Jon Fishman: Phish Gets Back To Basics

“I’m sort of treating this like a semester at school,” he says enthusiastically. “I’m getting my house in order, getting moved in here and setting up a recording situation, and spending time with my family, and getting in shape. I wanted to do that for this tour. I want to go back and clean up some of my rudiments and work on some fundamental drumming things and have time to myself to get my own discipline back together. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but I always committed to going out on tour with Jazz Mandolin Project or whatever, but in the back of my mind I always wanted to force myself to say no. Now it’s back to the shed. I’ve got my tour kit set up and I’m working out and practicing.”

Jon Fishman

Fishman’s Kit

1. 22" x 14" Gretsch Bass Drum
2. 14" x 6 1/2" Ludwig Black Beauty Snare reissue with cast hoops and tube lugs
3. 6" x 5" Ayotte Tom (no bottom head)
4. 10" x 7" Noble & Cooley CD Maple Tom
5. 12" x 8" Noble & Cooley CD Maple Tom
6. 16" x 14" Noble & Cooley CD Maple Floor Tom

A. 8" LP Icebell cymbal
B. 6" LP Rancan cymbal
C. 14" Zildjian A Custom Dark hi-hat
D. 15" Sabian AAX Dark Crash
E. 8" Zildjian K Splash
F. 16" Zildjian Platinum Medium-Thin Crash
G. 21" Sabian AA Dry Ride
H. 20" Zildjian Custom Dark Ride
I. 20" Zildjian Riveted Flat Ride
J. 16" Wuhan China
K. 18" Zildjian K Ride

L. 4", 6", 10", 9" LP wood blocks
M. 4" LP Jamblock w/Axis Pedal
N. 8" LP Cowbell w/Ridge Rider
O. 6" LP cowbell

Jon Fishman also uses a Gibraltar rack, Pearl pedals, Purecussion RIMS tom mounts, Regal Tip Rock model drum sticks and Regal Tip Clayton Cameron model brushes.

“I do have all these goals that I want to accomplish, I want to get my drumming up to another level, and I realize in order to do that I have to cultivate a home life and have that balance to move forward. Now that I’m 38, it’s easy for me to get out of shape and it takes me a longer time to get back to where I was. We just did this February tour and it was great, but in all honesty, at the end, I felt like I was just ready to really play. You use what you have and I had a great tour, but I’m trying to develop a level of consistency.

“Great music comes from having a life. You have to have experiences and enjoy life and that will allow you to be musically inspired. That’s what I’m doing now. Before I would come home and flop and it was band practice that kept me going and kept me from totally bottoming out. I’m not getting too crazy with it. I’m excited and want to do everything at once, but I have good people around me who say ’Yeah, one step at a time’. So hopefully by June I’ll be playing my drums two hours a day, I’ll be in great playing shape by the first gig [in July] and do the tour and when I get home I’ll be able to pick up where I left off. I do think at this age, the peaks I can attain can be higher than before. I feel like things have just really begun.”

Jumping ahead to July, Fishman calls from his hotel room in Phoenix, where the band has spent the last few days preparing for the opening show of the summer tour, which starts later that evening. He is beside himself with excitement about the music Phish has been playing since we last spoke.

“This has been an interesting three months,” he says with glee. “I feel the best physically that I’ve felt in years. My memory for older songs is way better and I’m not sucking wind at all. The band’s playing really well. We only really had two weeks to get together before the tour because everyone was finishing up their own stuff, but we worked on eight new songs and they’re really good.”

Fishman says that if they had just a few extra days before the tour, they would have flown in a producer and recorded another album. “We’ve got a great album right now, it’s just not on tape. The one thing about Phish is we’ve never had a shortage of material. Our learning curve is really quick. All the years together have made us able to learn things so much faster than before. I think we’ve gotten control of the burn out factor. We know how much we can do and how much we can’t do. The last three months have given me a great foundation to work with. I found that if I stick with my workout, if I stick with my family life, all that will pay off, because the one thing I have stuck with for a really long time has been the band, and the pay off has been incredible.

“I think maybe what we’re going through, instead of a mid-life crisis, it’s a mid-life explosion. If you stick with the program and follow through with things and get through some of the harder parts, you get to this place where some of the things that were relatively easy before become miraculously even easier. You didn’t expect that – you just wanted the hard to go away. And now even the easy is easier and the hard isn’t hard. It’s the benefit of pushing through. The willingness to put the energy into it is back. It seems like we all are really into being in Phish again. It’s so great that we’ve arrived back at this spot. There was no sense of forcing it. When we were back in our rehearsal space it felt like everybody was really glad to be there. It was a feeling that this was one place that the four of us really like to be. It’s somehow therapeutic, it’s a place that’s good for you to be rather than a place you want to stay away from. And that is a really good feeling.

“There’s some sort of natural thing. I think any group of people who had went through what we went through and decided to stay together instead of go their separate ways has this kind of payoff. It’s leading to some really amazing places. It’s permeated my whole life. There’s something about going through what we’ve gone through to get to that higher level of teamwork that you can’t learn if you don’t stay together.

“I feel like I could just stay in Phish the rest of my life and be totally happy, and any other thing I want to do musically, I can do totally on my own. I could just make four tracks at home. I just love my family and love hanging out at home.”

Fishman is on a roll now, preaching the Gospel of Phish, ecstatic and caught up in the sheer joy of the moment, the joy of life and music and the joy of someone who gets to make a living playing drums in a band with his best friends. He catches himself and stops for a moment, worried that he might be perceived as overstating his case, or perhaps he is wondering if this could be as good as life gets. If it is, one gets the feeling that Fishman would be just fine with that.

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