Reel Time: Trey Anastasio Discusses Traveler
“Clint Eastwood,” Terminal 5, NYC, 2/22/11
Word first started to spread about your new album when members of The National revealed that they were working on the project with you. Did you purposefully try to work with musicians outside your normal social circle on Traveler and how familiar were you with The National and Mates of States before you worked with them in Bridgeport, Conn.?
It was actually a healthy combination of old and new. I got to play with all my friends in TAB [Trey Anastasio Band], who are incredible and have been instrumental in developing these songs, and I got to play with all these new musicians whose work I admire so much. When I moved to New York eight or nine years ago, that was a big part of the appeal to me—to connect with other musicians, writers and artists here. A lot of the new musicians that ended up on the record are from the New York area. Rob Schwimmer, for example, lives right down the road from me. And Rob Moose, who is in Bon Iver and has his own great group, played on a lot of tracks and worked on the string arrangements with us.
Everyone in TAB was incredibly involved—they laid the foundation for most of the songs and brought their own unique touches. Jennifer [Hartswick], for example, just kills it on [Gorillaz’s] “Clint Eastwood.” She was sitting on the floor and we handed her a microphone and she ripped that thing off in one take. That track shows off Tony [Markellis] and Russ [Lawton], too. They are masters of the slow and low. If you listen to the bass line, it’s pretty epic. I was a little bit hesitant because it’s such an iconic song to cover, but Peter saw TAB do it live and said, “we’ve gotta do that tune.”
Tom [Marshall] and I wrote five songs for the album. We’ve been making four-tracks, eight-tracks and 16-tracks of songs together for our entire lives—but this is the first record that he appears on, which was fun for both of us. He sang backup on “Traveler” and “Pigtail” and he played keys on “Traveler.” It’s one high, beautiful note that goes on for about a minute and a half. He played it on an arp going through a tremolo machine.
Steve [Pollak, aka The Dude of Life] and I also wrote a song for the record. He works with autistic kids and there’s a line in “The Architect” that says a lot to me about Steve: “and if you get a chance, watch the young children dance, in a little while, you will see them smile.” When we were writing, he told me: “Seriously, as a grown-up, you get so hung up and you’re pacing down the street at a million miles an hour, looking at your iPhone. But I stand there and I watch these kids and they just start dancing. And after about two minutes they all start smiling and laughing—and everything seems really simple to me in that moment.”
In recent interviews, you have mentioned that you “write to write” instead of writing for a specific project or band. Given that Traveler is more of a studio experiment than a traditional album, how fully realized were these songs before you entered the studio? Did you hold any songs back from your live show in order to give them a clean slate in the studio?
I don’t really hold anything back—it all intermingles and the songs evolve. “Let Me Lie” is probably a good example. Tom and I wrote that one and I’ve played it live with Phish, TAB and even on last year’s orchestral tour. It basically appeared in demo form on Bar 17 and on Phish’s Party Time, which was the B-side album we made during the Joy sessions. But I was still looking for the definitive rock band arrangement and it just came together when we were making Traveler. It has [The National’s] Bryan Devendorf on drums, [Mates of State’s] Kori Gardner and [The National’s] Matt Berninger on background vocals, Rob Moose on strings, [touring The National member] Thomas Bartlett on keyboards, Samuli Kosminen on percussion, and me on bass and guitar.
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