Mike Gordon Can’t Stand Still
It has been a busy few years for Mike Gordon to say the least. In 2008 alone the bassist started preparations for Phish’s reunion, released the solo album The Green Sparrow, put together a permanent backing band, got married and had his first daughter. Gordon has spent the past two years juggling his two primary bands and new family responsibilities—finding a happy middle ground between his roles as band leader, collaborator and family man.
In the midst of a fall tour with Phish, Gordon will release Moss, his third solo album, on Rounder Records. A true solo album, Moss features material written and recorded between 2002 and 2010—but sculpted into a cohesive album by Gordon and his longtime collaborator Jared Slomoff. Some of the album’s tracks stem from drum and bass sessions Gordon culled over the years, while others were part of a 2007
songwriting project where the bassist would go to a coffee shop
outside Burlington and attempt to write a song a day. One
collaborative track, “Can’t Stand Still,” was even created with Jon Fishman and Page McConnell as part of “The Meteor Jam” project the Phish members recorded for Trey Anastasio while he was living in Saratoga Springs, NY in 2007.
While in Charleston, SC for Phish tour, Gordon discussed the album’s evolution, his most recent peak experience and his current balancing act between Phish and the Mike Gordon Band.
Let’s start by talking about Monday’s Mossery event at Kenny’s Castaways, which is actually the club where Phish played its first New York City show. What made you choose that venue in particular and can you talk a bit about what we can expect?
I’ve been really liking my album so I just wanted to do some unique and creative stuff around it—rather than just going the normal promotional route. I just wanted to sort of play around with the concept [of the album release show]. I had a vision for this event where it would take place on street level and and people could wander in off the street and play some music. We had looked at 675 Bar [in New York] and that was sort of downstairs but they weren’t used to having live music.
With Kenny’s, I like that it’s right in the thick of things in Greenwich Village and there are windows for people to look in and see what is going on. Also, people who have never heard of Phish—or heard of me—might walk by and see a room filled with moss and craziness and pop in. The entire room is going to be covered with moss.
Speaking of Moss, I was reading the album’s credits and noticed that portions of some tracks were recorded as far back as 2002. Can you give us a little background on how the album came together?
Some of these songs originated with some jam sessions—especially bass and drum jams—that I had done with different people since 2002. I have all sorts of jam sessions and writing sessions I’ve record and cataloged [with people like Joe Russo], and I later used certain key moments from those jams and worked them into songs for Moss.
Those recordings changed a lot to feel current and resonate with the “2010 Mike,” but that’s why it says 2002 on the album. Then in 2007 I had my big songwriting year where I didn’t tour and just wrote music so there are songs on Moss from that era as well. We utilized a lot of different processes for this album. I feel like I’m actually in a transition place where I’ve done a lot of writing by improvising and then reworked the best moments of those improvisations into songs. I still have some jam sessions left over that I’ve started to work with and am very excited about those, but I feel like I’m sort of at a cusp of changing eras to not do that as much. I’m reaching an era where I just want to sit with a guitar, like other singer/songwriters, and not work with material from jam sessions or computer files or anything.
So, right now, I am at the cusp of that and sometimes the cusps are the coolest place because I’m still able to use some ideas that germinated in different ways and apply this new sensibility—changing sensibility—where I want it to really be able to change and really be able to resonate
When we talked in 2008, you mentioned that you experimented with several different writing processes in 2007, including an experiment when you and Jared Slomoff tried to write a song a day for an extended period of time. Did any songs on Moss originate from that series of writing sessions?
There are some from that month where Jared and I were writing a song a day but they have changed between then and now, too. Jared and I went through and we looked and we still had probably had 20 or 30 jam sessions left over from all the different writing situations: various bands, me and one other person or me and Jared. We went through and we decided, “Well, since it’s feeling like a different era, let’s just take one or two of these songs that are really crying out to be used.”
The song “Can’t Stand Still” is a co-composition with Jon Fishman, Page McConnell and Jared? What is the origin of that song?
“Can’t Stand Still” is a good example of how I’ve applied this new songwriting technique to [an old jam]. That song actually stemmed from this thing we were calling “The Meteor Jam.” [While Trey was in Saratoga Springs, NY in drug treatment from 2007-2008], Fish, Page and I created this mini-album for Trey’s birthday present, actually. It was 43, 43-second loops for his 43rd birthday. It was a jam session that we had carved into loops, and I used those for the basis of “Can’t Stand Still.” Trey could and can still use them if he wants, but he never really had to—it was just a gift. But I decided I would take a couple of those loops and work them into songs and “Can’t Stand Still” was one of them.
What was the process like of working those loops into a song?
Originally it was just a free-form improvisation—and not just the chord progression, which was quite simple—but the melody, too. Page was playing on the clavinet and then Jared actually took it and wove it together into song form. So it was pure improvisation. But when it became the song—the elements of the song became much more important than the jam had been: putting it in the right key for singing and having the instrumentation and the groove really match the sentiment of what’s being sung about. The lyrics are about this can’t stand still feeling—this feeling I have when I go on my run everyday, and I just want to go faster. I don’t go too fast but I want to. And I run through lots of people and see lots of things and, with this song, I wanted it to be like a movie where scenes are flashing by. I have this feeling in my life too, you know? Clearly I’m not satisfied just having my Phish career. My solo career is as important to me, and I want to just run with it as fast as I can, though maybe it is actually going pretty slow in a certain sense. “Can’t Stand Still” represents the feeling of just doing a lot and that song and that meaning became more important than the original jam session.