Reel Time: Trey Anastasio Discusses Traveler
Trey with The National, Beacon Theatre, NYC 12/16/11
While Phish only covered Pavement once, the classic song “Gold Soundz” in 1999, many trace the band’s looser, more ambient approach to jamming during the late-‘90s back to Anastasio’s fascination with Pavement and fellow proto-indie rockers The Velvet Underground (longtime Phish inspirations Talking Heads are also a common link between many popular bands in the indie and jam genres). Likewise, Pavement producer Bryce Goggin shaped Phish albums Farmhouse and Round Room as well as many of Anastasio’s solo releases.
Especially after he moved to New York when Phish broke up in 2004, Anastasio’s tastes have gravitated further toward modern, progressive indie rock. He’s introduced TV on the Radio and Neutral Milk Hotel covers into Phish’s repertoire, and name-checked jam-inspired psych-rockers like MGMT and Animal Collective in interviews.
“I think the simple answer to that question would be that those are the bands that I actually listen to,” Anastasio explained to Relix in 2010. “Everything you just named, those are some of my favorites. You know when [Phish] started, considering we’ve been playing for 26 years, some of those classic rock bands were the bands that were our earliest influences and contemporary at the time. But I can’t say that I really listen to them much these days.”
Despite his indie cred, Katis has also worked with bands more closely aligned with the roots and jam scenes himself. For many years, he played in the hockey-themed group The Zambonies, who have worked the jam-friendly club circuit and performed with Guster numerous times over the years (members of The Zambonies play in the Hanukkah-inspired band The Leevees with Guster’s Adam Gardner). More recently, he’s worked with Dispatch and Caravan of Thieves.
More so than most of Phish’s recent work, Traveler marries Katis and Anastasio’s current indie-rock influences with both musicians’ rich background in orchestral rock and patient, layered soundscapes. While some have noted that Anastasio’s so-called “indie rock” album might bookmark a certain cultural period in his career—like the Dead’s disco days, The Rolling Stones’ psychedelic period and Bob Dylan’s gospel years—fans should know that Katis actually dreamed up Traveler on the way home from a Phish show. “Peter came to see Phish live,” Anastasio explains. “And he said, ‘What if we set out to make a record that people could pop on in their car on their way back from a concert or that they could throw on at 2 a.m., when they’re driving?’”
Traveler was produced by Peter Katis, who is best known for his work with The National and Jónsi. He also has a deep connection to The Pants, a band you have worked with in the past. How did you first come in contact with Peter and what initially drew you to his often soundscape-heavy production approach?
I’ve wanted to work with Peter for a while, for a number of reasons. I really like the Jónsi record and The National, The Grapes, The Pants and lot of records that he’s done. But part of the reason that I pay so much attention to what he’s done is because the two of us were at the University of Vermont together. He has a band called The Philistines Jr. and their first gig ever was at UVM with Phish. It was in a classroom in a dorm and there were about two people there!
Last fall, a window presented itself. Phish was off for several months while Page McConnell’s family welcomed a baby. I was at home in New York City, which is just a train ride from Peter’s home studio in Bridgeport, Conn., so I was able to work all day and be home with my family at night.
I wanted it to be cinematic, visual. He’s a master at creating a sonic landscape, but his sensibility is very low-fi and hi-fi at the same time. That’s important because with computers, you can get carried away and make a cold-sounding record and we didn’t want to do that. He kept encouraging me to make things raw and simple. That may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the record, but he did encourage me to embrace a certain kind of simplicity that was powerful.
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