VR Logo2.JPG (2055 bytes)     The Vermont Review     VR Logo2.JPG (2055 bytes)

       Interviews                How About Some  Jazz                   Vermont Bands                  Concert Reviews     

CD Reviews                     Essays                          Links               Home         Contact                   Photos

The Life of an Amfibian: An e-mail Interview with Tom Marshall

By Brian L. Knight

Life does exist outside of the immediate circle of Phish for New Jersey’s Tom Marshall. Although he has attained relative stardom through co-authoring of some of Phish’s greatest music and has accompanied the band on stage for some impromptu tunes, Tom Marshall has many other endeavors that take him away from the limelight of the Phish scene. It is through his song writing and spur-of-the-moment stage appearances, that Marshall caught the bug for playing music once again. While he was in high school, he played in bands but music was not a dominant force during his college and post-college days.

To take advantage of his love of music, Marshall formed Amfibian, a rocking quintet out of New Jersey. Although the band is still in its developing stages, it did not stop them from embarking on a 4 show mini-tour that featured stops in New York City; Cambridge, MA; Pennsylvania and Winooski, Vermont. Amfibian played an interesting combination of cover tunes (Neil Young, Beatles, Tom Waits); songs that Marshall had recently co-written with Trey Anastasio (Wading in the Velvet Sea, Brian & Robert, Dirt, Farmhouse and many more) and songs that Amfibian has written as a unit (Wouldn’t Miss, Bus on By, Demon Above and Not Yet). Through these songs, the band played a nice blend of blues, psychedelic and alternative rock and through the "Phish" songs, provided a new twist on some familiar songs (This out of touch fan didn’t even realize that Phish played some of the songs).

After his little tour, the Vermont Review spoke to Marshall via the cyber waves. As we exchanged information along the great highway, we got a hear a little about the man behind the lyrics, his take on some great Phish moments and his new endeavors with Amfibian.

VR: First of all, where do you live and where would you call home base for Amfibian?

TM: Amfibian calls the cool mud of central New Jersey home.

VR: Who makes up Amfibian (names, instruments, ages)?

Me—keyboards, 35; Peter Cottone—drums, 34; Matt Kohut—bass, 33; J.P. Wasicko—percussion, 33; Scott Metzger—electric guitar, 21 and Andrew Southern—acoustic guitar, 19.

VR: How did you guys meet?

TM: Ah ha! Well—Trey (of Phish) and Matt and Pete and I, who are all classmates from Princeton Day School back in 8th through 10th grades, decided to form a band called Utalk. For various reasons it didn’t take off, but Matt, Pete and I continued practicing and eventually added the other two members of Matt’s band, F-Hole (Scott and JP). I then decided to bring in a pal, Andrew, who just graduated from PDS as well coincidentally. So there are four PDS guys in the band.

VR: Do Scott and J,P, bring any tunes from F-Hole? They have a very interesting sound.

TM: Scott wrote one song we did called Wouldn’t Miss. It’s not really an F-Hole-type of song. I’d say that our jams turn into F-Hole-like creations now and then though... Matt has written some stuff, and we’re still waiting on JP.

VR: It appeared that the members of Amfibian had quite an age range. Do you think you guys draw on different experiences and influences?

TM: Right now I think the young guys add a lot of energy to the live show, and they’re doing quite a bit of writing. However, the style of the overall band, and the choice of covers seems to be dictated, at least for the time being, by the older guys. A lot of music that I take for granted, the young guys may never have heard. The 15-year gap is kind of funny, but it’s educational for all of us.

VR: How did the name Amfibian come around?

TM: We had a really bad name, and we had booked a gig and were in danger of using the horrible name, so I suggested Amfibian at the last second and it stuck.

VR: Any recording plans? Further tours?

TM: We really enjoyed this past weekend playing at the Middle East in Cambridge, and then at the Wetlands in NYC. We’re definitely going to play out a lot, but we’re taking a short break from live stuff for the moment so we can put the last touches on some stuff we’ve written, and then go into the studio to record at least a demo, and maybe an album.

I don’t think we’d turn down a chance to play the Wetlands again though— that was a lot of fun, and the whole band had a great experience there—the fans and the sound and the people who work there—everything just worked out so well that I’m sure you’ll see us there again sometime.

