To help you pass time before your Joy Box arrives and the beginning of the first indoor fall tour in six years. Pleasure yourself with this entertaining Jon Fishman Interview from 1996:
Interview with Jon Fishman
July 11th, 1996 - Kensington, London
by Michael Renshaw
Jon: ...you know trying to make out they're [Oasis] the next Beatles while adopting the bad boy image of the Rolling Stones-
Michael: Let's see if I can snort the whole of Peru!
Jon: Yeah, tryin'a- I guess Gene Simmons from Kiss would say that the only thing that's important is that you're talked about - you have to make a splash. In a hundred years nobody'll be talking about this or that guy just because they were good necessarily, but they'll still be talking about Kiss or Madonna because these people made big controversy, but I don't think people will still be talking about Oasis, although they can make controversy for a little while I suppose, but they're definitely not in the same league as the Madonna's or the Kiss's or the Prince's of the world, and...they're so bad!
Michael: I was surprised. I'd heard about them and I thought this is gonna be exciting in some way, but it was like 'I can't believe people have bought it!'
Jon: I know, that was what was kinda upsetting about it, cos in America there was this whole- we heard it, you know the whole Britpop scene's starting to come over here and it was like the only band at all that I've heard come out of this scene so far that I've liked in the last - god I don't know how long - is Radiohead.
Michael: A lot of people say that-
Jon: I love the singer and I think they have a good sound in general, like their overall sound's kinda ethereal, it's got some grit to it, it's not all slick and perfected and produced. You listen to Oasis and it sounds like somebody's production nightmare, you know it's got all the strings and all the horns and just pile all this shit into it with like no regard for like musicality or taste or anything it's just like slick bullshit, but Radiohead's like rock 'n' roll. In America we got blitzed over there with like the Britpop scene which Radiohead, Blur and all these bands are part of. And then Oasis seemed to be like- the press intentionally set them apart as like the special import, "They're coming they're coming" and they tried to like-
Michael: Did it work?
Jon: To some degree they did pretty well, they were playing like 10,000 seaters - it wasn't like they were selling out Wembley Stadium or anything but they were doing well. When I heard it- you know cos all I saw was like this press about them beforehand talking about how great they were, then when I heard it I was like this is totally run-of-the-mill, this is completely average, in what way is this special? And I realised that the only way in which this was special, the only reason these guys were making a splash was because they're sort of like amateur media manipulators in the way that Madonna is. Madonna is a pro. I don't like her and have no respect for her but- I don't think she should be called a musician or a dancer or whatever you know, but I do have, well I do have respect for her ability to completely manipulate the media and have them work for her. And I think Oasis are kinda like this scrappy version of that and I think that everything they're doing is selling on being such an asshole. I guess a younger crowd are into it, you know people who're just out to be assholes. And it's not like they're the Sex Pistols or anything, it's not like real you know, it's not like the whole time they're playing one of the band members is a year from killing himself [laughs] Nirvana was like that- Nirvana was like the only band to come out of that- it was like the same thing, Seattle was like this whole scene and it was like this big scene that was thrust upon America.
The only band to come out of that entire scene that had any true musical merit in my opinion was Nirvana because they were actually real- they really were- I mean this guy was singing- he wrote good catchy songs, he wrote great words, and he could like scream like nobody's business - the first like good screamer in like ten years - and the words that he was singing were real, really him, from like growing up in a, you know a broken family and having a shitty childhood and getting beaten up in high school your whole life and part of this generation that was just stuck with being the janitors for the previous generations and being frustrated with the whole thing.
I mean that album Nevermind comes out, it's got this picture of this baby swimming after this dollar bill, it's got all these completely in-your-face snotty songs and they call it Nevermind! It couldn't be more in-your-face and it's just the most cynical thing. I mean it's amazing to me now in retrospect to look at that and just not be able to see just from the presentation of that album that this guy was headed towards suicide. Now that he's dead, you listen to those songs and you look at the cover and you go, "Oh my god this was like somebody screaming for help" and as sad as that is it was the only kind of real- it seems like all these other bands sort of adopted the angst of other people, you know, people who had pretty decent lives, didn't have much to complain about, but there was this scene so they just went and adopted this- I mean like Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder has a good voice but other than that they're to me like the Oasis of grunge rock, formulated riffs.
