When Between Me and My Mind director Steven Cantor and producer Jamie Schutz first met with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio to pitch him on a documentary about his life, they figured it would be a brief chat. However, as Cantor and Schutz would soon discover, when Anastasio gets his creative juices going, he’s utterly unstoppable. Three hours later, the filmmakers were in business, and according to Schutz, “that conversation basically never ended for two and a half years.”
Between Me and My Mind, which debuted at the Beacon Theatre on April 26, as part of the Tribeca Film Festival and screened nationwide on July 17, follows Anastasio as he simultaneously prepares for Phish’s Baker’s Dozen residency, New Year’s Eve 2017-2018 and his recent Ghosts of the Forest LP. Between these events, Anastasio also sits down with those closest to him—his mother, his father, his daughters and all three of his Phish bandmates—to discuss his life and his music.
“He respects the hell out of Fishman, he thinks Jon Fishman is the best drummer that he’s ever seen,” Schutz says of Anastasio. “He thinks Gordon is just an unbelievable bass player, and Page is just amazing on the keyboards. He really respects these guys, like, he feels very lucky to be in a band with three other outstanding musicians.”
Below, Cantor and Schutz discuss their experience creating Between Me and My Mind and their years-long journey alongside Anastasio.
Before working on this project, what was your exposure and experience with Trey and the band?
Jamie Schutz: I started listening to Phish in ‘92 and was introduced to them by a friend in college. Like most of us back then we just started trading tapes and getting excited about what we were hearing. I think the first tape that really knocked my socks off was the Telluride ‘88 show. The band was creating music that was just so different from everything else that was out there at the time so I just had to sort of dive in and see what this was all about. I didn’t end up seeing my first show until two years later, that was in ‘94 in Tennessee, but as soon as I saw a live show I was just hooked. I think I’ve seen over 120 shows at this point and I think I’m a noob compared to some of those people out there.
Steven, what about you?
Steven Cantor: I was in Telluride in ‘88 and after the shows the guys asked to take a hike and we climbed a mountain together and took mushrooms and there was no going back after that. [Laughs].
Actually I knew about them in college and saw them a few times through the years. I got majorly introduced to them before the film, when I started being partners with Jamie, who’s a huge fan. We both love music and going to concerts with an open mind, which I did. The live Phish experience is unlike anything else out there so clearly I was hooked by just the sheer energy of the audience. And from making a film about Trey you get to love him and see a lot of Phish shows so it’s hard not to get swept up in the craziness.
How long were you filming and how much unreleased footage is there? There must be hundreds of hours, right?
JS: We started filming when he had his first solo tour which was March of ‘17 and we wrapped officially in November of ‘18, and then we would do little pick up days here and there. But Trey was really involved in the creative processes from the very beginning of it. The first meeting in our office was October of ‘16 and then, of course, all the way through the release Trey had seen the edit going on. That was April of ‘19.
SC: He kept us very much in the loop of what was going on in his life and was always coming up with potential ideas for us to film and wondering if this potential thing made sense. I’d say he was hesitant about making a documentary at first, but once he decided to go for it there was no holding back. No question was too hard, he wanted us to dig deeper. He never said turn off the cameras. I was like, “This is crazy trying to cut things down to make an 80 minute movie or 90 minute movie. This should be a 6 hour movie.” There was so much good footage that did not make the movie. Every single scene.
Were there any shots or clips in particular that didn’t make it in the movie that you think were particularly special?
SC: So many musical moments and so many moments in the barn and so many conversations in between him and his bandmates. All those Phish guys when they came to the barn to rehearse, there’s tons of Kasvot Växt rehearsal footage.
With the creation Kasvot Växt, were you able to be flies on the fall through that entire process? Did you see it through all the way to the end?
SC: We were flies on the wall but we’re also in the middle of nowhere in a barn and we’re hanging out with them and having lunch with them. They’d bounce ideas off of us. It’s not like we’re hunkered down in the corner, we’re all 6’ 5’’ [Laughs].
Our cinematographer Johnny Saint Ours has this severe face with a big pointy beard and he was a musician in his prior life. He was actually in Old Crow Medicine Show in the early days, and the original idea for Kasvot Växt was that Johnny was going to be the front person for the fake band. We were going to take pictures of Johnny and create this fake whole back life for Johnny and we were trying to come up with a gag in like June/July of ‘18.
So it was amazing. We were very immersed in their life and watched everything unfold.
Jamie, you’re such a hardcore fan, to be involved in planning a Halloween gag must have been unreal.
JS: I mean the whole thing was just great, obviously. I grew up adoring this guy and this band and thinking how cool it would be to make a film on them one day, never realizing that it would be possible. And then, of course, meeting Trey and working alongside him for three years on and off… It was a thrill being a fan but also as a filmmaker it was a thrill, because our films are always best when the subject is willing and Trey was very willing. As Steve mentioned, he was always coming up with ideas and it was really a collaboration in many ways. Of course, we would make final decisions on things, but it was just a really fun, creative process all the way through and it was exciting to be a part of it all.
Another interesting thing is that in the last few years Trey has been more willing to speak with journalists or do something like this. Getting to know him, can you attribute anything in his life to him being a little more open?
SC: The process of making the film with us was probably therapeutic for him in a way. We talked about a lot of stuff that probed very deeply, and not just with us, with his kids and his parents, his bandmates, and the nature of making a documentary that dealt with more serious stuff. I also think he’s at a reflection point now being 54 and being on the Phish train for 35 years and watching his kids grow up and kind of wondering what’s next both for Phish and for himself personally. And probably also his best friend dying put him in a reflective state of mind. He’s just in a place of loving life right now and wanting to share love and joy.
JS: I would probably add to that just the fact that Phish is very stable right now and he is sober and he is so overflowing with creativity right now. I don’t want to speak for him, but I think he feels as though he’s in one of the most creative moments of his entire career. What did he say this morning about Ghosts of the Forest?
SC: He said he thinks Ghosts of the Forest really informed the tour that he’s been on. The tour got an amazing response and he thinks the show he played at Alpine the other night was one of the best shows he’s ever played and a huge part of the reason was Ghosts of the Forest working up to the shows he’s playing now. Particularly “Ruby Waves,” he played a 38 minute version of “Ruby Waves” and going back to his roots and just jamming out songs together.
JS: And also you can see by the songs he’s writing. He’s writing much more mature lyrics.