Pink Talking Fish is a rare tribute band. Rather than pick one legendary group to cover and relive their material in new ways, they took a unique direction by covering Pink Floyd, Phish and Talking Heads, stitching together disparate songs and groovy jams for an experience to remember. They’ll be playing at Infinity Hall in Hartford on November 21. I spoke with Eric Gould, founding member of the band.
Tom Matthew: How did the concept for Pink Talking Fish come together?
Eric Gould: I had the idea for the band. I wanted to do something that was tribute oriented, but rather than doing one band and doing it exactly as-is I wanted to do something that had some individualized creativity within the realm of tribute and see how that went. I just picked three of my favorite bands that I thought were compatible, put them together, wrote up some setlists, liked what I saw and put a group of guys together.
The minute we got on stage and played the first show we knew how special this was. From how the audience was when we played it to the way we felt on stage, writing up a dream setlist and performing it is a very special thing.
It was a revolving line-up for a little bit. Then in 2015, Richard James, Dave Brunyak and Zack Burwick joined me as full time members. From that point that’s when Pink Talking Fish was really off to the races. We got our material solidified and kept on enhancing and really just gelled as a group.
TM: When I first heard of your project coming together I thought it was a really interesting idea. The blend of Pink Floyd and Phish i understood right away and it seemed like bringing in Talking Heads really adds some spice to the mix. What is it about Talking Heads that inspired you to include them?
EG: The Talking Heads, what they do with the layering of grooves, taking a bunch of simple parts and making something extraordinary with it – they just have such a great feel where you can just lose yourself and dance. It feels so good, that’s the wonderful thing about the Talking Heads. Some of the material is quirky and weird, some of it is the hits we all know and love and some of it lends the opportunity to some nice improvisation. We like to do that within our show.
So many of the songs are transitional, which is a huge part of what this band is. That’s why they were one of my choices. It’s really about the design of the setlist within the show and how things connect. How we can create something special and new that people haven’t heard before.
A perfect example is the Talking Heads song “Slippery People”. There’s one place where we can get away from the song and easily do a hard cut or a smooth jam into another song, to a Phish or a Pink Floyd song, and there’s an easy way to come back into it as well. So after the audience has taken their emotion from that piece of the night, all of the sudden we’re back to it. It’s just fantastic to be able to do that stuff.
TM: You mentioned that some of the Talking Heads material can be quirky, and I think maybe that’s the glue the binds these bands together – they’re each quirky in their own way.
EG: That’s a key point – in their own way. And that’s what’s so nice about the variety here. All three bands also have a really beautiful soul in their own way. So we’re able to take the audience on a nice roller-coaster ride of emotion through this where we’re going to be able to let people just dance and party and have fun for a good chunk of the show, but we’re also going to be able to get some nice soft moments, or some “put your fist in the air and rock out” moments.
We have a really wide palette of instrumental emotion to choose from. We can open up a setlist with “Burning Down the House” by Talking Heads then all of the sudden go into Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” and be completely psychedelic. And then out of that it could just be a groover like Phish’s “Sand” and take them out of that psychedelia into a smooth groove and transition back into it. Next thing you know, we’ll be doing a hard rock tune, whether it’s Talking Heads or Phish, whatever it is. It’s a blast man, it’s so much fun.
TM: It looks like Pink Talking Fish plays a different set every night. Do you guys ever play the same set twice?
EG: No, we don’t ever play the same setlist twice. There’s no need to. There’s so much variety, and we are committed to constantly expanding our repertoire. That’s a huge point for us because the last thing we want for us as musicians or our audience is to get stale and to come to multiple shows and see the same set twice or even similar – we pay a lot of attention to what we’re playing when we come to town. We want to make sure when we come to town another time we give them a different show.
Also, if we’re doing a run we want to go as long as possible with no repeats. We offer people the experience to come see multiple shows with us and have that all be one ongoing experience for them.
TM: The jam band fans out there really appreciate that kind of thing.
