Trey Anastasio

Keys to Smart Studio Jams

Music Features Trey Anastasio
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As a member of Phish and as a solo artist, Trey Anastasio has come to be known for his instantly identifiable guitar sound, and for using his compositions and improvisations to expertly meld a vast array of genres and forms—from funk, bluegrass and calypso to Zappa-inspired orchestration and atonal fugues.

His latest solo album, Bar 17, is no exception. This time out, the songs encompass traditional jazz, fusion, blues, folk, soul and psychedelia. When recording such a myriad of styles, it can help to enlist some top-notch talents to get you thinking outside the box. So for the new album, Anastasio called on more than 40 guests, ranging from old Phish bandmates to new collaborators such as the Benevento/Russo Duo, Todd Sickafoose (Ani DiFranco) and Stephen Bernstein (Sex Mob). Anastasio spoke with Paste about the five keys to fostering creative collaboration in the studio.

Be Open to Surprises: “When someone comes into the studio, I usually don’t know what song they’re going to play. Some of the horn players on the song ‘Dragonfly’ were people I hadn’t worked with before, and we wound up making up the arrangement as we went along. I like to work that way. It’s a high-energy experience.”

Get to Know the Players: “When I first played with [longtime collaborators] Tony Markellis and Russ Lawton, I told Russ to play the first five drumbeats he ever learned, then I did the same thing with Tony on the bass. As [each] played, I’d decipher that person’s musical DNA.”

Play, Don’t Think: “Most musicians play better when they’re not thinking too much. My goal is to create an atmosphere where they feel comfortable, then I can unravel everything they played later, after they’ve left.”

Aim to Inspire: “My heroes are bandleaders like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Frank Zappa. What they have in common is that the musicians they worked with played their best music in those bands. That’s the ultimate goal—to create an atmosphere where people can rise above anything they’ve done before.”

Get Into Their Heads: “I read a biography of Ellington, and it had a story about troublemakers in his band. One night, a couple of them got into a fight over a girl and wound up in jail. The next night, Ellington made them share a music stand, so when it came time to solo, they’d be sitting together and would try to kick each other's butts on the solos. He was like a psychologist and knew how to get the best out of people.”

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