Michael: So Phish is veering away from being a rock 'n' roll death trip band?
Jon: Oh gosh! Phish has never had anything to do with any trends at all in America. I mean people have compared us to like the Grateful Dead and all these like psychedelic sixties bands. The Grateful Dead were an influence on our music but they weren't by a long shot the biggest influence.
Michael: It's the culture around the band that's similar. I went to a couple of Dead shows when I was in the States and you don't get such a scene around many bands like that.
Jon: Yeah it's like a giant hippy caravan marketplace following.
Michael: That's the similarity, they've made it possible for you.
Jon: I think that Phish has been a band, we've all had- I've had a great life growing up and everybody in my band's had a really good life, none of us have got anything to complain about at all. So there's no way we're gonna write whining complaining bitchin' music. But I'm a realist, we're not gonna go and play flowery everything is great kinda music either cos that's not a message that's very realistic, either way would be an extreme lie. I think it's like music for the sake of music, and a lot of the words stem from liking music a lot, wanting to be a good band and having a good sense of humour, and living in a situation where we're free to pretty much do what we want. We're also pretty community-orientated. We like where we live and we wanna participate in our neighbourhoods and communities and stuff and try to- we're not like benevolent- it's pretty basic. We're living on earth, we're lucky to be musicians, we love what we're doing and we work really hard at it and I think that the crowd that it attracts has kinda the same philosophy, is community-orientated. People are trying to live freely outside of, or within a system that maybe for them on a day-to-day level isn't as free...I definitely think we're positively orientated. I think that generally music should be a positive thing, I like Bob Marley's attitude: he said that his goal in life was to single handedly fight all the evil in the world with nothing but music, and when he went to a place he didn't go to play, he went to conquer. I wouldn't go so far as to say we're going to conquer but he was like on a religious mission. But I do think that we approach music, in of itself, with a religious attitude. It's the only thing that we take seriously. I don't just wanna get up on stage and play shitty, or not care, or not put everything that I have into it. I just really liked Bob Marley's attitude, it's a great attitude, it's really like your glass is half-full your glass is half-empty, you can look at the world, given your situation, however you want to. I mean I have friends whose lives are really difficult, truly difficult.
Michael: Yeah I think it was in one of your interviews that you mentioned a friend of yours-
Jon: Willis's life is the most difficult life of anybody that I've personally ever known and he's just the nicest person. I mean Willis to me is just a total inspiration and an example of somebody who- some people when something bad happens to them they go out and think that it's a license to treat somebody else bad. And you say why are you doing this bad thing to this other person, and they say, "The world owes me, my life's been shitty and everybody's shitting on me and I don't owe anybody anything so I can do whatever the fuck I want to anybody else." Whenever I see that occurring, all I think about is Willis, and I think well, you've got no excuse you know cos like this guy's like definitely had a shittier life than you and he's the nicest person, he's literally the nicest person I know, I mean amongst all the people I know he's amongst the top, you know, he's as nice as anybody, you know I have as much respect for him as I have for my father, I mean he has my full respect...you know when I see that it just- I don't know I look at him and I think god you know, the whole situation could be so much better if people just- so I think all this angst-driven stuff is kinda-
Michael: not doing anyone any favours?
Jon: To me there's certain music that I can't understand how anyone cannot listen to once in a while, like Bob Marley's music. I don't know how you can go your whole life and not listen once to Bob Marley - what's the point? [laughs!] He's the only one I can think of like that right now, I don't know, not to get on a Bob Marley roll, but I have thought about him a lot, and he's not even my favourite band. Sometimes I think of Bob Marley's music and I think, I can't think of any other music that, you know I hold Jimi Hendrix's music in as high esteem as Bob Marley's music, but I can see how people can hear Hendrix and be turned off by it. It might be too much for my grandmother or something, young or old it's not their thing, for some people it would even be too wimpy, Hendrix pah! but I can't see how anybody could not like Bob Marley's music - I know that's an ignorant thing to say, of course there's somebody out there and it's not their thing but you know what I mean, you listen to it and you go, you can almost taste this music, oh my god, he ruined reggae for everybody else, you know, he's like the Michael Jordan of music, the Pele of music. When I hear his music it really does change my attitude, it changes the way I feel, it makes me have a better attitude for the day, for the whole damn day you know and I kinda wish there were more Bob Marley's in a way. I don't think that Phish is anywhere in the zone of Bob Marleyness, but I wanna put that kinda attitude in my approach to music. I know I can't be religious- I'm not religious that way but I can approach music religiously. My intention when I go to play music can be to generally spread a positive vibe, into the room and into the- and put yourself in a positive way into music and use music as a vehicle for trying to make somebody walk out of the room thinking, "Well Ok I'm not in such a bad mood" or "Maybe's thing's aren't so bad, maybe I can do something about my problems", just have it overall be a positive thing, it can be humour, it can get dark you know, but it can get you know- but it's all
Michael: good medicine
Jon: but all in a medicinal way, yeah not in a complaining, I don't know, I think that's an important thing for music.
