Pure Pop: Phish's first father calls in from the road | Culture | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice
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Pure Pop: Phish's first father calls in from the road 

click to enlarge JEANNE KELLER
  • Jeanne Keller
Halfway through a monthlong, cross-country tour, Trey Anastasio is getting croaky. The former Phish front man continues to be the primary singer in his new nine-piece band; even with back-up support, singing 25 nights out of 30 is brutal on the vocal cords. Though he admits he needs to learn how to say no, Anastasio doesn’t hold back.

He’s equally voluble about the current lineup, whose members mostly hail from the Burlington area. The chemistry, Anastasio says, is great both on and off the stage. “It’s clearly become a band with its own personality,” he enthuses. “Everyone gets along really well. There’s a lot of experimenting on stage, and that keeps me excited.”

The road-honed band will show its stuff to home-turf fans this Saturday at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction. From there the tour, which started in Seattle, will wend its way southward for another week, ending at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.

The shows have been well-received, but Anastasio has another reason to be happy: His eponymously titled solo CD was recently released on Elektra to generally positive reviews. Alternative Press magazine calls the guitarist “a true visionary.” Spin declares the project “a pretty rad album,” while Entertainment Weekly dubs it “an ebullient musical Mardi Gras.” The 12-song disc indeed is infectiously upbeat, filled with Latinate rhythms bolstered by a killer horn section and party-hearty jams. As Request magazine puts it, “the groove reigns supreme.”

Since Phish went on hiatus a year and a half ago, hordes of fans have had to content themselves with the side projects of individual members. Anastasio’s exuberant new band is more than a pretty good substitute, possessing a sophisticated musicality that surpasses — but does not disdain — hippie noodle-rock. Listening to Trey Anastasio, it’s easy to believe this is one band leader who’s just getting started.

While that’s good news to phollowers of the Red-Haired One, it’s business as usual to “the girls” back in Vermont. Wife Sue and daughters Eliza, almost 7, and Isabella, 5, are used to him being on the road but are happy the tours are a lot shorter than they were in the Phish days. Anastasio, 37, has always been private about his home life, but this week he offers Seven Days a glimpse into what it’s like to be a rockin’ daddy.

SEVEN DAYS: This week is our annual Men’s Issue, which precedes Father’s Day, so I want to talk about Trey Anastasio the daddy. First of all, when did you get married?

TREY ANASTASIO: Seven years ago, I think.

SD: So Sue knew what she was getting into?

TA: Yeah. We started dating the night before our first two-week road trip. It was with Widespread Panic. I met her and went on a date to Nectar’s to see Plan B. The touring has always been a part of our relationship, so it always made things easier…

SD: Did she go on tours with you before the kids came along?

TA: Yes, and still does as much as we can manage it. This tour is built around Eliza’s first-grade graduation day, with the Burlington and Albany gigs on either side of it. They’re coming to New York after that. In the past we have taken a family bus a couple times, just the four of us, but that gets expensive.

SD: How about the big shows — Lemonwheel, Madison Square Garden, that sort of thing?

TA: Yes, they’ve come to all the big shows. The kids get a little bored — it’s not all that exciting to them.

SD: How often do you talk to the family when you’re on the road without them?

TA: Every day, if I can.

SD: What’s the hardest thing about not being with your family?

TA: The emotional distance. The funny thing about being on tour is, you’re surrounded by a lot of people, but you don’t have an intimate connection with anyone — unless my mom or an old friend comes out… I also just worry that I’m doing the right thing. I don’t want to miss anything, and I don’t want them to. You never want to feel you’ve missed… a dance performance, or even a bedtime story. The kids grow up fast. But my rationale is that I love what I do so much. It gives me a lot of joy, I believe in it, and it will affect them in a certain way.

SD: Do you also like the opportunity to miss them for a while, to be out doing your own thing? I mean, it seems like the best of both worlds to me.

TA: I find that more with Sue; we’ve never really had a problem with that. She’s comfortable with herself. I don’t feel that with the kids; that’s a different relationship. If I had my way I’d spend every single second with them.

SD: Do you find yourself swapping kid stories with other bandmates who have children?

