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November 23, 2006

the next step

Early in 1993, a rock band from Vermont called Phish came to play at Humboldt State while touring college campuses across the country. The band was on its way up, at the forefront of a new scene that was developing. Phish would eventually inherit the mantle of the Grateful Dead to lead the nascent jamband movement. Before the band played here I spoke with Phish's founder and guitarist Trey Anastasio, the unintentional leader of a growing cult of Phish aficionados. Thirteen years later I talked with him again.

Phish is now a thing of the past. Trey "pulled the plug," as he put it, in 2004, and has embarked on a successful solo career. When his publicist connected us last week he was in his brand new recording studio in New York City. Our conversation began with discussion of the transition to the new studio from a place he calls The Barn, a mountaintop recording facility in Vermont.

"The contrast is intense, " he began. "I don't even have any windows. I'm in a little hole in the middle of the city with a black ceiling. But it's cool. I needed a change."

As out talk continued, I told him a story. When I heard he was coming to town I did a Google search to see if I could find my old interview on the web. I'd found it years ago on Phishnet, an Internet fan site (with roots in Arcata) that was instrumental in the band's rise to fame. Not only did I find the text of the Q&A, I found that the actual interview recording is being traded as a SHN file and as a BitTorrent download. It made me wonder, what was it about Phish that inspired such unlimited devotion? I asked Trey.

"I don't know. There's something about it..." he replied, and lost his train of thought. "I'm probably the last person who could answer that question. But things were sort of getting to be too much, and then I guess I sort of pulled the plug. They certainly got mad.

"I always thought that all the decisions made for the band were made from the heart. I think that's why people liked us. I just try to do my best to do the right thing at the right time, then roll with the changes ... And I think when that change came, it wasn't what people wanted, but it came from the same place all those other decisions came from...

"What I thought was so cool about Phish was that everything was so improvised and unplanned. It's funny that the beginning of this conversation was about The Barn, because The Barn was made with no plans. That's my space. I don't have a MySpace, I have a barn. I did that as a pet project while Phish was going, and it was all with salvage. At one point there was this school being torn down and we took the blackboards out. All of a sudden we had all this slate, so we used it to make a shower with a slate bottom because that's what we had. There were no plans whatsoever. And there were no plans to start Phish or to have that happen, and there were no plans to stop it. I just knew it was the right thing to do at the time.

"And now, today, I'm standing alone in this studio in New York and I don't know what's going to happen. That's the philosophy by which I've run my life, despite the reactions. If people are going to throw beers at you because of what you decide, there's nothing you can do about it."

When we talked years ago he described the growth of the band as a word-of-mouth cult thing.

"And with that cult came a framework. You know, I just got this disc, a new release from Phish [The History of Colorado, 1988]; it's a live recording from 1988. It was interesting because I'd never heard the show. It sounded like so much fun. And there are about four people in the audience. What happened was we got more and more popular and more and more popular and suddenly we had 80 employees. We had to tour so many nights per year. Everything became regimented.

"Now, talking to you today, I'm in this different place, in this teeny hole-in-the-wall studio, and I've given my barn to some artists, and I have my own record label. It's so exciting, and I'm very happy because it's all so unknown. Eureka is going to be the first night of this new nine-piece band I've put together. I'm bringing this horn section and a couple of guys from a previous band and Jeff Stipe on drums. It's a brand new band, playing the first night ever. To me, that's exciting. People were all excited to see Phish 150 times, and I suppose it was exciting. And I have to say, being in Phish was the greatest experience of my life, but now here I am coming to Eureka to play the first night ever with a brand new band. I don't know what's going to happen. That's real excitement."

(Note to devotees. Go to for a link to the 1993 interview and more of this one.)

