “Trey simply announced, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ and started to cry,” Gordon says. By the end of the three-hour meeting, the bass player was the only one arguing for a reconciliation. “It’s pretty weird to have the plug pulled on your career just like that,” he says. “But it’s a totally classy thing we’re doing, leaving on our own terms. The only thing I disagree with is that longevity pays.”
As disappointed as Gordon may be with Anastasio’s decision, he says there is no bitterness. “Trey is one of my biggest influences,” he says. “I have huge admiration for the way he sets goals. They are not too big and not too small. And then he follows through. One of the reasons he’s able to do that is he cuts out the extraneous stuff. He doesn’t use e-mail. Last year, he threw out his CD collection and burned his television. I have to see this as one of those things.”
This is not the first time the band has gone away. In the fall of 2000, Phish took a long break, re-forming two years later to record Round Room. They resumed touring with a New Year’s Eve show at New York’s Madison Square Garden. At the time, keyboardist Page McConnell told Rolling Stone that it would be “difficult for me to imagine us ever breaking up again.” But Anastasio was never so sure post-hiatus Phish would be a permanent proposition. “I was saying, ‘Let’s see if this takes a new life,'” he says. “What I found over the last year was that we were having fun on the road but that we were basically playing the old songs, and it didn’t feel fresh anymore.”
In the end, Anastasio believes he is protecting Phish’s legacy by quitting now. “How much longer was Led Zeppelin gonna last after In Through the Out Door if John Bonham hadn’t died? We all heard that album. Things don’t go on forever, and the quicker you accept that change is inevitable, the happier you’re gonna be.” Besides, he says, “I don’t want my daughter to be in high school with her friends following Phish around the country — that would just be too weird.”