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Tuesday, June 9

Interview and Preview: Holly Bowling - Distillation of a Dream - Talking' the Tahoe "Tweezer" on Piano, PledgeMusic, Releasing a double disc album, and a possible Summer Tour?

Holly Bowling heard the Tahoe "Tweezer" and was inspired to transcribe the song and ensuing jam into a beautiful piano compilation that catches the Phish classic in a eerily awesome yet simple way.  We had the pleasure to shoot the breeze with Holly about her inspiration to compose "The Tahoe Tweezer", and now her amazing PledgeMusic Crowdfunding project where she has put together a double disc album of Phish music. Distillation of a Dream made up of Phish tracks and live songs, all on her piano.  Check out the process that she took to get to thi place of musical liberation.  It's a very cool story indeed, with her officially on the lineup for the upcoming Jam Cruise 14 and dates announced in line with some of the more popular Summer Phish tour stops,  her musical story is one that isn't nearly finished.  And a little mockingbird tells us that on top of this project, she might have some more announcements coming soon over that musical horizon!

GM:  Starting off, The Tahoe Tweezer is what some would call your calling card or what you’re best known for composing on the piano.  Was it your first shot at composing live Phish tracks and if not what was.  Also do you mind telling us a little about your musical background, where you learned to play piano, read music and write music etc?
HB: The Tahoe Tweezer was the first “jam transcription” I’d ever done.  I’d played around with learning other Phish songs on the piano, but never wrote them out or anything and definitely hadn’t tried to play any of my favorite live versions on the piano.  I’m sure if I had come up with the jam transcription idea and thought it through logically, I would have picked something shorter to start with, but it didn’t happen that way.  I just got obsessed with that Tweezer.  It really inspired me.  And once I got started on it I couldn’t put it down. 

As far as a musical background - I started taking piano lessons when I was five and learned to play and read music and everything that way, although more than anything I think it really helped develop my ear.  I learned to play using the Suzuki Method and its really big on ear training.  I sort of drifted away from classical piano for a while but then came back to it and majored in piano performance in college. 

GM:  When you take a complex piece of music and break four musicians, and then four instruments down to just one simple acoustic instrument, your piano, do you actually separate out the bass, the keys, guitar and the drumming.  In the making of your upcoming record, Distillation of a Dream, which is this highly anticipated disc of Phish tracks through the hands of you on the Piano, and then another disc with the infamous Tahoe Tweezer, a Surprise Live Track, you could give a hint of what it will be, ;) and then the Chicago Wedge.  What did you learn about the musicians from Vermont, is there a balance that can be felt and seen from a professional music point of view that can be felt coming from the band, is one instrument more overpowering than other consistently.  Tell of little bit about you insight to that and of course we'd all love to know your process when you start with a track such as the Chicago Wedge, earphones on, and you listen and then what…?

HB: Well, the arranging process has been changing for me as I get more comfortable with it.  When I did the Tweezer, I actually wrote some of the sections out in three parts rather than two (guitar, keys, and bass), and then tried to figure out how to condense them into something two hands could play, sometimes pulling elements from each part and combining them, and sometimes just picking the two that seemed most important to capture the sound, or the two that sounded best on piano together.  Now that I’ve done a few of these and I have a better idea of how to translate Phish’s sound to the piano, I can make some of these decisions as I’m listening and transcribing and cut out the extra step.  I never write out Fishman’s part, partially because I don’t understand drum notation, but mostly because the drums are an unpitched instrument and the piano, obviously, is pitched. So if there’s a particularly good drum line, I can’t really replicate it on the piano… but I can take elements of the rhythm and incorporate them into one of the melodic parts I’m writing.  If I hear Fishman introduce a triplet feel, I’ll maybe try to use that as the rhythm for the harmony in the LH.  Silent in the Morning is a good example of that.  Or if Fishman is throwing some hits in some really interesting places that really stand out or are pulling a jam in a new direction, I’ll try to work that in.  There’s a spot in one of the jam transcriptions on Distillation of a Dream where Fishman is hitting the toms and the texture is sparse enough that you really hear them, and they’re tuned to a G so I was able to play that particular part of his drum line on the piano pretty much verbatim.  

