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Harris Wittels: (Most) Everyone Loves Phish

March 21, 2014

The creator of the Analyze Phish podcast shares the techniques that nearly converted Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott into Phish fans.

I've found myself having the following exchange many times throughout my life: Some person will see my Phish T-shirt and say, “You like Phish?” Then, I say that I do and then they—without being prompted—let me know they, in fact, do not like Phish. What’s weird is 98 percent of these people will even admit they “haven’t heard much Phish.” They just don’t like ‘em. They don’t like “45 minute guitar solos” and they like “songs.” “Hey, me too!” I’ll say.

Anyone can get into Phish. They blend enough styles together that there is something for everyone. So, how do you get someone past what they think Phish is to show them what Phish actually is? You sit them down and make them listen to Phish. I started a podcast with this exact purpose in mind. My friend, Scott Aukerman (Mr. Show, Comedy Bang! Bang!) was not a fan, so he allowed me to play a bunch of Phish tunes for him and later, he even attended a couple of shows with me (12/29/11 at Madison Square Garden and 8/5/13 at Hollywood Bowl). Naturally, he had a fantastic time at the shows and could even appreciate them musically. I wouldn’t say he was a true convert, but he’s one of the more critical people I know, so just to see him dancing in neon glasses at MSG was a huge feat.

Phish fans can be dicks. By that I just mean that many of them think there is a “right” way to like Phish. By the same token, I received copious amounts
of criticism from Phish fans saying I wasn’t playing Scott the “right” stuff. Many people were upset I didn’t just play him a full 20-minute “You Enjoy Myself” or “Harry Hood” or whatever. The bottom line, though, is this was predominately a comedy podcast and two guys silently listening to “YEM” doesn’t make for the best comedy. So, instead, I had to play him clips of various songs, then we would stop and talk about the clips.

So, here are a few tips you can use for getting someone into Phish because we all have that friend or family member who doesn’t quiiite understand why we would drive all the way to Hampton, Va. for one Phish concert.


First, it’s important to keep in mind what bands the person loves. Do they love Talking Heads or The Velvet Underground or The Beatles? Then, maybe start off with something from a Halloween show. Ease them in with something familiar to them. It also shows that Phish’s influences are bands that they like.

Play the shorter “poppier” Phish songs that you used to like before you became a Phish snob. These would be your “Farmhouse”s, your “Sample in a Jar”s, your “Bouncing Around the Room”s or your “Wading in the Velvet Sea”s. You may use these songs as piss breaks now, but remember the time you loved these songs and would put them on mixtapes for your girlfriend. They can’t all be 45-minute “Tweezer”s, nor should they be. Once again, Phish’s variance in their catalog is what makes them the best band on the planet.

Play a great “Harry Hood” with a solid peak. This is the first time Scott—and also Adam Scott, who was a guest for an episode—said, “Hey, I like that!” The version I played was from 12/1/94 Salem, Ore. The “Hood” peak is one of the most beautiful pieces of music in their whole arsenal. I’ve seen grown men cry during this song, and by that I mean I have cried during this song. (Note: The “Slave to the Traffic Light” peak works just as well.) (Second Note: What I mean by “peak”, if you don’t know, is that moment in a Phish jam where everything comes to a climax. You don’t think there is a higher note that exists, and then suddenly—BOOM—they somehow find that higher note, making everyone go fucking apeshit.)

Switch gears a little and play a killer “Tweezer” with a thick, gooey funk jam (and if you don’t like “Tweezer,” you are a piece of human garbage). I would recommend perhaps 6/24/00. Fish maintains such a delicious funk beat in this song for the whole time that I am convinced he is a robot every time I hear it. But then, I see photos of that show where he got naked and ran around the stage and am reminded he is a man—either that or the engineers who created him make incredibly accurate human penises. Play an insane composed piece of theirs and explain how intricately they compose them.

Play “the chase” in “Reba” or the palindrome in “The Divided Sky.” I also love “Fluffhead” and think it is a great example of everything Phish can do, both with the written stuff and the peak right before the end. (If you were at Hampton in ‘09, you know what I’m talking about.)

TAKE THEM TO A LIVE SHOW. You can only “get” Phish so much through computer speakers. It really takes seeing Phish in their element, which is live. And it also takes seeing a giant mass of happy, fanatical people all enjoying the same thing before you go “Hey, what am I missing out on here? I want in.” My first show, I wanted to understand the “Wilson” chant so badly that I immediately went home and researched its origins.

There you go. Good luck in your endeavors. And if it doesn’t work, just remember: Who gives a shit? You like Phish and that’s all that matters. The fewer people you convert, the more tickets and dance space there will be for you.

*****

Harris Wittels is a writer/performer who has written for Eastbound and Down and Parks and Recreation, on which he plays “Harris,” the animal control
worker. He also created and hosts the Analyze Phish podcast.

Comments

This is honestly the single best piece of writing re: trying to explain the beauty of loving Phish I think I’ve ever read. Perfect. Nailed it.

By willie - 03/21/14

Harris- your article was moving along so perfectly and then you full on rip chorded it. Plus you forgot to tell them to READ THE FUCKING BOOK!

By Paris Twinkles - 03/21/14

Exactly what I’ve been saying for years. People don’t get hooked by 30 minute space out sessions. People like songs. And Phish writes good songs.