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Their little parcel is surrounded by land owned by Rob Arkley, and Security National holds the lease on the property, but somehow Blue Ox Millworks is still hanging in there while the search for a new home continues. And since it's that season, it's once again time for Craftsman's Days, an open house at the traditional arts school/living history museum, this time around featuring the folk music of Wild Iris and the Weeds, cowboy tunes by The Tumbleweeds (regulars at Chapala), the do-se-do-ing Devil's Dream String Band, an all-star bluegrass jam and, as always, the wandering barbershop quartet, Mirth First! Proceeds benefit KKDS-FM, Blue Ox Youth and Community Radio. That's Friday and Saturday, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Remember the neo-swing revival? Ah, the good old days, when zoot-suited hep cats did the Lindy hop to big bands just like their granddaddies did back in the day. It started in the early '90s in L.A., grew by leaps and bounds after the 1994 movie Swingers showed swinging singles dancing at the Brown Derby to the music of a band called Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. It was pretty much over by the turn of the century, but a few bands lingered on, and BBVD is one of them.

If you were a really big fan you might have bought their self-produced Xmas EP, Watchu' Want for Christmas?, when it came out in 1995. They put out a second holiday disc a couple of years ago with a similar name, Everything You Want For Christmas, and now to help you kick off the season they're on the road with a big, bad, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Wild and Swingin' Holiday Party, featuring yuletide chestnuts like "Blue Christmas," "Jingle Bells" and "We Three Kings" turned into "rollicking big band extravanganzas." Yes, it's coming to a campus near you, specifically to HSU's Van Duzer Theatre, on Tuesday, Nov. 28.

Next Thursday, Nov. 30, at Muddy's Hot Cup, catch another edition of Miles Ahead, the jazz combo that specializes in tunes by Mr. Davis. Keyboard player/bandleader Mike Kapitan wrote to say, "The lineup will be our usual one: moi [M.K.] on keys, Rich Bradley on saxes, bass clarinet and guitar, Mike LaBolle drums, Anna Pfeifer on basses and, of course, Michel Navedo on trumpet." Mike also pointed out that this is the band's last gig "at least 'til we find a new trumpet player," since the oh-so talented Michel Navedo is departing soon for Canada with his lovely wife and darling baby to continue his postgraduate studies.

You might recall last week I was telling you about how Candyman was postponing his big Hell on Earth metal show because he was in St. Joe's Hospital with a stroke. Well, they let him out, but he had another, and then, defying doctor's orders, he decided that the show must go on. He called from his hospital bed to tell me it's moved up to this coming Thursday, Nov. 30, at Ragg's Rack Room, with heavy metal masters Silent Civilian (on a Jagermeister-sponsored tour) plus Occam's Razor, In This Moment and locals Entheogen. "After this I'm taking a year off until next Rocktoberfest," Candyman promised. "I have to. I don't want all my friends throwing black roses on my grave."

I know I may have lost a couple of our more sensitive readers with my recent discussion of "Culturally Insensitive Language," and I probably should drop the subject, but it's back again in the recent flap over what the T-S described as "F-bombs on local airwaves" (a story I assume was ripped straight from Cap'n Buhne). Basically, someone hit the wrong switch, sending out a pirate recording of the local punk band Smashed Glass in place of some TV show. It had some bad words.

Have you watched Law and Order SVU, the show that was so egregiously interrupted? "SVU" stands for Special Victims Unit. What's special about them? They're victims of sex crimes: murdered prostitutes, molested children, rape survivors, etc. The show begins with a warning, "In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous." Do you suppose the sensitivities of viewers of heinous fucked-up shit like that care about what the station manager described as "inappropriate language" from drunken Irish punks? Fuck no. The sad part: Some poor underpaid sap will probably lose his (or her) job over this. BTW, though the clip was removed from YouTube after KIEM complained, it's back up on a few different video-sharing sites. Check (if you dare).

One last note: I'm taking Thanksgiving week off and heading up to Portland. No, I'm not moving there, but my son did. I'll have a replacement Hummer next week. See you when I return. Thanks for reading.



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