The only other official Phish doc is Bittersweet Motel and, obviously, Between Me and My Mind is a very different film…
SC: We’ve both seen it and it’s not the kind of film we make. It’s got its merits and it’s a slice of life from that time in a very different era for Phish. We definitely did not watch it going into the film and did not reference it. Yeah, it just wasn’t a part of the process too much and we didn’t talk about it too much.
JS: We definitely agreed that what we did not want to do was a concert doc. This had to be a journey of exploration, creative exploration for this character, and Trey said that at the Beacon premiere. Because, obviously, they’ve been pitched many, many times but we were really interested in the creative process and so I think that was our take. It shows the audience the inside of it all and that goes to his conversations with his family and friends and then of course some of the loss he endured.
SC: Trey said this morning that the film was a very small approach. We just followed these small, little details and we didn’t try to encapsulate any huge things about Trey. We told the story about Phish just coming through really small lenses, like Trey and his personal interactions with the guys. And it kind of took the pressure off of the guys in the band and it took the pressure off of the movie. It’s just the small lens and not trying to be the ultimate Phish doc.
And I think the intimacy of the film is really great, especially in those shots where you have the four guys in the band all just casually coexisting. For you guys, what were some of the insights that you learned about the relationship between Trey and the rest of Phish?
JS: It’s interesting. As a Phish fan, you obviously realize how incredible all of these musicians are individually, and you also realize that Trey is the bandleader, and the lead guitarist, and the lead vocalist, but we never quite understand exactly what he’s bringing beyond that.You have a sense of it, we don’t truly know. I think one of the things that was cool for me to see was how much Trey thinks about not only the lyrics, but the music. And not just the guitar lines. We’re talking about the drum lines, the bass lines, the keyboard lines. And he’s really composing all of these things and he does an immense amount of research and work. He plays all of the parts, and puts it into a demo, and then he plays it for the guys, and the guys learn their parts, and then they add on top of it. It eventually becomes this masterpiece that everyone has contributed to, but a lot of the process begins with Trey and his thoughts for a song. As a guy who thought he was gonna be a composer, it makes a lot of sense, because everything is charted down to every final note. And then of course, once they learn everything, then they have the flexibility of going off and jamming and improvising.
Events like the passing of Trey’s friend Chris Cottrell and the creation of the Ghost of the Forest stuff, really steer the direction of the film. Did any of that redirect your personal vision for the greater themes of the documentary?
SC: I think we knew right from the beginning that we were going to follow Trey making this album. At the very first meeting, he knew he was doing an album. He knew it was going to be a departure, that he wanted to try something different and he didn’t know what it was gonna be. And he said to us very early on that, 35 years ago, he thought he was going to be a classical composer, and the Phish train sort of left the station very early, and he never got to make that choice. It felt like he was going back in that direction.
I think I especially was encouraging him to do that because I thought that would be amazing for a movie to see this guy take a huge departure, a major risk, that could completely blow up and backfire and fans could hate it. So, I think I was probably a cheerleader for that, but he didn’t really care what I thought. The film was always going to be a Phish story line following the creation of the New Year’s gag and then Trey’s personal album and how it came together.
You’ve mentioned Trey’s parents and his kids and his friends… Was he ever hesitant to talk to those people on the record? Or did he believe those relationships were important to document?
SC: I think because Chris was dying, it put him in a really reflective frame of mind and he wanted the film to be very personal and to really tell a true story of life and fatherhood and friendship and parenthood. I think he was talking to people in ways he probably hasn’t spoken to them before. And allowing us into those conversations as a way of forming the album. I certainly never said, “Go talk to your mom.”
One of the most emotional parts of the film is when Trey is stopped on the street by a fan who is newly sober. I had heard that that guy was at the Beacon Theatre premiere.
JS: The real story is that we were filming one day with Trey and his daughter Eliza on the street, in the East Village, and of course, all of a sudden a fan stopped and catches Trey’s attention. This guy, Kevin, tells Trey about the fact that he’s recently sober, and Trey has this really genuine conversation with him. Had we not been filming with his daughter, Trey probably would have just stopped and talked with him for about an hour. But the conversation itself was brief—it probably lasted about two or three minutes, and then we all sort of walked away. We realized what happened, but unfortunately, none of us had bothered to find out who this guy is, what his name was or anything about him. He just disappeared.
Then as Steve was cutting the film, we really thought that that scene was fantastic and it showed a lot of things—Trey’s encouragement for being sober, and of course his interaction with casual fans on the street. Well we didn’t want to include it unless we could get this guy to agree because it was just too personal, so we went out on a huge goose-hunt to find this guy.
Eventually, through some Phish message boards, we posted his picture, saying, “Hey, ran into this guy the other day, does anyone know who he is?” And somebody’s like “Oh that’s my friend Kevin.” Then I got in touch with Kevin, told him about what we were thinking about doing, and he had remembered the interaction, of course. I invited him to come into the office, to see the film, to see the clip and afterwards he was just blown away, like “Yeah man, you gotta include this in the film. I’d be honored if you guys included it.” And so, as a thank you to Kevin we invited him to the premiere with his girlfriend and he was just really stoked to have been invited, and he’s still sober, which is fantastic.
Did you guys keep Trey in the loop on that search for Kevin?
JS: Oh yeah. The morning we found him, I think we sent a group text message saying, “We got him! We got the guy!”
What was one of the most surprising things you learned about the day to day life of Trey?
SC: Jamie and I, we both wake up sort of feeling like our lives are pretend. We just get to go make movies about anything we want, and hang out with our idols. It’s such a fun career and everyday we’re pinching ourselves thinking it can’t possibly be real.
Trey has that times ten. He loves his career, he does not like vacations, he doesn’t like weekends, he does not want to stop. He wakes up every day loving the work. He cannot believe he gets paid to create music, and he’s doing what he dreamed about since he was 15, he gets to do it every single day, and he just wants to do it as much as he possibly can. He’s just exploding with happiness and creativity and kindness.
JS: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say. He’s just such a warm, nurturing, creative, wonderful guy. He doesn’t come across like a rockstar. He wears, like, jeans and a flannel, you know? He’s very approachable, very nice, and exploding with creativity. Yeah, he was a lot of fun to be around for a couple of years.
I heard the initial pitch meeting for Between Me and My Mind was supposed to be a 10-minute chat, but it turned into something like a three hour meeting, right?
SC: There’s a Woody Allen movie called Crimes and Misdemeanors. In that film, Alan Alda is being interviewed by Woody Allen on a park bench, and Alan Alda just goes on and on and on and on and speaks and speaks and speaks, and at the end of Alan Alda speaking, he’s like “Did you get all of that?” And Woody Allen’s like “We ran out of film!” [Laughs.] Trey loves referencing that scene from Crimes and Misdemeanors, because he’s aware that he talks a lot.