EG: We’ve had a lot of two show runs and we’re actually starting to get into some three show runs at the same place. It’s great. You’ll have a group of people that are there for all three shows and they’re there for the journey of that moment, that experience. It’s not three shows, it’s just one experience spanning three days.
Some bands will play the same setlist, and that’s okay, that’s what they do and that’s great. That’s the philosophy of how some bands do it. But for what Pink Talking Fish is, especially with the Phish element, that’s such a wealth of material. They have the same philosophy of attention towards people wanting to catch multiple shows. It’s important for us to be able to do it that way.
TM: Mentioning Phish, that really reveals the talent level in the band. You’ve got some really difficult material there that you guys have to replicate in a way that is sharp. Tell me about the other members of Pink Talking Fish.
EG: Richard James is the keyboard player in the band. The guy is absolutely phenomenal. On top of being an incredible keyboard player who has developed a quick arsenal where he has anywhere between five and eight keyboards on stage at once. He has a great array of sound. Everything from your classic Hammond B-3 or Clavinet to some really nice synths that can create great dance sounds and also psychedelia. He’s really been great at navigating and emulating all three bands while creating his own personality within it.
On top of that, he also has a fantastic voice. He’s been a great contributor on the lead vocal end of things. We all sing some leads, and he’s been able to do a nice job with the Pink Floyd element. His voice has similarities to Gilmour and Waters in certain respects. He’s just got that rich tone.
Zack Burwick is on the drums. Zack is the perfect drummer for Pink Talking Fish. He has such an incredible sense of timing. He has so much knowledge of the material. We all trust him completely, because drums are a very important part in the guidance of the transitions, of the tempos, of the feel of the material – especially when it comes to the more complicated Phish compositions. How that can move in and out of some of the other band’s material. It takes a unique individual to be able to lead us and guide us through that. Zack is just the right guy for that. He’s a fun personality to be on stage with too. Life’s just a little bit more fun with Zack Burwick on stage with you. That guy is just so talented and it’s a pleasure to play with him.
Dave Runyak on guitar, I would venture to say that he has the hardest, most challenging job and he takes it like a champion. He really does. To be able to capture Trey Anastasio’s tone, David Gilmour’s tone, and David Byrne’s tone all in one show, I mean that alone – forget about the techniques of the song and the different emotions you need to go through as a soloist, it’s mind blowing.
Similar to Zack, Dave is just the perfect guy for this. He’s embraced himself into all the material. What he does just to embody the music of Trey Anastasio from Phish, he’s just a true expert at that. He’s another guy where we put a lot of faith and trust in him when we’re getting into a lot of the complicated pieces that Phish produces because he’s just so knowledgeable of it.
When it comes to the Pink Floyd material, to be able to capture the soul of those solos that Gilmour takes out and some of the tones and the soundscapes that happen, he’s really done a great job making that happen. The different rhythms of the Talking Heads, he just really gets into it – one of my favorite points with all of these guys is when it gets rhythmic. It happens a lot in the Talking Heads songs. We’re not thinking about who’s going to jump into a solo next, we’re just grooving on a progression together. I think that’s when we’re really at our best.
All three of these guys, I couldn’t pick a better group of to be able to share this ride with, personally and professionally. I’m personally blessed to be able to call them my band mates and they just wow me with their talent every day.
TM: Do you find any difference in the kinds of venues you’re playing compared to when you were with Particle? Since you’re a cover band do you find yourself booking different kinds of shows and festivals or is there a lot of overlap between the different scenes?
EG: The answer is yes and no. There are some venues that lend themselves more to electronic music that wouldn’t work as much for Pink Talking Fish. One of my favorite venues in San Francisco is called DNA Lounge and it’s a total electronica venue. It’s such a slick place, it’s amazing. But I could never see Pink Talking Fish playing there, it’s just not the vibe. It’s not a place where audiences that are used to seeing us would go to.
