This past Friday, ahead of a three-night Phish run at Ruoff Music Center (a.k.a. Deer Creek) in Noblesville, IN, drummer Jon Fishman checked in with SiriusXM Phish Radio‘s Ari Fink for a chat about the ongoing tour, his new sampler, the deeper significance of his onstage wardrobe, and more.
After a year and a half away, Phish had just returned to the stage the previous week in Arkansas and continued on through a show in Alabama, two nights in Alpharetta, GA, and a pair of shows in Nashville, TN. As Fishman explained of stepping onstage at the first show back, “For me, it was like being allowed back in your living room after your house was under construction for a year and a half. … That sense of ‘it’s not over, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s manageable.'”
Fishman and Fink chatted about the “miracle” of mRNA vaccines allowing for the window of opportunity for live music to crack open once again before moving on to another hot topic on the young tour: the drummer’s newly incorporated sample pad.
“All that stuff is just kind of my sense of humor,” the giggling drummer explained. “I got that trigger pad—it’s not something I necessarily would’ve gotten on my own, but I needed it for Ghosts of the Forest. … [Trey] had certain sounds that he wanted that Ray [Paczkowski] couldn’t cover.”
While he had only used it for that material up until the start of this summer’s Phish tour, that has clearly changed. Explained Fishman, “Scotty, my drum tech was like, ‘You know, when you got this thing up there, you can put anything you want, you can sample farts in it.’ So, you know, it was over there on the left side, or in the outfield for a while … And then, Scotty just started putting things like the voices, the different laughs and the voices and all that. I was like, ‘oh my god.’ So I went through this whole library of stuff. I just marked the ones that I liked and had him load up page after page. I’ve sort of boiled down to—I’ve got that voices page, and I took a couple of the laughs out of there, and I put these two long effects on the same page. There’s like this wobbly sheet metal sound, which I really like.”
Of course, Fishman has heard from the samples’ detractors online—a criticism he welcomes with open, mischievous arms. “I saw some memes some people sent me that were kind of complaining about the thing,” he told Fink. “I’m like, well, that’s just going to get you more of it. You understand that? Now it’s like the troll button [laughs]. Oh, you don’t like those, do you? Oh, ok…”
“My favorite [sample placement] so far—the one I got the most complaints from—was in ‘Slave’ [in Arkansas],” he continued. “I can’t even remember what sample I was hitting, I just remember it was so f—in’ obnoxious. It was sort of a quiet buildup and I hit the [grunting laugh sound] or whatever it was, and I remember hearing it and going, ‘ach, gosh, that was the most horribly placed… couldn’t have been a more tasteless placement of something… and then I just couldn’t not doing it again [laughs]. It was like this evil thing attracting me to it.”
“I actually had a thought that if I was a percussionist that Phish was auditioning, like, ‘We’re gonna get a percussionist, and we’re gonna have you perform with us,’ and I did that, I would get fired immediately. Like, right away. And I would’ve been the one to fire him. I would’ve been like, ‘God, man, that guy is the most tasteless percussionist ever, get him the f— out of here.’ So, that was kind of what I loved about it. It works if it’s that bad, but it works if it’s really good, too. Hopefully we have more good ones than bad ones, but if it’s really bad, you gotta double down.”
In addition to touching on the “blending” power of Chris Kuroda‘s new summer tour 2021 light rig and whether or not it’s 4.0 now (inconclusive), Fishman explained how the constant influx of new material from all four band members recently prompted Trey to make significant cuts from the band’s live rotation.
As Fish noted, “I know that recently Trey went through the songlist and hacked a bunch of them out. I don’t even know which ones are missing. All my favorite songs are still there [laughs]. It’s not like I looked and was like, ‘Where the f— is ‘Pebbles and Marbles?!’ I’ll go to the mat for that one.”
Continuing on that tangent, Fishman explained, “Every one of our tunes has been my favorite at some point or another. All you gotta do is have a really peak experience with one of them. … For the longest time, ‘Chalk Dust Torture’ was the song I had the hardest time wrapping my head around. And Trey used to always say, ‘That’s like our best song.’ And I was like, I don’t know, man.”
“And then, my ex-wife, when she was in labor with our first child, she goes, ‘I wanna hear the Camden ’99 ‘Chalk Dust’. And I was like, ‘Really?’ [laughs]. And we put it on and it blew my head off. That jam just reaches this place where—I remember it happening and I had forgotten about it until that moment—it was at that gig where I remember coming offstage and feeling like ‘Okay, ‘Chalk Dust’ is my favorite song now.’ Now, it’s the kind of thing where if I were trying to turn someone on to Phish, I’d say this is some of our best work.”
To close things out, Fink also pressed the drummer on the refreshed donut dresses he’s been wearing onstage this summer. Jon explained that his resident dress designer, Lisa Simpson, had made him three “freshies” for the tour with slight color variations—something Simpson frequently proposes and he almost always turns down. To him, he explained, this wasn’t just about the garment—this was about something deeper.
“It wasn’t about wearing a dress so much as it was about the donuts. And now we come to find out that the universe might be donut-shaped. I think it really is some archetypal thing that reaches us all on a very deep soul level that we aren’t even able to articulate [laughs].”
In the words of Fishman’s sampler, we offer our own joyously incomprehensible response to something beautiful and befuddling: “Yeah.”
Phish tour continues tonight with the band’s first of two nights in Hershey, PA. For a full list of upcoming 2021 Phish tour dates, head here.
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