A good tribute band knows a song catalog from front to back and can perform the classics with polished dexterity, but an extraordinary tribute band knows the ins and outs of three different catalogs, spends endless hours imagining unique concepts, and composes seamless transitions between the songs of each band. While the first type of tribute offers its audience a nostalgic experience of what it was like to see that band live, the second breed takes this type of performance to the next level by providing its listeners with a fresh new musical experience.
Pink Talking Fish, the hybrid tribute fusion act comprised of Eric Gould (bass), Richard James (keys), Zack Burwick (drums), and Dave Brunyak (guitar), not only falls in that “extraordinary” breed of tribute, but also arguably wrote its definition. Founded by bassist Eric Gould, Pink Talking Fish has accumulated an incredibly loyal following since its inception in 2013 thanks to its unique approach to honoring the music of Pink Floyd, The Talking Heads, and Phish. In mid-October the band reached a new pinnacle of success by completely selling out the infamous Brooklyn Bowl (review / photos here), and are scheduled to continue building this meteoric momentum on Friday, December 30th at New York City’s historic Gramercy Theatre directly after Phish’s third MSG performance.
Ahead of this special show, I had the opportunity to catch up with Richard James, keyboardist of Pink Talking Fish, to discuss his musical background, the simultaneous Phish & PTF David Bowie Halloween tributes, the meaning behind the band’s “Animals” concept (to be performed at the Gramercy Theatre), and much more. Pink Talking Fish sold over 800 tickets to its Brooklyn Bowl performance last month, so as you can imagine, admission to its upcoming post-Phish Gramercy show is rapidly diminishing. Reserve your’s here while you still can.
CEG: Hey Richard, thanks for taking time to answer some questions ahead of PTF’s upcoming Phish After-Party. To start things off, what are you up to this week?
Richard James: Hey Sam, no problem! Right now I’m in a van eating some vegetable soup listening to Billy Preston and we’re on our way to Saratoga Springs to play at the Putnam Den. This week Pink Talking Fish has been rehearsing for two concept shows. The first show last night was in Ardmore, Pennsylvania at the Ardmore Music Hall where we performed 2 sets – one classic PTF set and one full set of just Phish songs, which was a first for us. 11/18/89 marked the first time Phish performed in the Philly area, and it just so happens to be the same night, at the same venue as our our show, 27 years later. We’re calling the concept, “Back To The Phuture,” and we may or may not be adding in some hot Marty McFly classics, so you should probably come and check it out for yourself. The show tonight is a concept we call, “Dark Side of Gamehendge,” where we combine Dark Side of The Moon and Gamehendge. We take the two musical masterpieces and incorporate select Talking Heads tunes as well. To say that I’m excited for tonight would be a huge understatement!
CEG: You’re just returning from a memorable Halloween in Denver where you performed “Pink Talking Fish is Bowie” simultaneous to Phish’s surprise “Ziggy Stardust” cover show in Las Vegas. Tell us about your Halloween, and was this a mere coincidence, or was the band somehow in the know?
RJ: When we decided to play Bowie for our Halloween concept show we had no idea that Phish was going to be performing Ziggy in Vegas. However, I was privy to what was going on about a month in advance by my Phish know-it-all bud “Joe Phish” up in Northern California, and I kept it from the rest of the band until Phish released it themselves, which was NOT easy, but worth it!
CEG: What are the origins of Pink Talking Fish, and how did you originally join the band?
RJ: Pink Talking Fish was conceptualized by our bassist, Eric Gould. I like to believe it was as simple as, “these bands rule, I should probably start a band that combines all of this awesome music into one show,” and then POOF, PTF happened! I think the way that it “actually” happened was that Eric started the band when he was living in Kansas City with some guys that were local to the scene out there. When Eric decided to move back home to Massachusetts he hand picked a few members from the Boston scene, and that’s where it all began for me. I was playing steadily with my band “Richard James and The Name Changers” before PTF became my main project, and I’m happy to say my original band has carved out some time to play shows and cut our 3rd record in 2017.
CEG: Tell us about your own musical background. When did you first start playing the keys?
RJ: My musical background started when I was 3. I had a big old church organ in my living room growing up. Just turning that thing on and hearing the sounds it made starting up, and then eventually getting to plunk some keys and kick the bass pedals – it was like my own little 4 x 6 foot playground – I was obsessed! I took lessons from a few different instructors around New England and then wound up attending the Berklee School of Music as a piano principal with a Music Business degree. After I graduated Berklee I was offered a job as an agent’s assistant in NYC, but ended up turning it down to give live performance a shot. From there I spent all of my time writing, playing out and rehearsing, 7 nights a week with different groups of all different styles of music around the Northeast. I’ve found a very special home with Pink Talking Fish. It’s everything I love about music and performance. It’s great songwriting all around that’s constantly challenging me to improve.
CEG: Between Jerry Harrison, Page McConnell, and Rick Wright, which musician has been your biggest influence?