But then there’s classic theatres that Pink Talking Fish has been able to come into that wouldn’t necessarily lend itself to what Particle does. But there’s a lot of similarities. Probably more similarities than not in the circuit out there. My favorite venues in general are ones that can cater to live music of all sorts.
TM: Pink Talking Fish has a great light show. Do you have a lighting tech that tours with you or do you take it venue by venue?
EG: We do, we have a professional lighting designer, Vin Pugliese. He joined on with us full-time this year and he’s fantastic at what he does. He has a great light rig that he brings on the road with us. Sometimes he adds some other elements. He also is a projectionist, so in the right scenario he’ll have the lights and projections behind the stage. He’s multi-talented, multi-faceted, and he’s really put in a lot of effort to learn our personality as a collective band and he’s been able to roll with us very nicely, going with our improvisational changes and he puts on a beautiful presentation.
TM: So what does the band have coming up, more touring in November and December?
EG: We’re doing a few shows out in California, then a couple of nights in Las Vegas where one night we’ll be playing “Dark Side of the Moon”. 20 years ago on November 2, Phish wound up busting out “Dark Side of the Moon” at an arena in Utah right after they played Vegas for Halloween. We’re going to be doing “Dark Side of the Moon” in order to honor that.
It’s fun for people. We take some great moments from the bands that we tribute and we love so much and their history. To be able to offer a nod of appreciation and a little bit extra by putting the show around it, that’s really fun for fans. It’s fun for us. Doing things like that is really a blast.
After that we’re taking a little time off in early November then hitting it hard. We’re doing a nice Thanksgiving run on the east coast playing some of our favorite places. Portland Maine, Infinity Hall in Hartford, Boston Mass which is our home town – that November 24th show is going to be a nice Thanksgiving family gathering at the Paradise. That’s going to be a really fun night. Then after that we’re going all around. We’re doing Colorado, we’re doing the midwest in December, so that should be a good time.
In February we’re doing another Capitol Theatre show. We’ve done the Capitol Theatre two different times. The first time we played the epic Talking Heads album “Stop Making Sense”, which was a three and a half hour performance straight up with special guests. Then last year we did Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, which was a similar thing. I think we played for over three hours.
This year we’re doing Phish. We’re doing Phish’s “Junta”, which is a huge album. Some of the beasts that they wrote are on that one. We’re also going to be turning the whole room into a circus and have these circus attractions going on both onstage and off throughout. That’s going to be a real fun thing we’re doing in February.
We’re doing New Year’s Eve. We’re doing a Phish late-night on the 29th of December, we’re doing Philadelphia on the 30th and we’re doing Washington D.C. for New Year’s Eve this year. Those are three of our favorite cities to play. We’ve got a bunch of fun stuff going on, it’s such a great ride. We love it.
TM: You’ve found a lot of success as a musician, as a founding member of Particle and now with this amazing tribute band Pink Talking Fish. What advice can you give to those aspiring musicians out there that are trying to find their way in the music business?
EG: You’re an artist, but you’re also a businessman. You’ve got to make sure that to succeed in the music business, you need to treat it like a business as well as an art. You have to be sure, whether it’s you or whether you’re building a team, that you have a strategy that fits what you want to do. You have to have a vision and you have to build the right team to honor that vision.
You have to make sure you’re working hard but enjoying the ride at the same time. It’s not worth it if you’re forcing it to make it happen. You’ve got to be artful, you have to be business-minded, and you’ve got to make sure you’re taking a step back and enjoying yourself throughout this process.
We all work very, very hard. Not everything is always fun in the music business. A lot of it isn’t. But you’ve got to make sure that overall you’re having a good time and just enjoying yourself. It’s huge, it really is, because it’s not an easy business to make it in. The glory comes in those moments, and the hard work is the longevity of it.
When you’re putting that together, when you’re zooming out looking at the forest, you can say “You know what? I’m loving this.” It’s great, the good and the bad. Get in a good place, and keep on going.
TM: That’s some good advice. It’s been great to talk to you, thanks so much for spending the time with us today.
EG: Alright, have a good one!