Behind The Scene: Phish Radio’s Elisa Allechant

behind-the-scene:-phish-radio’s-elisa-allechant

“We’re not the mouthpiece of the band, but we are an accessory to it,” explains SiriusXM Phish Radio Host Elisa Allechant. “We’re an enhanced, real-time fan experience so that you can connect with Phish 24/7, 365.” Allechant has facilitated this connection since April 2020 when she debuted on the channel. Her path to Phish Radio began while growing up in Glens Falls, N.Y., where she took in Phish’s celebrated Halloween 1994 performance—where they covered The Beatles’ White Album in its entirety—at her local civic center. A few years later,

Allechant relocated to California, prompted by an epiphany she experienced while seeing the band.

Her background in radio broadcasting eventually helped her land the gig as an on-air host, which is a natural outgrowth of her role as an active, welcoming member of the Phish fan community. “I really love listener interactions, especially making new friends on social media and getting more people excited about Phish Radio,” she affirms.

“The next-day broadcasts have been really exciting for me. It happened for the first time when I went to see Trey at SPAC on a Saturday [6/19/21]. We are now able to broadcast from many different places because of technology, so I actually was broadcasting from the woods the day after that show. It felt so good to be able to share my experiences with all the other listeners and talk about the show. It was super rewarding to be able to get people excited about what happened the previous night. It’s hard to quantify in words how awesome that feeling is.”

What was your initial connection to music growing up?

My parents were conservative, so there was a lot of easy listening. But my mom was also a big classical fan, and she always played classical music on the way to school and when she picked me up.

I didn’t get introduced to Phish until I went to a college party during my junior year of high school. Someone was playing Junta and the song “Contact” totally stuck in my head. I went to the record store, sang it for the dude and he was like, “Oh, that’s Phish and here’s the record.” The musicality of it, the composed sections and just the loose jamming felt so classical to me. It was very familiar and I thought “These guys really know how to play their instruments.”

I grew up in Glens Falls, N.Y., which is in the Adirondack foothills. My second Phish show was at the Glens Falls Civic Center in 1994. But I wasn’t into a lot of other alternative music or jam music until I moved to San Francisco in ‘99. I was a huge Julian Lennon fan when I was young. I saw him in a Disney program once and then that got me into listening to The Beatles. I’m also a huge fan of Madonna. Then, after I moved, I saw some memorable shows by Galactic, Bruce Hornsby, Sound Tribe Sector 9 and New Monsoon. I remember seeing Tea Leaf Green in a garage in Davis. I was managing the Ben & Jerry’s on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, so I was right in the middle of everything. It was a great time to be young. [Laughs.]

What was your reaction to seeing Phish’s three-set Halloween show in ‘94?

I thought it was all so amazing, although I only had one other Phish show at the time to compare it to. My first show was at SPAC on 7/10/94. I had only been to two other concerts before that—New Kids on the Block and The Beach Boys.

It was an unbelievable show and a wild night. The Glens Falls Police Department had never seen anything like it. It was also the first time I took mushrooms. My parents actually had tickets to the Adirondack Red Wings so having this experience, in this place where I had grown up, was something else. I saw Fishman get naked on stage, which was certainly unexpected. [Laughs.]

I continued to see Phish when they would come to the Knickerbocker. [The Albany, N.Y. venue changed its name to the Pepsi Arena in 1997]. Then, in 1998—when I was at a show—I had this out-of-body experience during “Prince Caspian.” It was the first time I had floor seats and I felt like there was this wave of energy that moved from the band into the audience and back out. And for some reason, my brain was like, “You need to take this wave and go out to the West Coast; that’s where you need to be.”

Two months later, I moved to California and joined a group called the Phunky Bitches. They started in ‘98. At the time, there was already a Phish listserv, but it was very dude-centric. It’s a lot easier for dudes to tour and now there’s a lot more women, but it was like a five-to-one ratio back in the day. It was difficult for women to have a place to speak about the music because we would get kind of talked down to in some of those places.

The Phunky Bitches served as a place where you could chat and get to know other like-minded women. It helped provide women with safe rides and safe places to stay with other women. Everyone who joined the Phunky Bitches had to be verified as a real person and show their picture and address. And through that, I made a ton of friends in the Bay Area, and that’s how I got to go to lots of shows and find out what was happening and do Phish tour several times.

Did you also pursue radio and voiceover work during this time period?

I had gone to Adirondack Community College for radio broadcasting, but I didn’t end up finishing school. I decided to move to California and get my certification as a massage therapist instead. Then, about 10 years later, I got back into broadcasting when I had my daughter because it was becoming difficult to do massage therapy.