VR: Besides this past mini-tour, do you play locally in the Central NJ area? Or do you just practice?

TM: We played once in New Hope, PA, but we’re hoping to do a bunch of smaller gigs in the local area just to keep on our toes as we write and record stuff.

VR: Is Amfibian going to be a full time endeavor?

TM: That’s a tough one...we’re all otherwise employed or in school, but we’re considering it.

VR: We heard some Beatles and Neil Young at the Middle East. Is that who you listened to when you were growing up? Who else?

TM: Yeah...I was a Genesis fan and I liked King Crimson, Yes, CSNY, Paul Simon, Brian Eno...stuff like that.

VR: You said you listened to King Crimson, Yes, and early Genesis - which

are my three classic progressive bands (and personal favorites). Could you classify Amfibian as a

progressive band?

TM: No—not really. We’ll have to wait until we write a lot more together to see what we’re classified as.

VR: Do you think Phish possesses progressive elements?

TM: Maybe, at least lyrically now and then...

VR: When I heard you guys at Middles East, I was reminded of early Traffic and Jefferson Airplane. Do you listen to them at all?

TM: Not too much—I went through a Traffic phase, and Scott, our guitarist is going through his Traffic phase now. That’s why he sings 40,000 Headmen.

VR: Who are some lyricists of yore that you hold in high regard?

TM: Lennon/McCartney, Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell...

VR: As Phish often gets inaccurately compared to the Grateful Dead by the media, have you ever been given a Robert Hunter comparison?

TM: Oh yeah...but we’re not at all alike! I take it as a compliment, because I really like his writing...but I think they’re comparing our jobs more than our styles.

VR: Where did you go to college? Did you venture off to UVM/Vermont when Trey was up there? If yes, what was your favorite nightspot in the area?

TM: I went to Rutgers—I didn’t make it up too often. I saw Phish play at Hunts with Lambsbread a long time ago. I saw them play somewhere at UVM, and I saw them at Nectars.

VR: Was there a moment when you came to realization that your childhood friend was going to be a full-blown rock star?

TM: I told my mom a long time ago when I was in 10th grade—and she remembers this—that of all my pals in my class, the only one who might actually go somewhere is Trey. I told her I’d like to stick with him. But then, alas, we parted ways when he went to boarding school. We bumped into each other several years later at Mercer County Community College which we both attended briefly for various reasons.

VR: During the set, I heard some familiar Phish tunes (Wading the Velvet Sea). Do you guys play any other Phish tunes?

TM: Yes! Only stuff that I’ve co-written though, so I like to think of them as Trey/Tom tunes as interpreted by Amfibian rather than Phish.

VR: When you wrote the lyrics for Antelope, did you ever slightly imagine the impact that you would eventually have on thousands of people?

TM: Well...Steve really wrote the words to Antelope. I just was lucky enough to be hanging with Trey when the first version got recorded and I babbled some nonsense into the mic. The credit lies with the Dude of Life for Antelope— what Trey said onstage a couple of times "these are the first lyrics Tom ever wrote for a Phish song" was only referring to that one phrase "Rye Rye Rocco...".

VR: During this past Holiday run, you sang a song called "Grind." Could you tell a little about that song?

TM: Yes. When I wrote it, I realized I was almost 33. I figured out that I had lived 12,000 days. Then I started counting other things, like my teeth and the ways that I can bend, and the types of animals I eat. I decided these all needed to be placed into this song. I’ve forgotten how I came up with the number of ways that one can bend, but I remember counting each knuckle as one, and the wrist is one, your waist, which is a universal joint really, I gave four, the neck also gets four. Somehow it added up to...was it 68? Trey thinks it was 68, but I don’t get that number now. I’ll have to listen to the original version of the song and get back to you!

VR: When you joined the band for cover tunes such as 500 Miles, Tubthumping, Shine and Champagne Supernova, whose idea was it?

TM: It’s Trey’s and my idea.

VR: Were you nervous?

TM: Extremely!

BK: As you have more and more stage appearances with Phish, are you combating that nervousness with experience?