Michael: I'm surprised in a way that there isn't more music that's- I mean there's instrumental music that fits the bill of being wholly positive but it's not exactly high profile.
Jon: Yeah, well, there really are some awful trends that have been going on for a really long time, and there's a lot of examples on the planet now where- you know I sort of look at the overall- maybe it's anthropomorphic, maybe I'm more concerned and don't realise it but I'm more concerned for the human race than the world. Maybe the world itself is in no danger, but whenever I say that to myself I feel I'm just clouding the issue and not facing the obvious. You look at the fact that for millions of years species on earth have been developing and we've been knocking them off at like a hundred a day. When you see that like the Bengal tiger is in danger of extinction, African elephants, I mean these are huge major players in the food chain that have been going- or you know like half the species of spiders on earth have been wiped out because of destruction of environments, you know spiders, you just look at the role they play in the food chain you know you gotta think- you know that game Genga?
Michael: Which one's that?
Jon: It's the one where you stack the blocks like dominoes kind of, and each person takes a turn pulling one out and the object is to pull them out but not make the thing fall and whoever pulls it makes it fall- I sort of look at our entire existence on this earth right now as one giant game of Genga.
Michael: Endgame, we've figured it out, we found the self-destruct button about fifty years ago...
Jon: Right! we've found the self-destruct button.
Michael: ...and it's only a matter of time.
Jon: Yeah it looks like either slow deterioration or maybe'll we'll hit the self-destruct button, and noone can look at the world and deny that. Some people panic and that's what's expressed in music and some people- and so I guess the reason why it's not so shocking that there isn't so much Bob Marley kinda music or whatever that is, in the bigger picture I think that people are aware of the fact that these trends do seem to be catching us up. If you look at the overall health of the planet it looks like there're sort of lesions of deterioration here and there, and everyone has this internal fear of, "Well the shit's hit the fan in my neighbourhood"- and even if you're doing things to reverse trends, destruction is quicker than construction and so people are still- So, being that there's that awareness I think that that is actually expressed in music before it actually happens. There's a book called Noise by this guy Jacques Attalie who had this theory that music was a herald of the future, it was the sound of things to come, music was always one step ahead of what was actually happening in society and so if you're hearing- even though there's a certain bogusness and marketeering in all this stuff like the Pearl Jams, the overall angst wave...what am I tryin'a say? just the fact that angst sells doesn't negate the fact that that angst is real.
Michael: and there's plenty more to come, it's gonna get darker but at the same time- but in that case then if Phish are looking to the future and creating/coming out with all this positive music then what 'trends' do you see that inspire?
