AP: This is Trey Anastasio’s first year without Phish, the band he led to an astounding 20 years of grassroots success. There’s also Anastasio’s newfound sobriety and a caustic backlash from a once adoring fanbase. Anastasio, 41, is finally getting around to what most of his musical heroes have spent careers doing: demolishing a lucrative conception of himself, and discarding all the rules that went along with that identity.
By the time Phish played its final show at Coventry, they had, like The Grateful Dead, become something more than a band – they were a lifestyle. And for thousands of disillusioned, pseudo-bohemian youths, they were a traveling home, as well as a bottomless vehicle for interpretation. The latter – propagated by fans armed with minute statistics about Phish’s musical habits – sharpened as the band’s live performances dulled and their albums veered from the majestic intricacy, atonality and extensive jamming of Anastasio’s early compositions.
“Groups,” Greil Marcus wrote in “Mystery Train,” are “reflections of community, and the problem with community is that you have to live in it.” Phish made their early music at a literal distance, walled up in the backwoods, only to find their world unexpectedly close in upon itself. The fans’ problems became their own, particularly Anastasio’s.
AP: Have you been made to feel like a pariah?
Trey: Oh sure. I’ve felt that.
AP: How has sobriety affected you as a musician?
Trey: You gotta understand that we never did drugs, for years. We smoked pot occasionally, but pretty much it wasn’t around. And I’m talking about the first time that I ever even saw drugs was … in the late 90s, and we started in 1983.
AP: Is there something appealing to you about the concept of vanishing?
Trey: Yes! Absolutely! It’s amazing to me that this can sometimes be hard to explain but the artists that I most admire maintain their relationship with their audience through all their changes. John Lennon being the number one example. Bruce Springsteen, anyone who had a long career.