TM: Yeah—waiting around to go on is tough. But when I’m walking out there toward the mic all the nerves take a back seat to the job that has to be done. I think that’s what happens to most people who think they would be too nervous to do anything in front of a lot of people. It seems like an insurmountable barrier until you’ve done it a few times.

VR: What is your favorite Phish tune that you have collaborated with?

TM: I like Velvet Sea and Brian & Robert right now, but that’s probably because Ghost is in my car and getting a lot of play right now. I like Theme From the Bottom, but I’m not sure about an overall favorite. I like Dirt a lot, and I love the way they’ve been playing Driver as well.

VR: What is your favorite Phish tune that you have had nothing to do with?

TM: I love Punch You in the Eye – (It is) about the best, I think, of all Phish songs.

VR: What do you think of the new "All-Phish" tunes such as Carini? "(editor’s note: Phish has recently made some music writing forays where they write songs as a collective unit instead of individual members introducing songs to be worked on)

TM: That’s new? While not my personal favorites, I like where they appeared on the European tour, and I liked the attitude behind them. It was a big "loosening-up" period for Phish.

VR: What is your favorite Phish concert that you have hailed witness to (or are there too many to point out a single one)?

TM: I think the Clifford Ball was just amazing. I remember just being thrilled at the music from the word go, and it didn’t let up for me the whole two days. I think Phish rises to the occasion for their special shows like that, and of course for their Halloween shows. Last Halloween’s rendition of Loaded was just phenomenal even though I didn’t know the album very well. Remain in Light in Atlanta was stellar too.

VR: The Clifford Ball was simply an incredible personal experience (It is where my present girlfriend discovered our love) and Atlanta was musically out of hand. Speaking of Halloween, what album would you like to hear Phish do on Halloween (my personal vote would be David Bowie’s Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust)?

TM: If they stuck to the double album thing I wanted them to tackle Exile or Physical Graffiti.

VR: One of the personal highlights of Amfibian’s performance was a tune called "bug". How did that song come about?

TM: Trey and I wrote Bug in the same session we wrote Farmhouse. Bug took us the longest it’s ever taken us to write and record a song—almost 24 hours. When we were done it had sapped a lot of our will and strength, and wasn’t really what we had hoped for. However, when we revisited it as Amfibian, we rocked it out a bit more and turned it into one of our more jamming songs.

VR: Any other Amfibian tunes that you really enjoy?

TM: I really like the stuff we’re writing together: Wouldn’t Miss, Bus on By, Demon Above, Not Yet. I can’t wait to give these songs the time and thought they deserve.

VR: Does Amfibian write its songs collectively, in the practice room?

TM: We’ve done that, but we’ve also had songs that one member brings almost totally constructed already and just needs to adapt it from say an acoustic guitar piece to a band song.

VR: Do you have family?

TM: Oh yeah!

VR: Does your interest in music and career ever collide (biology terms in your songs? Naming newly discover microorganisms after your tunes?)

TM: Hmm...my biology teaching days are over, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still interested in nematodes, dendrites and their ilk.

VR: What do you think your best professional achievement has been to date?

TM: Staying employed.

VR: What do you do when you are not playing with Amfibian, joining Phish on-stage and writing songs?

TM: I have a day job actually! I’m a computer guy...I fight with Windows NT all day.

VR: Fighting Windows NT all day? ...........Do you feel like you live a double

life? Computer troubleshooter by day and rock & roller by night?

TM: Totally. I definitely have two lives. I try not to let them mix for several reasons. They’re like two compounds that when kept separate they’re chemically inert, but when brought together they’d explode. I like having one to escape from the other to, and vice-versa.

VR: What is your Y2K prediction? And, hypothetically speaking, if Phish were to play in Hawaii next New Years Eve, would Y2K keep you from going?

TM: My prediction? You mean whether planes will drop out of the sky and banks forget that you have money in your account and such? I think some stuff will happen, but hopefully nothing too serious. I suppose if power went off completely in New York City that some horrible riots and looting could occur. Just as well to be safe on an island in the Pacific.

Would it keep me from going? I wouldn’t fly home on New Year’s day itself if that’s what you mean.


For more information on Tom Marshall and Amfibian, go to http://www.furrythug.com or http://www.amfibian.com