Jon: I think that like um overall- I think that there're all these bad things like destruction of the rain forest and all the obvious ones that everybody knows, I'll just use that as an example just because that's an obvious one, but along with that there is a greater awareness, and I think that our ignorance is going to cost us and I think that you're right that there're going to be darker times ahead you know because of that certain things are going to be lost along the way, certain species are gonna go out and certain things are gonna get- you know we're not gonna save in time, but I think as a result of that also it's gonna cause people to also say woah! this really is real and let's save what we can, you know what I mean? It's gonna cost you but it doesn't have to be the end of the world, you know when you make a big mistake hopefully you'll learn from it and as long as it doesn't cost you your life then you still have time to pick up the pieces of what's left and you know make good with that, and so maybe we might lose this rain forest but we won't lose it all and maybe there'll be a real- not that technology can save us but I think there may be ways to you know in the future if we manage to stay here, you know if trends reverse- you know cos I do think trends are just that, they go a certain direction for a while then they go another direction and you know I think things always go to an extreme before they start going the other way...so when things start going real shitty around you you gotta start fixing stuff, then things get fixed, then when things are really fixed and really great then people think oh things are taking care of themselves, then they start getting sloppy again, you know but as long as you stay within the bounds of you know life's requirements, you don't make the atmosphere more than 21% oxygen or things like that and I think that some of the positive trends are gonna be along those- like I was reading in this magazine the other day that since Earth Day, the first Earth Day was in 1989 or something like that and since the first Earth Day in the United States there's been a more and more growing awareness of toxic waste emissions from factories in America, and as a result of that over the last 6/7 years overall toxic waste emissions are down 44%, that's not enough by a long shot but it's better than it was going the other way. And also technology is providing ways of cleaning things up better and there's also things like, you know a hundred years ago industry was a lot worse, and if you look at like the iron curtain is down and if you look in Eastern Germany and Russia and you see how badly the environment is damaged there and now there's efforts to repair that, and the rest of the world's looking at that and saying we don't want that to happen here, see noone knew about it cos it was all shrouded in secrecy but now that you can see what the black river looks like or whatever, people are like more cautious because they can see an example of how bad it can really get, I think people need to see that...I think that you really don't have a choice, when you see that things are wrong the only choice you really have is to just do what you can to make it better. Where we're living we have a certain amount of our profit every year it's like a percentage 5 or 7% or something like that that we set aside specifically for charity things. There's this King St Youth Centre. Rather than dolling out some money here and then next year there, we've picked out two focussed things to...
[to the impatient eavesdropping woman from Elektra] - yeah we'll be done in a second
...there's this thing called the King Street Youth Centre which Trey's wife'd done some volunteer work at, it's just a place that's got athletic equipment and some basketball courts and some tennis courts and musical instruments and other kinds of things, that people like between 14-17 can go to after school whatever where they can go and be involved in constructive things maybe for themselves that would give them another place to go other than a home they don't want to go to or going out and taking a lot of drugs or being generally directionless. A place where people of that age group can have a space where they can do something for themselves and maybe take themselves in a direction that's good for them, and we've guaranteed them a certain amount of money over a period of like 3-5 years because we found that that was an age group that doesn't get a lot of attention from the community. Adults tend to think that teenagers are a group that, "Well they're old enough to know better and so should take care of themselves" and so most funds go to younger kids' programs. So these teenagers who really are, some of whom really are at critical points in their lives you know really fall through the cracks, and so that's something that we've gotten behind, and the other thing that we're getting behind is trying to clean up Lake Champlain which is a huge lake that borders New York and Vermont, it goes into the seaway and stuff. Vermont's been a huge farming state for years and the farmers have been losing money over the years so they haven't had the proper funds to do the proper clean up and maintenance of the manure and things like that, and so as a result there's a lot of run-off and the rain all goes into the lake and it kills certain plants and it raises the nitrogen or the potassium you know and now the fish all have these lapreys(?) on them cos there're certain species of parasite that prey on the fish that are able to expand cos- so things like that we're trying to get behind and reverse, and I sort of feel like ok there's no denying that there's some bad stuff going on in the world and there's definitely some extreme examples of the cost that's gonna happen but given that, what are your choices: you either just stand there and whine and complain about it, you stand there and panic and freak out about it or you look at it realistically and say this sucks but we're gonna try to fix it you know, that's all you can do, that's the best you can do. And so I think that's where Phish generally comes from, from an attitude overall. We're not like some cheery happy ignorant band - [I point out that the Elektralady is trying to wind it up, pointing to her watch etc] Oh gadd!
Michael: What I wanted to ask was-
Jon: I just wanted to say one more thing: I also think that when you go to play music, you're there to play music. You're not there to spread any particular- if you're Bob Marley you're there to spread a message, but very few people can do that effectively without shoving opinions down someone's throat. When I go on stage man I just want people to have fun, I don't want people to think about their problems, I want people to get energy and nutrition and food from that so they can go back into the real world and work on their problems. I don't want them to think about that shit when they're there, and I don't want to think about it.