RJ: Prior to joining this group, my biggest piano/keyboard influences were Rick Wright and Page McConnell. Since I had to do the most work on the Talking Heads material when I joined the group, I quickly became infatuated with the stylings of Bernie Worrell and Jerry Harrison. Aside from those fellas, I’m a huge Elton John, Dr. John, Jon Cleary, John Medeski, Jon Lord, and any other keyboardist who has the name John.
CEG: Which of the three catalogues is the most difficult to cover and perform?
RJ: Technically the most difficult to cover is Phish; rhythmically the most difficult to cover is the Talking Heads; the most challenging to cover sonically and tone-wise is Pink Floyd. Each band has its unique challenges.
CEG: On December 30th, you’re performing a special “Animals” set at the Gramercy Theatre after Phish’s third MSG show in New York City. For those unfamiliar, can you take a moment to explain the concept and what Pink Taking Fish has done with it in the past?
RJ: For Halloween last year we revealed this concept and it was tons of fun. We took animal-inspired songs from the three bands with the Pink Floyd album “Animals” anchoring the set and we intertwined them all together. Each time we play this concept it’s unique, and we’re very excited to bring it to New York on the 30th. Here’s our setlist from last year’s Halloween show along with a link to listen :
02. Runaway Jim >
03. Pigs On The Wing Part 1 >
04. Runaway Jim >
05. Animals >
06. Runaway Jim
07. Dogs >
08. The Dogs >
10. Wild Wild Life
11. Guyute >
12. Pigs > &
15. Psycho Killer >
16. Sheep >
17. Birds Of A Feather
18. Pigs On The Wing Part 2
01. When The Tigers Broke Free >
03. Burning Down The House >
04. Your Pet Cat >
05. Burning Down The House
06. Dogs Of War *
07. Camel Walk
08. Swamp >
09. Wolfmans Brother >
10. Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict >
11. Making Flippy Floppy > **
12. BBFCFM >
13. Seamus >
15. This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)
16. band intros
17. Run Like An Antelope ***
Here’s The Link : https://archive.org/details/ptf2015-10-30.schoeps.mk22.mk41v.sbd.flac16
CEG: “Animals” is not the only unique concept Pink Talking Fish has performed. What other special shows has the band devised, and are any new ideas in the works for a grand reveal in 2017?
RJ: We’ve developed a few fun concept shows where we incorporate other artists or add classic albums into the mix. We performed a fun concept show last time we played the Ardmore Music Hall where we covered the Talking Heads album Speaking in Tongues while intertwining Phish and Pink Floyd tunes around it. We’ve added various artists into the PTF concept such as The Grateful Dead, David Bowie and Prince. A personal highlight was collaborating with Kung Fu at the Catskill Chill Music Festival where we mashed up Prince and David Bowie songs. I’m a huge fan of both of those artists, so getting the opportunity to pay tribute to both of them after their passing with such incredible musicians was very special for me. We’re also very excited for this New Year’s in Boston too! We’re going to be performing, “Pink Talking Fish In The Mirror,” incorporating songs from the Michael Jackson catalog while adding a 4-part horn section and gospel choir. We’ll also have Jen Durkin from Deep Banana Blackout singing with us, which is always a treat! As far as 2017 goes, we’ve had some very fun concepts floating around our camp that we’d love to give life to! I guess you’ll have to stay tuned..
CEG: Are there any historic music catalogs you personally want the band to fuse into the traditional Pink Talking Fish repertoire for an upcoming performance?
RJ: There are so many artists that I’d love to incorporate. If I were to name my top 3 concept ideas, they would probably be as follows: a dedication to the music of New Orleans concept, intertwining classic Nola artists into the mix. The second concept would be called “Pink Talking Fish is Overjoyed,” a tribute to Stevie Wonder. The third concept would be called “A Day In The Life of Pink Talking Fish,” a tribute to the Beatles.
CEG: Pink Talking Fish has a number of concerts all across the nation between now and New Year’s. Tell us about the upcoming tour, and what we can expect from Pink Talking Fish while on the road.
RJ: You can for sure expect a lot of ridiculous Instagram and Facebook live videos from the road, that much I’m sure of! Other than that, you can expect some new tunes and new interesting setlists. We’re excited to hit some new markets like Detroit and Savannah, and we’re definitely amped to play two nights in Columbus, OH. The energy from the crowd there is nuts!
CEG: Finally, I like to end with an open forum. Anything else you’d like to add that we didn’t cover here?
RJ: I’d like to end on a personal note, and I think I can speak for the rest of the guys in the band when I say this. When it comes to this band, it’s the friends and fans that have been there supporting us every step of the way that makes this group one hell of a ride. It’s all the people that we work with from talent buyers, sound engineers, artist hospitality, bartenders, loaders, photographers, writers, and all of you that help in making this a great industry to be a part of. Pink Talking Fish has become one big loving family made up of all of us, and getting to know all of you folks across the country has been an incredible experience. I can’t wait for 2017, and I am really looking forward to expanding this family in a big way! See you in NYC!