In a sprawling new interview with Rolling StonePhish guitarist Trey Anastasio discusses an array of topics pertaining to the band’s new album, Sigma Oasis, his prolific quarantine songwriting habits, and the current state of uncertainty with regard to the future of live music.

The uncertain future of live shows—particularly this summer’s scheduled Phish tour—is top-of-mind for fans at the moment. Anastasio addresses the status of the ongoing health crisis with Rolling Stone’s Patrick Doyle directly in the feature, all but confirming that this summer’s tour will be canceled.

When asked if he knew when the band will be able to play live again, Trey retorted, “I don’t know. Soon I hope. Honestly, do you have an answer?”

When Doyle noted that some experts are pointing to the Fall of 2021, Anastasio responded, “Wow. That’s a year and a half. Listen, I think about it sometimes, and I think, what the hell do I know? But you know how 9/11 changed everything, and it was a different world? I’m guessing it will probably be something like that. … People get tested in a certain way, or you don’t walk into a venue without some kind of green light on your cell phone, or everybody has to go for a month … I don’t know how that’s going to look, but before 9/11 you could walk up to the gate without going through security at an airport. Not now…”

He continued, “How do I say this without oversimplifying? I really think this: I have heard some poor-me, woe-is-me, in terms of this industry that we’re in, this world of music creation. What I immediately think is, how naive could you be about music history to not think that this is just another twist and turn.”

After making connections to various notable artists over the centuries who used catastrophic situations to their creative advantage, Anastasio explained, “So my feeling is: get to it, artists! … Your job as the artist is … It’s not even a job. It’s food. It’s your life. If this is what it is, then this is what it is. Make do with what you’ve got. This is it now. I love those Phish concerts, and I can’t wait for them to come back. But my generalized feeling is that here we are today. This is where we are. I just get up, and it’s time to make music here then, I guess.”

Noting the time of year, Anastasio continued, “Right now, we would be thinking about New Year’s. Do we still plan it? And our feeling is, yes. Hopefully, someone will come up with some kind of vaccine and we can tour, that would be my favorite outcome.”

Read the full interview with Trey Anastasio in Rolling Stone here and scroll down for a few assorted highlights.

On the surprising timeliness of Sigma Oasis:

“Some of it felt weird, almost. I get sort of little chills thinking about how much it aligned with the way things turned out. I really wanted ‘Leaves’ to be second: ‘We built a kingdom out of lies, and then we blindly fanned the fire/We warmed our hands with glowing coals, but now they rain down from the skies.’ The general “we lost the plot” message, and now here we are.”

“The line ‘The wind is always whispering through the leaves’ is the real message to me. It kind of makes me think about all this stuff that’s going on, and all the conversation we’ve had over the last few years, with the oceans, the pollution, and then this thing happens, and you get these news reports: “Well, pollution is down.” Maybe this is nature’s way of [talking to us]. For some reason, that song was kind of exactly what it was supposed to be about. I’m not saying it was luck. I don’t know, but it is what it was trying to say.”

“[Sigma Oasis is] a place of relief. ‘Sigma’ is kind of an interesting word, but I read somewhere that it [meant] “hissing.” “Hissing,” and I thought that’s cool, it’s like the hissing oasis: The place where you’re already there, and you’re just present without thinking. That’s what I think of it. [Sings] ‘Take off your mask, the fear’s an illusion, so don’t even ask/You’re finally weightless, so take to the air/Sigma Oasis, you’re already there.’ See, all these things that I’m saying are the same thing.”

“What better time to think about this? Suddenly your life comes crashing down. No more live concerts, no more for now. But if you’re in that state of mind, well, there’s a roll of toilet paper in front of you. It’s exactly the same. It doesn’t feel any different. I’m in the barn doing these songs. Now today, I’m doing a song with the wineglasses.”

On tuning in to the Sigma Oasis debut listening party:

“I wasn’t initially going to watch it when it streamed, but then just as it was starting, I was sitting in my house with Sue. I popped it on and it went up on the TV, and we ended up watching the whole thing. … I was very emotional. It was weird. It was great, just knowing that our community was gathering, even though virtually. I admit I cried a couple of times. There was just something about it. I can’t remember how long we had been in quarantine by that point, but it had been a little while. We were definitely locked down, and then this thing happened.”

“We looked so happy and laughing together [in George Loucas‘ visuals], and then when it got to ‘A Life Beyond the Dream,’ he purposely put these pictures of us touching each other, my arms around friends, my oldest friends of 37 years, laughing and in groups. That’s like daggers in the heart, you know what I mean? What happened? That was so not that long ago. We were all in the barn spitting on each other freely, without any fear! … It was really emotional. Then I thought [about how] Phish is a community of friends. It’s the four of us, but it’s the gang, meaning all the fans. That’s the defining characteristic of Phish: These are thousands and thousands of longtime friends. Phish is about gathering. Phish as a band is truly, really, about friends gathering. They’ve grown up together, and their kids are there, all this stuff.”

“And then to know when they were streaming it, it was like an excuse. It had pulled the community together. Even a little bit was very emotional for me. I was surprised at how emotional I got by that, and then seeing those pictures.”

“The band feels together in a way that I’ve never really … Oh God. See, now that’s coming out of my mouth, I think, boy, isn’t that ironic? It’s like the band had never felt so together, and I think the fall tour was evidence of that because the four of us really liked that tour. We were getting closer and closer together.”