I did really well in radio at ACC. I was in the National Association of College Broadcasters, and I kind of walked away from a lot, as you do when you’re 20. But I was like, “I excelled at this, I should really look back into it.” So I went to a place in San Francisco called Voicetrax to work with Samantha Paris. I took voice lessons with her and with her other teachers for about a year and started doing small market stuff in Sacramento.

Then, right around the Obama era, I decided it was time to go back and get my degree. He got me all excited. I was like, “I’m going to go back and finish my bachelor’s degree. I can do this.” So I finished my bachelor’s degree in digital media and did lots more voiceover and production work. I’m also working on a documentary on my own right now.

After I graduated, I got a job at a cannabis facility. I was originally hired to do media production over there. But it turns out that I have some other skill sets as well, and I ended up being the operations director for a few years. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it through the legalization process and the company folded.

What’s the subject of your documentary?

My dad renovated a 1925 highway Pullman bus that was the world’s first RV. It was commissioned by Harry Holman Linn, who started off running a dog and pony show operation in Maine. In order to get all of his trailers around these rural areas, he invented a wheel system that’s much like the wheels you see on a tank. He ended up making some money selling off the patents for this thing, so he started a tractor company called Linn Tractor instead of pursuing the dog and pony show. And those tractors were used for logging all over the nation from the early 1900s until around 1950, when the company folded.

He wanted a vehicle that he could travel in that was very much like the coaches that people were putting on railroads, but he didn’t want to have the limitation of the railroad. So he bought this bus—he actually commissioned it from several different places. It was on a Safeway Six-Wheel chassis, and he put in Pullman accessories that were originally in the train cars. It’s this magnificent vehicle that Harry used until he got in a plane crash flying his own plane. After that, it had a number of owners and there’s a rumor that, at one point, it went through the Northeast with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which I’m still trying to confirm.

My father eventually bought it in the ‘80s. It was in terrible condition at that time and he spent 10 years restoring it. Unfortunately, I had already moved to California by the time he had finished it, and he has since passed away.

He ultimately gave it away for a tax credit, so the documentary is based on us searching for it. Recently, a private investigator found the antique VIN number for it, and the next step in the film is hiring the private investigator to take that number and find where it is. We think it’s either in Texas or Arizona. That’s a long description but it’s hard to boil it down to an elevator pitch. [Laughs.]

Jumping back to Phish, can you describe the process of landing the SiriusXM gig?

I’d continued to see Phish, on and off, over the years. I remained a big fan and stayed involved with the Phunky Bitches. In 2016, I went on a long West Coast tour, and I went to Vegas for Halloween 2018.

Then, in October 2019—just after my birthday and shortly after I lost my job my friend Barbara posted something that said, “I wish there were more female voices on Phish Radio” and she tagged Ari [Fink, Phish Radio program director] and Jonathan [Schwartz, on air host] in it. Not even thinking anything, I responded, “Oh, that would be my dream job.”

A week later, I happened to be going through my direct messages from people I don’t know, and Ari was in there. He said, “Hey, why don’t you send me your demo?” I was like, “Oh, yeah, I would love to be on Phish Radio.” So I sent him my demo and then he sent me back some stuff to work on as part of my audition.

It took about five months and three rounds of auditions because a lot of other really talented people were being considered as well. But I found out right after New Year’s and just before Mexico that I’d gotten the job. I was already heading to Mexico, so it was the best trip ever.

What has been your biggest challenge as a host?

What was most difficult at first was just getting comfortable. I hadn’t been on the air as myself in 15 years. I did the news at WWSC in Glens Falls while I was going to ACC but this was really different. This was like, “Who am I going to be? What’s the persona?”

I got a radio coach when I first started. I know how important it is to get advice from someone in the industry. So I worked with Angela Perelli out of Los Angeles for a couple of months—just to get back on my feet and feel comfortable again. She gave me some visual exercises to work on and suggested some things to post around my computer to help me remember who I am in my purest moments. She encouraged me to let that come through.

Ari tells me the same thing. He’s a great boss. He’s super encouraging and knows how to talk to you calmly and give you the right praise sandwich. I’ve never worked with someone who is so focused on making sure that the team members feel heard and understood.

Also, with Phish fans, you have to be really careful that you’re not making mistakes about when something happened or how many times they played a certain song. So, even as a fan, it was a steep curve because you have to be a mega fan to do this job. And now, for every show of this tour, I’ve been filling notebooks with what happened each night. I feel like I have to write down all the data that I can because it’s all really important.

Having said that, I wasn’t a music major. I can’t tell you when they change keys or what tempo they are playing in. I can’t describe the music in that way but what I can describe is the feeling and the sensation because that’s who I am. I’m an empathic person and I use the music to release feelings and release gratitude.

Ari encourages that. He infuses us with the feeling that we’re not just providing content. He wants us to let everyone know that we love this just as much as you do.

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