Jon Fishman (BA ’90) is the legendary drummer and vacuum machine-player from the rock band Phish. Phish’s potent blend of progressive rock, jazzy funk, and harmony-infused jam first reached its setting point at Goddard College in Plainfield Vermont where three of the four members earned BA degrees and forged the bond that would carry them for decades. Comprised of Trey Anastasio (BA ’88), Page McConnell (BA ’87), Jon Fishman (BA ’90) and Mike Gordon, Phish has played more than 1,500 live shows, sold over 8 million albums and built a loyal and committed fan base since that legendary Halloween show at Goddard’s Sculpture Building in 1989. Dustin Byerly (BA ’01) had the opportunity to talk with alumnus Jon Fishman.
Dustin Byerly: When did you first know that you wanted to be a drummer?
Jon Fishman: As early as I can remember I wanted to play drums…I was given my first real drum set when I was seven or eight. My mother took me to see Buddy Rich when I was ten. When I was 13 my dad bought me a used real Ludwig drum kit. I always had a physical attraction to drums as an instrument.
DB: Did your family support your musical interests?
JF: I always marched to the beat of my own drum, no pun intended. My parents were incredibly supportive. They never said you have to take lessons if you want to play the drums. They just let me do it because I was so self-driven.
DB: How did you hear about Goddard, and what made you decide to enroll?
JF: From Page, who was already at Goddard…I wanted to stay in Phish, which was sort of a musical school in and of itself, but I also wanted get a college degree. The only way for me to do that was Goddard because any other place put requirements on me that would have taken away from my time behind the drum kit. So I showed up at the Admissions Office one day and I said, “Look, if I come here can I lock myself in a room and play drums 12 hours a day for the next three years and get credit for it?” They said yes. That was it.
DB: Did you study anything else at Goddard?
JF: I studied alternative education with Steve Schapiro and environmental studies with Charles Woodard. These were great courses and I loved them but Phish was still my first choice and eventually the other courses became a distraction. I was at Goddard to find my path…and to discover what I really wanted to do with my life. From that point on it was just all drumming.
DB: Can you talk about how the band was developing during these years at Goddard?
JF: We had the Garden House all to ourselves for practice…every day from 4-8pm. The only interruption in my drum practicing was band practice.
Trey was constantly writing music and we were always learning new songs. I was developing drum beats that were getting plugged into the new material he was writing. Trey…wrotebeyond what the four of us, including him, were capable of playing at first. A lot of things he conceived of and wrote were beyond our ability so we had to work hard to get to where our imaginations were capable of reaching and so I feel like I was being stretched by being in Phish.
DB: It sounds like Goddard was really fertile ground. Did Goddard give you the freedom to explore your passion?
JF: Definitely, without a doubt. If it hadn’t been for the creative incubator that Goddard was for us I don’t think that Phish would have had the career that it has.Goddard gave us a place to practice and develop our sound. I honestly feel like it was the most – in terms of our developmental period – concentrated and creative period as a result of the intense focus we were able to dedicate to the band.
DB: A lot of your early shows took place at Goddard. Do any of them stand out?
JF: In 1989 we had our Halloween show in the Sculpture Building. It was an amazing show. I shaved my entire body and painted myself gray in an attempt to become a cartoon elephant. It wasn’t convincing, though. I was just a shaved naked guy with a bunch of paint on me.
DB: What do you think it is about Phish that draws people to it?
JF: Fellow musician Robert Walters [of the The Greyboy Allstars] told me that although he didn’t listen to a lot of Phish, and it wasn’t really his cup of tea, he really appreciated us because we were the weirdest thing to had ever gotten this big and that was good for all musicians who were trying to break out of the box. The fact that Phish could succeed gave hope to all of the other guys who were doing things unconventionally.
DB: Looking back, what does your Goddard education and the experiences you had here mean to you?
JF: It was great for me. It was an invaluable developmental period, for me as a musician and for the band as a whole. I have not had a three-year stretch since where I have logged as many hours on the drum kit, week in and week out. It was a very intensive study period. I was able to devote the vast majority of my daily hours and energy to a single-minded goal of doing my part in making Phish as good a band as it could be. Goddard provided the space for me to do that. It was critical.
Are you a learner who is driven by your passion? Goddard College does not require transcripts or grades for admission. Your dedication to completing your project and carving out your learning path are priorities. You won’t be sitting through lectures, but forming your own curriculum with an advisor. Does this sound like the type of higher learning experience that you’ve been craving? Connect to an admissions councilor today at Get Info, and build the critical learning environment for your passion.
This article originally appeared in Clockworks Magazine, 2016