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Published: 2009/09/22
by Dean Budnick

Collecting Firewood With Mike Gordon

It’s been over nine months since Mike Gordon last took the stage with his current quintet. That group, which also features Scott Murawski on guitar, drummer Todd Isler, percussionist Craig Myers and Tom Cleary on keys, closed out 2008 with a late December run. Then, during most of 2009, the five musicians focused on their other musical endeavors. For Gordon, much of that time was devoted to Phish, which has just released Joy, while a second album, Party Time, that offers some other songs from those same recording sessions, will follow next month.

The bassist’s present focus, though, is his solo band (even if Joy did happen to hit on the day his tour opened). Mike has a new animated “Andelmans’ Yardsale,” interactive feature on his website, which offers some insight into the genesis of “Andelmans’ Yard,” (a song which Phish learned but never performed this past summer- read on) along with multiple destinations for folks who get things “wrong.”

The following conversation, which spanned two days due to some dicey cell phone coverage in the mountains of Vermont, mostly took place the morning after Gordon’s opening gig at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on September 8.

DB- I just spent some time with “Andelmans’ Yardsale,” on your site. I’m always interested in learning more about process, so I really enjoyed it. I’m curious though about the incident you describe in which you walked out of a tea house, started banging on a lamppost, recorded it on your phone and then emailed yourself the files. Were you actively searching for a particular sound that day or did it all happen spontaneously?

MG- It was not preconceived. I probably walked out after the tea house closed and I started banging on the lamppost. I liked the way it sounded, so I decided to record it. And then it seemed to sound so good on my cell phone that I decided to look for other things to record. And they all sounded good, so I decided to follow through the rest of the process of mailing it to myself right then and there. I was working on it during my year at home, thinking, “Oh it could be used for this.”

DB- Was that lamppost recording solely a product of the fact that you were immersed in a recording project or is that something you’re always exploring in your daily life?

MG- I think it’s a combination but it’s great to have a project, whether it’s a song or a year of songs or a film or whatever it is, where all your creativity gets funneled in that direction because I do have a lot of creative ideas but I don’t always follow through with them. Sometimes I keep lists of ideas that I refer to when I need one. My mom always used to tell me that ideas were a dime a dozen and that it’s the following through that matters.

David Lynch was a big inspiration. He often does his own sound design and he does this thing where he goes around the world just collecting sounds. Sometimes they’re musical sounds, like he recorded an orchestra somewhere in Europe through a long tube. He calls it collecting firewood. Then when he’s back at home in the studio and he wants to make his fire, he sees what firewood he has. So he took just the reverb of the orchestra recorded through the tube and that was used somewhere in the background of a movie.

I think that a lot of artists and musicians do that, where they have lyrical ideas and melody ideas and maybe some recordings or notebooks. What’s daunting to me is a way to catalog all that so you can reference it easily. I’m in the process with Jared Slomoff, we’ve done it before but we’re consolidating even better now, where everything that I’ve recorded from every kind of media from my cell phone to a 4 track recorder, everything from the past and the present is all put on one hard drive. We just got these removable cartridges but we upgraded to the 1 ½ half terabyte cartridges so that my whole catalog can be on that one disc and then there’s a backup and then there’s another backup to put off premises.

But it will all be in one place because it gets to be a little bit daunting: “ I think I had this idea. Is it on my laptop because I recorded it on my cell phone and emailed it to myself? Or is it a Pro Tools session on the hard drive? Or is just a lyric written in a notebook and if so, then which notebook?”

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