On writing as a way of life:

“I wish I could talk to young musicians because there’s something maybe that I’ve learned that aligns with what you’re saying in a certain way, and that would be to make writing a fully realized part of the fabric of your life all the time. The reason being that it’s like flexing a muscle. If you’re writing, you’re listening, you’re in tune, you’re paying attention. Maybe this will explain it: You don’t get tunnel vision, and you don’t overthink the message by staring at this little thing that you’re working on. It’s so important that you get all up inside of the voices in your head, as opposed to the emotional place, or your heart, which is in tune with what’s going on around you. So a lot of this record is very natural, and it wasn’t overthought. It was kind of part of a flow and a continuum.”

“This can’t be just a thing. It has to be all the time. It’s got to be like breathing. You’re breathing, you’re putting food in, you’re creating. You’re breathing, you’re writing, you’re putting food in. You’re making yourself exercise for a second. While you’re doing it, you’ve got a song. Or you’re going away from it on purpose to get some clarity or you’re going to go to an art museum.”

On not overthinking Sigma Oasis:

“A lot of this record is very natural, and it wasn’t overthought. It was kind of part of a flow and a continuum. … It’s funny, because I kind of was thinking about this before Ghosts of the Forest, meaning I was frustrated that Phish didn’t make an album that was a little more alive, where we didn’t get to where we would just walk in and play the songs that were speaking to us in that moment without debating anything. It was: These are the songs that are emerging at this moment. This is not the record. It’s today’s record. It’s what’s buzzing today.”

On his/the band’s connection with Sigma Oasis producer Vance Powell:

“[On] Ghosts of the Forest, I worked with Vance [Powell] and Fish — so it’s me, Fishman, and Vance doing the basics at the barn exactly the same way. I was talking with Vance during Ghosts of the Forest, saying ‘Let’s do a Phish album after this, like this,’ where there were no dividers, barely.”

“One of the cool things is he’s exactly the same age as us, so we speak the same language. That was one of the things I noticed working on Ghosts with him: We’re cut from the same cloth. We both were 15, lying on our backs at a party with Animals by Pink Floyd running through speakers on either side of our head, smoking bongs, or whatever.”

On using road-tested material on Sigma Oasis:

“I think it was more like our summer tour, sitting backstage and saying, ‘Man, we’ve almost stumbled into the lucky position that bands are in when they make their first record.’ That’s a conversation I remember coming up: ‘I really like ‘Shade,’ I really like ‘Mercury.’ I really like ‘Everything’s Right,’ and they didn’t make the last album. But these songs are really popping right now when we’re playing live.”

When bands record their first album, often it’s good because they’ve been playing those songs live before they ever got into the studio. And then the second album is a struggle because they don’t have any good songs anymore. We felt like it’s been a very prolific period, the last five years, so here they were. There were a couple other ones that sounded really good too that just didn’t go on this record, like “Set Your Soul Free.”

On his newfound focus on singing and the emotionally earnest nature of recent Phish material:

“Maybe because I’m getting old or something, but when we’re playing, the music sort of feels like life or death now. Maybe it’s the going back to Ghosts and watching my friend pass away, or getting older and watching your kids [grow up]. … The writing, the playing — everything is just desperately trying to get the closest pathway from the heart to the audience. In the process of that, I started to become more concerned with singing than guitar playing. I’ve always been so guitar-centric. I think something happened in the last five years, where the pathway from the heart to the mouth is very short. I just started thinking about being a singer more. My focus changed.”

“This sounds so ridiculous, but making this realization that you can sing like you play guitar — meaning freely-shaped phrases to dig the knife into the emotional center. Most people probably do that when they’re 12, but it’s been a slow process of moving in that direction. I thought there was a lot of that on this record.”

“When I’m playing the guitar, I don’t have to hide behind anything, and I think sometimes it gets really dark and scary in guitar moments, where I can be just not scared to actually open the emotion of how I really feel inside. That’s been my safe way of emoting over the years. … I feel like I’m starting to figure out how to do that with singing now. It’s like the release valve is opening. It feels like you can dig the shovel into the emotion. It probably started on the Ghosts record, maybe. Maybe before that, maybe actually ‘Miss You.’ But it definitely seems to be happening more.”

On reckoning with mortality as a band:

“Phish will make this joke backstage about how we’ll have to name our next album On Deck to Die. There will be a picture of the four us as the string quartet on the Titanic. Your boat is sinking and we’re still playing, and we’re on deck to die. Somebody that we know will pass away, and then we’ll get a group text: ‘On deck.'”

On his David Bowie obsession:

“I’m just obsessed. Bowie is the only person I think about now. … He has become, to me, the high watermark. … There was one quote in one of these [spiritual-type] books that was like, ‘Don’t quote the Buddha, be the Buddha.’ The Buddha was trying to tell you you’re already the Buddha. My catchphrase that I say to myself all the time now is ‘Don’t quote the Bowie, be the Bowie.’ In other words, what was great about Bowie was his fluidity, and he was an artist for life. Never stopped being an artist.

“By the way, before I ruin my own life, the concept doesn’t mean you think you are the Bowie. I’m saying everyone is the Bowie. You’re already there. The problem is you’re up inside of your conscious mind listening to that voice talking to you, and you don’t even realize that you don’t have to do anything.”

“When I was 19, I was playing street music in Europe and he came out with the Let’s Dance tour, and he was playing in Rotterdam. I was playing in Amsterdam, and I took the train. Greatest life experience ever. UB40 was the warmup band. I met a girl, she led me through the crowd to the front. It was unbelievable. We were in Europe, everyone had their face painted, I was a teenager. Unbelievable experience.”

On the instrumental outro of “Thread”:

“That happened from playing together for 37 years.”

Check out the full Rolling Stone feature interview with Trey Anastasio here.