Actually, that part I just mentioned is on the surprise track.  It's been announced already, but I’m not sure if I should tell you!  I’ve been playing this game called the Mystery Jam Piano Project, where I do piano arrangements of short segments of well known jams, and people try to guess what song and show its from.  I post the videos on YouTube and announce them through twitter and Facebook, and people submit guesses.  It’s been really fun, so I decided to reveal the identity of the final track on the album the same way.  I released four short videos, each one getting a little easier.  So, I could tell you the mystery track, but then you wouldn’t get to play the game!  I’ll say this: you can find the videos here if you like guessing games clue #1   clue #2         clue #3  & the final clue, or if you just want the answer, you can pre-order the album and find the announcement here, along with a video about the making of the jam transcription.

GM: Distillation of a Dream is being created out of a very successful and still ongoing PledgeMusic campaign.  The latest combo package includes a really cool disco infused hat that just has the numbers 36:48 on the front, the length of time that "Tweezer" marked. 
While not the longest "Tweezer",  it was quite the experience and has inspired many to great artistic feats in many, such as yourself.  How did the PledgeMuisc campaign come to fruition and what did you expect.  As a fan of Phish and your artistry I gave a little, was it a lot of little contributions or a few huge one's or a little of both and since you've over reached your goal what are you planning to do with the extra funding?  Tell us about your crowdfunding experience?

HB: Well, this is my first album and it’s an independent release so working with PledgeMusic has been great - I had no idea what to expect and if it would even be successful enough for the project to happen.  So I’m incredibly happy it’s done this well.  The best thing about Pledge though, aside from funding independent music, is that it lets everyone who pre-orders the album in on the process.  So you have all these people who are excited about your album along for the ride with you - in the studio, throughout the writing process, as the album goes into production.  It’s pretty neat.  I’ve been releasing videos throughout the campaign that show how a jam transcription is made, how some of the song arrangements developed, stuff like that.  So I like that aspect of it a lot, getting to share that stuff with people.  It’s great to have a platform to connect with people who are excited about the music I’m creating and get to know them.  

Most of the funding for the album has come from people ordering the CD or the vinyl, or the album plus a pin or a poster, so I hit my goal as a result of a lot of people supporting the project by pre-ordering music or art.  I think the average Pledge has been around $30.  There’s been some people who have been really committed to seeing the project happen and have backed it with more support and that’s been really incredible to have them standing behind this release with me.  You’ll see their names in the album credits for sure.  

As far as reaching 100% - I’m super psyched Distillation of a Dream reached its funding goal on PledgeMusic as fast as it did!  But it still definitely does not have any extra funding.  I set the goal on Pledge for what it would take for me to make the album - what I needed in addition to my own funds I could throw into the recording.  I really wanted to see this project happen and I was fine with putting some money into it, and I’m convinced it will break even at some point.  So I’m happy with the success of the Pledge Campaign but I hope people will still pre-order the album if they’re interested in hearing it, rather than copying it later.  It would be awesome to be able to actually cover the recording and production expenses of the album in full, and if I end up with extra funds from the PledgeMusic campaign, they'll go towards travel expenses to play shows in support of Distillation of a Dream.  The other cool thing is now that the campaign hit its initial goal, 5% of everything raised above that goes to the Mockingbird Foundation, so you’re supporting independent music and supporting music education programs for kids at the same time, which is a win-win.

GM: So you have some tour dates on the horizon, Bend/Philly/NYC a pre-Magnaball show in Syracuse this August, and then JamCruise 14!  Congrats by the way!  You seem to go where your fans are going to be.  Do you ever see this turning into a full time gig.  Could you tour playing piano composing live tracks of  many jam bands, or is it really Phish that gets to you and you're riding this wave?

HB: Well Phish is my favorite and that’s where my heart lies really, but there’s a ton of other incredible music out there that I’d love to explore as well.  I’ve been dabbling with some Dead tunes lately.  I think part of what makes this project work is that I’ve seen a ton of Phish shows and know their music really really well, and I’m really passionate about it.  And I think that carries through to the music.  So it has to be music that I love and know really well - although I could see studying music I’m not as familiar with and falling in love with it through that process.  As far as going where my fans are going to be, it’s funny - I’m really just going where I want to be going anyways, but now I get to play music while doing it too!  It’s the best thing ever.  I’d love for it to turn into a full-time gig, I’m not sure that this project alone will do that, but I have all kinds of musical ideas I can’t wait to jump into.  

GM:  Isadora Bullock is creating the artwork for the album, right, or is it a poster that was in one of the package pledge deals?  It really does seem like it takes a lot to get this accomplished and though we are well versed in our Phish and we love your musical take on the band.  We'd love to know your history with the band, when did you get turned onto them, and seeing as you composed a version of The Grateful Dead's "Dark Star", do you think there might be a dead song out their in live form that you like to compose?

