Trey Anastasio is the first to admit he’s a little frazzled. On a chilly afternoon in late February, the frontman for seminal Vermont jam band Phish is pacing around New York’s fabled Electric Lady Studios, mulling tracklists for his eponymous solo debut, due April 30 via Elektra. At times, he plays air-guitar or thumps beats on his legs while rough mixes play in the background.
“My head is so immersed in this album, I can’t sleep,” he admits. “I’m crazed with thinking of the relationship of the notes and the sounds and where it’s taking me on this kind of sonic journey.”
Anastasio has a right to be nervous as he prepares to unveil his first major solo project since Phish went on indefinite hiatus in October 2000. Luckily, the ambitious 12-track set — recorded at Anastasio’s the Barn studio in Vermont and co-produced by him with Bryce Goggin — delivers the musical goods, touching on everything from high-energy rock to jazz, funk, and even piano balladry.
Throughout, Anastasio’s trademark guitar work threads through melodically complex tunes played by a top-notch nine-piece band. A 17-piece orchestra, backing vocalists, and such guests as trumpeter Nicholas Payton and ex-Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley give the set a little something extra.
The foundation of the artist’s new band is bassist Tony Markellis and drummer Russ Lawton, with whom he’s collaborated several times for non-Phish writing sessions and tours in recent years. Their elastic, funky grooves lead the charge on “Night Speaks to a Woman,” “Push on ‘Til the Day,” and the 11-minute, largely instrumental “Last Tube,” which can double in length in a live setting.
But the album is also laden with sonic vehicles for Anastasio’s increasingly assured compositions, which he says are patterned after the legendary large community-based African bands led by the late Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade. Horns and drums cycle around each other to head-nodding effect on opener “Alive Again,” while precise orchestral arrangements come to the forefront on the instrumentals “At the Gazebo” and “Ray Dawn Balloon.”
“I always feel like all the parts should be things you’d want to whistle and hum and that come very naturally,” Anastasio says. “The style I’m writing in with this group interaction, it’s something I feel is inside of me. I only had four people in Phish. Now, here’s my chance to take this idea and develop it as deeply as I’ve always wanted to, because I can have a nine- or 10-piece band.”
Indeed, Anastasio has been tinkering with the band’s lineup from the beginning. He went out on a six-piece tour with minimal preparation in February 2001 but added two more members and a host of extensively rehearsed new songs for further shows that summer. Percussionist Cyro Baptista will join the band for its U.S. tour this spring and summer.
Anyone who has ever seen Phish perform knows Anastasio thrives in a live setting. A 24-date trek in support of the album begins May 21 in Seattle and will hit a range of select venues, from Red Rocks outside of Denver to New York’s Radio City Music Hall and the two-day Mountain Aire Festival in northern California.
The only shows with opening acts will be a two-night stand in Las Vegas featuring support from Los Lobos and Spearhead on May 31 and the Roots and Antibalas on June 1. More dates are in the works for the fall, with an international swing possible in between.
As was Phish’s custom, Anastasio is making tickets available to fans via Treytickets.rlc.net before they go on sale to the general public. Tickets for almost all of the shows went on sale via that site March 12; the general on-sale begins March 30.
Anastasio will also make a rare in-store appearance on the day of the album’s release at the Virgin Megastore in Boston, and he is booked for a May 2 performance on “The Late Show With David Letterman.”
During the week prior to the release, secured streams from the album will be available on America Online. Anastasio will also chat with AOL users, and he has programmed a streaming radio show with 100 of his favorite songs.
With the album ready, Anastasio says he can’t wait to get his band in front of the masses. “Nothing brings the music into focus more than actually having to record it and listen back to it,” he says. “We had not done that before the last tour. Now we have. Now we’re ready to kick.”
Excerpted from the March 30, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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