Ernest and the Whale
Without a doubt 2010 has been the defining year for Trey’s new guitar approach, appropriately dubbed “the whale call”. During the tour opener in Chicago, Trey brought his pitch-shifting device to the forefront in an effort to shape his notes through a slurred – highly digitial – caterwauling sound. Trey has been exploring the sound of the whale since Hampton, but in 2010 “the whale” came to define Trey’s playing, much as the black-cat vibe did in ’99 and ’00. It was just prior to the hiatus that Trey first discovered the whale; and so much of its development has taken place outside of Phish in the various incarnations of TAB.
Even in 2010, Trey has constantly changed his approach to the whale, indicating that he has yet to perfect its sound. I discussed Trey’s new-found affection for the whammy in an article earlier this year called “Trey’s New Favorite Toy“. However, at the time, not even I could have imagined the extent to which “the whale” would become a part of Phish’s sound in 2010. Today, we look back on the story of Ernest and the whale.
Many fans point to the “Chalkdust” from 7.10.99 [Live Phish 8] as the jam where the whale first emerged. I would agree, and considering Trey’s stated affection for that jam, it would be reasonable to assume that this was the point that sent him searching for the sound he had attained in those moments of pure musical satori.
“Chalkdust Torture” (7.10.99)
But oddly enough, the whale was absent during the rest of ’99, and did not resurface until a year later in Darien Lake during a soaring rendition of “Reba” [Live Phish 3]. It is precisely this “soaring” quality that first seemed to attract Trey to the sound. What I find interesting is that Trey does not use the wham like any other guitarist known for using the pedal (Tom Morello, Kevin Sheilds etc.) Instead, using the “Down 2nd” mode on the Digitech Whammy II, he essentially can drop his notes 2 full steps and then bend them back to their original position, hence the whale sound. When Trey first used the pedal in the pre-hiatus jams, he was using it to create a single, siren-like effect that added a psychedelic tinge to the music. It has also served various other purposes over the years such as harmonizing, octave drops and other effects.
It was following the release of Bar 17 in 2006 that the early stages of the whale in its present form were heard. Bar 17 is different from Trey’s other solo projects due to the fact that most of the songs are written by Trey, without the help of Tom (only “Let Me Lie” and “Cincinnati” have the Anastasio, Marshall credit). The music itself was written immediately following Phish’s breakup, but was put on hold while Trey worked on other projects. Unlike Shine and Trey’s self titled album, Bar 17 bodes a much darker sound that speaks to the time during which it was written. On the heels of Bar 17′s release, Trey took to the road clearly attempting to define a new sound that suited the dark, personal nature of the songs. Listen below to this version of “A Case of Ice and Snow” from 10.18.06 at the Vic Theatre in Chicago, and hear Trey struggling with the early stages of the “whale call”.
“A Case of Ice and Snow” (10.18.06)
When Phish returned in 2009 Trey brought the whale with him. While only using it sparingly, he began to hone his new sound adding it to the new songs as well as the old. With the addition of his compressor – which acts as a limiter on the peaks and valleys of his notes – he creates a unique, overdriven sound. But in the early stages Trey was still struggling with the whale, often throwing off his bandmates rather than feeding the jams. As the year progressed we saw Trey step on and then off the wham for periods of time. For example, after the Exile set at Festival 8 it seemed as though Trey had left the whale behind for his old machine gun shredding ways. However, after a brief period in hibernation the whale returned stronger than ever. This “Ocelot” from the Gorge ’09 shows the whale still in its inception.
On the first leg of summer tour 2010, the whale was prominent in nearly every jam. In the past, Trey has referred to his pedals as “safety mechanisms”. And so, as Phish began their summer tour it seemed as though Trey was clinging to his “safety mechanisms” more than ever. While developing a new sound, he also sacrificed a great deal of the instrument’s versatility by using the whammy so frequently. Here’s the “Stash” from Blossom where Trey appears have become more adept using the whale to create tension and release.
By leg two, Trey once again began stepping away from the whale. When he did choose to use it, it was tasteful, and added a rare energy to the jams. I can think of several examples where the whale brought a jam to a level that would not have been reached otherwise. Some love it, some hate it. But there is no doubt that Big Red has once again crafted a new approach to his guitar playing while simultaneously recreating the sound of Phish.
[To order Hartford Whale Callers T-shirts click here for the link to Jiggs Lot!]