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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 18, 2002

Phish front man samples the solo life

By Elysa Gardner
USA Today

After 17 years, the members of Phish decided they needed a break. While they haven't ruled out reuniting in the future, guitarist and primary songwriter Trey Anastasio isn't counting on it. He has recorded a solo album and plans to tour.

Gannett News Service

As lead singer for Phish, one of the most popular touring bands of the past decade, Trey Anastasio read many descriptions of his music. Here's one of his favorites: "smug mental wanking by bored college dropouts."

"That was the headline of an article that ran about us years ago," recalls Anastasio, a genial redhead with a self-effacing sense of humor. "We thought it was so funny. That hung on our bus for a long time."

There is a hint of wistfulness in Anastasio's voice as he discusses the group he led for 17 years before its members broke up — or decided to take a break, at least — in fall 2000. Phish's guitarist and principal songwriter maintains that he, drummer Jonathan Fishman, bassist Mike Gordon and keyboardist Page McConnell still haven't decided whether their split will be permanent.

"We agreed to go on the assumption that we might not work together again," says Anastasio, 37. "This way, if we do find ourselves standing on stage together, it will be for the right reasons — because we're dying to play. My guess is that will happen, and I can honestly say I hope it does."

It's clear that Anastasio has not spent much time idly wondering about the future. Having played and recorded with various configurations, he eventually assembled the eight-member outfit, including a four-piece horn section and Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista, who appear as the core musicians on "Trey Anastasio." The solo debut, which is No. 45 in its first week on the "Billboard" chart, finds Anastasio combining Phish's trademark improvisational spirit and camaraderie with more exotic and sophisticated textures.

"I had always wanted to play in a band that could combine my rock influences with Afro-Cuban rhythms and the sense of larger group interplay you have in African music, and the musical elegance of swing bands."

Anastasio chose to record his first solo effort far from any music-industry nerve center, in a converted barn near the house he shares with his wife and their two daughters, ages 4 and 6, in Burlington, Vt.

"I felt grounded in Vermont, both physically and mentally," he says. "And other than Cyro, I worked with all local Vermont musicians — that's something I'm especially proud of."

Anastasio, who will kick off a 24-date tour with these players in Seattle on Tuesday.

"I needed to get away from Phish for a while in order to realize how lucky I was. To play even a tiny part in the fabric of American popular culture and music history is overwhelming."