HB: Isadora is a good friend of mine and an incredible artist.  She’s doing a limited edition print for Distillation of a Dream which is also going to be integrated into the album art.  I wanted them all to be tied together.  I’ve been a fan of her work for a long time so getting to throw ideas out there to her and then see how she wove them all together in the print was really cool.  I sent her pictures at all kinds of weird angles from the inside of my piano, like of the tuning pegs, and the treble and bass bridge where the strings cross, and she worked a bunch of these lines into the geometry of the print.  I love it.

I got turned onto Phish during the hiatus (between 1.0 and 2.0).  I never actually thought I’d get to see them.  So I was really psyched when they got back together, and I was determined to make the most of it since I had already missed so much.  My first shows were NYE 2002 and the Hampton run that followed.  I was hooked and caught all but five shows of 2.0.  I don’t catch quite as many these days, but I still go to a majority of the shows each tour.  Funny enough, I’ll be skipping more shows this summer than I think I ever have, but I’m more into their music than ever.

"Distillation of a Dream"  by: Isadora Bullock
A jam transcription of a Dead song is an interesting idea.  Stay tuned on that ;-)

GM: Have you been getting the celebrity treatment at shows now?  Do more and more phans run up to you and say thanks for that, etc.  Has the band reached out to you about your music and if so how was that type of experience.  If they haven't, let's just assume Page want's to put his Baby Grand next to yours, what song would you choose to play with him.  Better yet if you had a chance to play with those four we adore, what would be on your setlist?

HB: I’ve had a few people say “hey, you’re that Tahoe Tweezer girl!” which is just funny because then we can share a moment - “you love the Tahoe Tweezer?  I LOVE THE TAHOE TWEEZER TOO!!! YEAH!!!!”  I’ll high-five a random stranger on the glory of the Tahoe Tweezer any day.  I’ve had zero communication with the band members themselves and honestly have no idea what they think of it.  If they’re aware of the project, I sure hope they like it.  I really can’t imagine what it’s like to have your music interpreted by so many other people.  

If you want to enter fantasy-land and talk about getting to play with these guys...What would I want to play with Page?  If I could to play with Phish what would be on my setlist?  The same thing I want them to play on any given night.  40-minute anything.  Haha.  Really though, I’d play anything with them, no requests.  I’d be incredibly grateful and honored to even meet those guys.  But I’m not holding my breath for that to happen, and I’m perfectly happy with the gift of their music and feel we’re all pretty lucky to have that, especially with it continuing to progress and evolve the way it is.  

GM:  Again, we congratulate you on all of your artistry and success and wish you nothing but more positive momentum moving forward.  We'd love to not only review this release, but review a show.  Please let us know anything else that can fill in the blanks about Distillation of a Dream, like when can it be purchased and where?  We know it's the last month of the PledgeCampaign.  Please let us all know where to  go to find out the latest on the goods from Holly Bowling!

HB: Thanks so much!  I’d love to have you review a show.  You’re in SF, right?  Guess I’ll have to book something in the bay area so you can come check it out :-)  Distillation of a Dream is currently available for pre-order exclusively at  It’s scheduled for release later this summer.  You can check out the print Isadora Bullock designed for the album there as well and can order all kinds of stuff to support the album, from cd’s and vinyl to posters and house concerts.  When the PledgeMusic campaign ends, the best place to keep up will be  I have a mailing list you can sign up for on there as well for more info about the album release, tour dates, and new musical projects.

Announced Dates:
July 20 - Bend, OR - Pine Mountain Sports
August 10 - Philadelphia, PA - Howl At The Moon
August 12 - Philadelphia, PA - PhanArt Presents: 'A World Cafe Live One' - World Cafe Live
August 18 - New York, NY - The Cutting Room
August 19 - Syracuse, NY - Funk 'n Waffles Downtown
JAM CRUISE 14 - Miami, FL - Jan. 6-11, 2016

*If you didn't already know Holly Bowling melds classical piano chops with a dedicated love of the music of Phish. Her obsession with the jamband’s famous rendition of “Tweezer” from their 7/31/13 Lake Tahoe show led her to transcribe this 37-minute improvisational masterpiece note-for-note and arrange it for solo piano. The process, both painstaking and fulfilling, inspired her to transform other Phish songs and well-known live jams into solo piano interpretations as well.
The dual experiences of studying classical piano since age five and attending close to 300 Phish shows since her first one in 2002 allow Holly to unite elements from two divergent musical worlds and synthesize them into a creation all its own.
GM: Sammy Martin
HB: Holly Bowling
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