Michael: Totally. Ok there's a couple of things...mainly about the culture around your shows, what I remember of seeing you previously was the psychedelic culture around the band, and I wanted to ask the extent to which acid mushrooms etc had influenced you or the band at various stages...
Jon: Oh well for me-
[band manager strolls over 'we need to get going' 'ok']
Well for me the first...well I would say that within the group there's a huge expanse, I was definitely the biggest drug addict in the band - there's no two ways about it - and Mike the bass player's never taken any psychedelic's in his entire life and he's never tried mushrooms or acid and he's smoked pot a few times and he's barely ever been drunk and he's generally pretty straight, but he's also the weirdest person in the band, he doesn't need it nearly as much. For me from a pretty young age up until about 21 years old hallucinogenics had a huge place in my life. There was a year where pretty much I woke up at 5am, you know set my alarm for 5am, dropped a couple of tabs of acid and went back to sleep, it would wake me up at 7.30 and I'd go to school. I got my best grades that year and I had a good time and for me it was like a sense of humour kinda thing. When Phish started, for the first two years that we were together, I pretty much tripped for all our gigs, we didn't have that many gigs, granted, we mostly spent our time practising. I was never high for band practice, I did never really smoke much pot and I never really drank much, just once in a while when in Rome sorta thing, you go to Amsterdam you smoke hash, but I'm generally not really a- and I guess it's not really my place to discuss the habits of the other people in the band, but for me personally I think hallucinogenics were just a huge opening factor - they really did - they opened some doors for me, but they sort of pointed me in the direction of some possibilities but they didn't make me acquire these skills you know, practising a lot as a band and an individual are what got me to become a good musician, the acid just got me to be able to be less mental in my approach to music in the heat of the moment, when you're playing music you shouldn't be thinking you shouldn't be counting, you know, you should be playing music, you've done your homework, you're as good as you're gonna be now just go out and bomb it on the stage you know have a good time don't- and I think acid really helped me to let go of those- to be able to separate those two worlds to say this is homework, this is the world of work and toil and acquiring skill, and this is the world of expression, and when you come to expression you just expre- that's it, like I'm talking whatever, and that was- that for me was- the first two years I loved to trip and play and then [pause] I dunno it's like I graduated! [laughs]
Michael: Yeah yeah, you learned to live without it
Jon: Yeah then one day I didn't need it anymore or something-
Michael: The other thing I was gonna ask...I'm doing an interview with Terence McKenna, I was wondering how much credence you give to what he has to say-
Michael: Writes about mushrooms DMT etc
Jon: Gosh I don't even know who Terence McKenna is!
Jon: I think I've heard his name now.
Michael: Present day Timothy Leary?
Jon: You know Trey was reading something about him and telling me something- is he the guy who takes heroic doses?
Jon: Yeah I heard about that guy, he's the guy that believes that like if you're gonna take hallucinogenics you should only take heroic doses and that- I heard his name- that was like all I heard about him Trey telling me 'Hey this guy's like you he's got the same approach'
Michael: In one of the interviews with you I think you were talking about starseeds on this earth and how we're gonna be building starships outta light - this was an interview from about five years ago - talking about how the trick was to master the use of light and once you could do that you could turn the whole of earth into a spaceship and fly out of the orbit of the sun...
Jon: Woah! that's amazing, I was thinking about that for a while, maybe I did use the term starseeds, I did think that the ultimate engineering project would be to end up using the sun as the actual fusion generator for powering this and that you could actually eventually intentionally move the galaxy in a specific direction rather than- cos in the big bang theory everything's just expanding outwards and that the ultimate sort of sign of life or sign of advancement, say if you were looking through a telescope and you saw one star or one galaxy out there moving in the opposite direction of everything else, one thing was coming towards you while everything else was going out - you'd know that there was some intention there that there was something- yeah that's true I forgot all about that. Actually that has nothing to do with Terence McKenna...but I still think that would be the coolest engineering project, this would be the control centre, the sun would be the motor, or the sun would be the power then somehow the planets were used as propulsion to move us- look at it like a ship and move it towards Andromeda or wherever, yeah that'd be cool! That's funny man I forgot all about that!
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