Earlier today, Vida Blue—the trio of Phish keyboardist Page McConnell, Dead & Company bassist Oteil Burbridge and New Orleans drummer Russell Batiste Jr.—announced their return (and the addition of guitarist Adam Zimmon) with the first single from their upcoming LP, Crossing Lines, and a few fall tour dates. McConnell himself recently spoke with Rolling Stone about the trio’s reunion, plus his thoughts on Phish’s 2019 summer tour, which wrapped up its main leg with an incredible Alpine Valley show last week.
The keyboardist begins by recalling the “end” of Vida Blue back in 2004, when he decided to step away from the project to avoid overcommitting with his Phish duties. McConnell notes that he didn’t know that Phish, too, would be calling it quits for awhile around that time. He says the idea for a reunion came up in 2017, when he decided he had enough new material and also made the decision to bring on Zimmon. McConnell says that part of the point of Vida Blue in the first place was to not have a guitar (“It was important that I did my own thing”) but goes on to laud Zimmon—who’s played with McConnell in solo projects and currently plays with Ziggy Marley—for his personality and “tasteful” playing. The keyboardist also explains that the guitar line from Phish’s “Halfway to the Moon” came from a recording session he had with Zimmon.
McConnell speaks a bit on the recording of the new LP and his relationship with Batiste and Burbridge (whom he calls “arguably the greatest electric bass player on the planet”), saying, “I can’t remember laughing harder for four days straight than I did those four days in Miami. There was so much joy and fun. It all kind of came out in a very natural and organic way. It was a blast, it really was.”
McConnell also mentions how his father’s passing just days after Vida Blue’s recording sessions influenced the lyrics he wrote, specifically on the album’s lead single, “Analog Delay”: “My dad had lived a full life and he was well into his 90s. It was not a tragedy, but it was a life-changing experience, to say the least.”
On the topic of playing with Phish versus Vida Blue, McConnell sums up his reasoning for starting the latter trio almost two decades ago: “As much as I love synthesizers, it’s hard for me to introduce [them] into the Phish world, because I’ve already got the keyboard and organ. I just wanted a place to be able to experiment a little bit more… It’s just different, because Phish is just such a group effort. When we’re really playing well, it’s like one brain, moving around. Everybody is like separate limb. Limb of the brain? Imagine a brain with four arms [laughs.]”
Fresh off Phish’s summer tour, McConnell shares his excitement at the state of the quartet right now, saying, “The Phish thing is going so well right now, I can’t even really talk about it without getting emotional, because it’s just too intense. The tour was so good, we had such a good time. Everybody felt great about it and we played really well. I thought every show was really special and some were even extra special. So things couldn’t really be going much better for Phish right now, we’re all in a really good place and happy to be playing together.”
And, as far as McConnell is concerned, Vida Blue is back in business and not going anywhere again—at least permanently. “I would like it to be something that doesn’t just end here…something that I can continue to do with these guys over the years, even if it’s just one or two shows a year just to keep it together,” he says. “It doesn’t need to break up again, even if we aren’t as active as we were from 2002-2004. It’s a new phase for us, and I would like to keep it going.”
Read the full interview here, and watch video of a 2003 Vida Blue show in Chicago below.