TA: Constantly — probably the most swapping that goes on is with [saxophonist Dave] Grippo. The kids are the same age. We just went to a baseball game on our day off and talked about the kids the whole time.

SD: How aware do you think the girls are of what their daddy does for a living?

TA: They’re pretty clear; they know I play music and they come a lot. When Eliza was almost 3, I took her on four concerts — just us four guys and her. I had my mom or other people at each show look after her. It doesn’t impress them or anything. At a show in New Jersey once, I remember asking Eliza afterwards how she liked it and she said, “Borrring.”

SD: Any other anecdotes about how they react to seeing you on stage, or hearing a record of yours or anything?

TA: Well, it was funny when we were on “The Simpsons.” I didn’t say anything about it, just turned it on. I was in my favorite chair, they were at my feet. It was kind of interesting for about 20 seconds. They recognized Page [McConnell] and Mike [Gordon] and everyone. Mostly it was that they got to stay up an extra half-hour to watch the show.

SD: In what ways have your kids humbled you, or kept you grounded?

TA: In many ways. I feel suddenly you have something in your life that’s infinitely more important than anything else. That’s a good thing, to keep things in perspective. Especially when you’re surrounded with the kind of energy that’s on the road. Carlos Santana told me, never develop your opinion or sense of yourself on the road. Go home, change diapers and take out the garbage for two weeks.

SD: When you have been home over these last seven years, how involved would you say you’ve been as a parent? What duties do you share with Sue?

TA: It would be pretty even. We both do what we do. That being said, I’m not home right now and Sue is doing everything. For example, last night she had two kids with the flu.

SD: Who’s the disciplinarian?

TA: I think that it might be Sue. She’s probably a little more the day-to-day. I’m the you-don’t-want-to-see-me-lose-it.

SD: Does Daddy have a temper?

TA: Daddy has a little bit of a temper, but he keeps it pretty much under control.

SD: What are your favorite ways to spend time with the girls?

TA: I like Leggo-type building things, creative stuff. Just playing in the yard, puzzles — because I like them myself.

SD: How close are the extended families?

TA: Sue’s parents live partly in Vermont. My mom’s in New York; Dad’s in New Jersey. We got really lucky in the grandparents department — all are very involved in the kids’ lives. They all get along and we get along with them. They always want to babysit.

SD: Do the girls call you “Daddy,” or do either of them have other names for you?

TA: They do have another name for me — “Deedah.” Eliza started that when she was really young, and it just stuck.

SD: Do you carry pictures of them with you in your wallet or anything?

TA: Oh, yeah, I got pictures all over the place — wallet, bag, dressing case. Honestly, I don’t go away as much as I used to. With Phish we were touring, in the thick of it, for three months at a time. Now I go out for a month or so. I was with Oysterhead in the fall, then home until this one. I really don’t like to be away as much. I record [in Vermont] and I’m home for dinner. It’s had an enormous effect on my family life.

SD: Does either or both of the girls look like you? Any red hair?

TA: I think they look like their mom. Not really any red hair. Isabella acts more like me — she has a little wilder tendencies.

SD: Speaking of tendencies, has either of them exhibited musical talents yet?

TA: Yes! They’re both in some really good local music programs. This African drumming and dance class [in Memorial Auditorium] is incredible… It’s a great place to start teaching kids; they get comfortable with their bodies and rhythm. If you went from there to piano, you’re off and running; every other instrument is just an offshoot of that.

SD: Do the girls listen to any children’s artists that make your skin crawl, or that you really like?

TA: We had to listen to the “Princess Collection” from Disney about a hundred thousand times. That one started to get to me. Right now they’re into Shrek — we’ve seen it about 75 times. But I love that. They like Bob Marley.

SD: What do you wish you could do better as a parent?

TA: Patience. What I mean by that is just in terms of sitting and listening and doing whatever they want to be doing at their pace, not at a grown-up pace.

SD: What are the three most important things you want to teach or impress upon your girls?

TA: First, kindness to other people. Two would be appreciation of how lucky we all are, a count-your-blessings kind of thing. And then maybe to have the strength to just try things in life, get as much out of life as you can, and not be afraid to take risks along the way.

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Pamela Polston

Pamela Polston

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Pamela Polston is the cofounder, coeditor and associate publisher of Seven Days.

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