By Bonesaw Beasley - 03/21/14

Sitting around playing Phish songs for people off of your computer in an attempt to get them to like the band is absurd. Buy them a ticket to a show. Take them to the show. That’s all there is to it. They will know if they like it or not. Skip the first 3/4 of this advice and cut to the chase.

By bopapocolypse - 03/21/14

I’ve experienced the same thing. People just THINKING they don’t like Phish without actually listening to Phish. I make people discs of Phish and they often sit at the bottom of piles. I find that the people I’m trying to convince that they like the band are more interested in Cold Play.

By Zack - 03/21/14

I remember how my friends thought Phish was so cool and I just couldn’t get into them. And then after repetition of a few songs like Bug, Farmhouse, and Squirming Coil, I was slowly able to explore their live stuff. Coming from a background of learning to understand and appreciate live jams though the blues and rock bands like Zeppelin and Government Mule, It took me a while to get my brain up to speed on some of the more fast and abstract sides of Phish. Then one day, I was working out at the gym listening to the Farmhouse album and decided to venture into some more of their live music. I happened to pick A Live One. I looked through to see which songs were the longest and when I saw how long You Enjoy Myself was, I selected it. I remember getting past the composed part and thinking wow, that was cool…then I heard the jam build and peak. I’m pretty sure I was acting a fool bobbing my head like a nutjob in that LA Fitness but I didn’t even care. From that moment they’ve been my favorite band. I gradually got familiarized with all of their jam songs and as of right now, I’m on a harry hood and sand kick. I get intrigued with one version of a jam and try to see if I can find another version that rivals or bests it.

By Cameron - 03/22/14

Phish, maybe, used to write good songs.  Nothing on the past two albums passes muster.  Horrible songs.  When I think of good lyrical content for them ‘It’s Ice’ comes to mind.  If you like the past two albums, fine.  More for you.  For me, the band was about massaging my psyche and unbridled goofiness.  If they have moved on from that, beautiful and there is nothing wrong with that.  I have been to just shy of 100 shows and, while there have been moments, the overall effect was not good.

By Jamaal - 03/22/14

I’m asleep.  My last sentence should read “..and while there have been moments in the past few years’ shows, the overall effect of the past few shows I’ve attended was not good.

By Jamaal - 03/22/14

JAMAAL = above-mentioned Phish snob. Nothing passes your “muster” anymore, and the overall effect was not good? I think you might be doing it wrong…

By tele-mon - 03/22/14

Trying to convert a newbie? Just tell them all the good points, ya there some bad points too, but a lot of good ones.  Phish is amazing at improvisation so if you like musicianship then you should definitely check it out. Its all about rock and roll, but they also cover everything from the Beatles to Jay-Z, and their song catalogue is immense so you never know what you’ll get each night.  They just played four sold out nights at MSG for New Years and didn’t repeat one song, as well as they only played original material all four nights, no covers.  Every time they play a song its completely unique from the last time played. They also interject humor and gags in to their live performances if you enjoy that sort of thing. There fans are also awesome, fun loving people, and we have a very tight knit community.

By Jballz - 03/22/14

I love Harris and Analyze Phish. I wouldn’t call him an expert on conversions though—much of the comedy is in how bad he is at it. Not that this is at all easy to do. I was resistant to Phish and took many months of hearing it in my friend’s car before I started to take interest. Then I saw TAB play a two-song set. Then I went to four consecutive shows in Miami.

Anyway, I’ve made my own attempts at conversion/education podcasts… though a little afraid to ask for feedback from this community, they might amuse. Links:

http://www.crosstawk.com/newbusiness/2010/9/26/introducing-discover-music-project.html

http://www.crosstawk.com/newbusiness/2011/3/1/discover-music-project-episode-13.html

By Jonny - 03/22/14

Any chance we’ll ever get an Analyze Phish episode about everyone’s Hollywood Bowl experience, Harris?

By wharpua - 03/22/14

thank you for this. i won’t be trying to convert anyone, but your assesment of the greatest band ever and subtopic phish snobbery is pure genius and SPOT ON. made my day knowing soneone exists that GETS IT. a thousand smiles to you, phriend!

By nelly kane - 03/22/14

Well written article. I’d suggest also playing a 2001 when turning a friend on to phish.

By BongHitEric - 03/22/14

i like songs! i liked Phish before i discovered that there is much better music. then i got into that. and now i fucking can’t stand Phish.

By i enjoy mice elf - 03/26/14

it’s accurate, and well written. but not very funny. and besides, why increase ticket demand? if someone says they don’t like Phish, reply “Awesome. Thanks!”

By Tunt Felym - 04/03/14

Harris, you had him when you played back sloth the first time after MSG, but then lost him. The day after the show make him look at the set list and listen to the show. Then do the same the next time. Scott’s right, it starts off with taking your brain back to where it was during the show with nostalgia. Once you’ve listened to the shows you’ve actually attended enough, you start to understand why other live recordings sound good and build up your catalog that way, and before you know it Yarmouth Road is a good song. On the other hand, the podcast is great and I don’t want it to end, so maybe do none of what I just suggested.

Also if i were going to pick songs to play someone as an intro I’d give em a live 555 or Free. Not long winding jams, but still engaging songs that actually go somewhere.

By CB - 07/18/14

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