In a new, extended Q&A with the New York Times, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio explores a variety of topics, from the ongoing nostalgia trend in music to his own sonic roots to his evolving relationship with Phish and their fans.
“Phish is like food for me. It’s like breathing,” he says at the beginning of the conversation, which dates back to this spring.
As he did in his recent documentary Between Me and My Mind, Anastasio touches on his own struggles on and off stage, especially his era of being self-critical. “All through the ’90s, we used to walk offstage with a great sense of pride that we had kicked ass,” he recalls. “We put on a show: It was pow, wham — energy. Then somewhere for a while I lost that feeling. I remember walking off stage in 2003 or 2000, something like that, and turning to Jon Fishman and our manager backstage, and I was like: ‘Was that good? What was that?’ That’s when it got a little strange… Fish has a nickname for it: the invisible whip. The invisible whip is when I walk off stage saying: ‘Why did that suck? I need to analyze this and make it better.'”
Thankfully, Anastasio explained that he’s learned to “let go” and have fun during performances, choosing to enjoy rather than over-analyze Phish’s work. Furthermore, he concocted Phish’s dream concert: “You’d walk in and there’d be 10,000 massage tables and people walking around with herbal tea and bowls of fruit salad. The sound would be perfect. Everyone would have their own private bathroom. There’d be enough room to dance and no one squishing into your space. Endless supplies of really good coffee.”
In hindsight, the guitarist explains how he foolishly used drugs to amplify his musical output, which led to Phish’s inevitable hiatus: “Mistakenly, I thought it was making me work harder: Now I can stay up three more hours and do more work! I can have five bands instead of three! These are the lies you tell yourself. So was it useful? Nah. I hate all that stuff.”
Anastasio also told a heart-wrenching story about his time in jail. Following his 2006 arrest, he spent two days in jail and found solace in the music of Stevie Wonder. “There was a guy who came to my cell and gave me a little transistor radio and some headphones,” he remembers. “I put it on, and I was searching for a signal, and ‘Higher Ground’ by Stevie Wonder came on. I’ve never really talked about this before. I was literally sobbing in this jail cell, thinking, How did this happen? We were playing in front of 80,000 people, and then all of the sudden I was sitting in jail. And that was the music that came through the headphones when I was in that jail cell? It was too perfect.”
When asked if our culture is “primed for a Phish reappraisal,” Anastasio says, self-deprecatingly, “That’s a road that I can’t go down. I kind of think we’ll be forgotten.”
Yet, as he has in other interviews, Anastasio is conscious of the emotional exchange between him and his fans. “The more times people come to see me, the more I owe them,” he explains. “They’ve given me my whole life. Not just on a financial level, but on a soul level. I owe them. But I don’t know what they see in me.”
Read the full New York Times interview here.