Mike Gordon Can’t Stand Still
At this point in your career do you write songs specifically for Phish, your solo bands or one of your collaborative projects or do you just write to write?
I would say more write to write. I just have to follow my muse and then if I’m playing with Phish or I’m playing with my band decide where the songs should go. We have talked about it over the years where Trey will bring a song and he’ll say, “Well, I played this in my solo band but it’s just crying to be a Phish song.” But I don’t know. Round Room was like that where I wrote the song “Round Room” [during the first hiatus].
The middle section of that song—even though I wrote it and I’m proud of the way the instrumental part came out—it sounds very Phishy to me and sort of Trey-ish to me. So it fit Phish well. But then I had my first solo band in ’03, and we played it and I thought it really sort of flourished and the groove became deeper. Maybe it is because we played it more times with my solo band, and we gave it a chance. But then after my solo band went out I remember Phish played it, I think, at a New Year’s Eve show—maybe it was just the sound check—but then Phish played it better than ever and that was a really deep pocket. So my experience of having played it with that solo band actually infused me with some energy and that made it better with Phish.
In that sense, who was playing it didn’t matter as long as it was getting fleshed out. I loved that band in ’03—we had trombone and pedal steel and tap dancing—but every project I’ve had outside of Phish has been short-lived until now. The difference now is my goal with this band that started 2 ½ years ago is for it to last indefinitely. I really want to work on this project becoming a real band. We’ll bring in the Phish influence, and whatever other influences, to the table and then try to transcend the influences of those ideas into a band identity. Ideally, a good band sounds like itself.
So the long answer to your question is that there are certain songs that I thought of for Phish that might work better with my band because it will get played a lot more because there is less material coming and there are certain songs that I thought of for my band that might work better for Phish. I know that with my band I’ll have more opportunity to play a lot of my songs a lot—there isn’t as much opportunity per hour to do that with Phish. It is different—with Phish I’m often reaching nirvana through getting into bass lines and improvising.
Phish has played two songs off Moss already: “Idea” and “What Things Seem.” Did those songs find their “band home” yet?
When Phish were recording Joy we brought 30 songs to the table from all the band members and I think we played “What Things Seem” with Phish then, before I recorded it with members of my band. So it’s definitely not so clear cut. I kind of like the freedom of being able to say “Ok, well I’m on tour with Phish now, let’s play one of these songs now.”
Like The Green Sparrow, Moss features some members of your solo band, as well as other outside contributors and songwriting collaborators. In that sense it is a true “solo” album. Is your next goal to make a Mike Gordon Band album?
I don’t know if that’s the next thing but “the band album” it is one of the things that I like the idea of. The next thing I’d really like to do is work on an album with a producer—someone that I respect and who I would be able to do more letting go with each phase of the process. With this album I think I did a good job—a better job than before—of that. But when you are writing a song or recording it or mixing it—at every phase, you’ll tend to say, “Well, maybe this song shouldn’t even be here or maybe this song should be different or re-recorded in a different way or rearranged.” Then maybe some songs would be recorded for that project with my band.
[Mike Gordon Band/Max Creek guitarist] Scott Murawski and I have also had some songwriting sessions over the last eighteen months and there’s some really cool stuff that’s been coming out of that. [As I said before], even though I’m sort of gravitating away from that mode there’s still some jam sessions that are really worth using and then there’s some ideas that I feel like they’re too good not to use. I also have some bonus songs for Moss and re-mixes that I am working on,
Are you working on any songs now that you are particularly inspired about?
A lot of people talk about writing from ideas they have in dreams, and I actually had a couple dreams that I’m turning into songs. I had this one dream on Summer Phish Tour—I don’t even know where I was—it became lucid at the end so I knew I was dreaming but it was really long it had about ten different scenes to it. Each one had plots and background décor and then a reason you need to run to the next scene and at the very last scene there’s this dance party. It was a crazy, almost one of those mindless dance-y kind of songs with a chant and that’s just an example of something that it’s still on my computer desktop. I like the little melody that I had sung into my phone when I woke up and so there’s all theses different ideas. I would just like to bring a whole bunch of ideas to the table and then surrender the control, that’s one of my fantasies.
In the Reel Time interview you did with Relix earlier this year you mentioned that Inside In was a very dreamy album, The Green Sparrow was about being very much awake and Moss falls somewhere in-between. Is there a reason you decided to explore this middle ground?
Well, ironically there is that state where you’re in between being awake and sleeping
where a lot of creativity happens—where you’ve just woken up and you’re still half asleep or you’re about to go to sleep and you’re in an alpha state or something and the subconscious can take over. A lot of music has been written that way for centuries from what I’ve heard. I think really I just wanted to let the album have its own mood and it sort of took on this contemplative mood, you know? I definitely want to rock sometimes, and I listen to some mellower, more pared down, sparser music and at other times. I enjoy going to the ends of the spectrum but then I sort of realize that some of my favorite albums live in that middle ground where the tempos are kind of medium, and it’s actually the unassuming quality of the grooves that makes me want to crank up some of those albums really loud and dance around my house.
At one point we were gonna call this album “The Medium Bank.” I didn’t want it to be apologetic sounding, but when I was growing up a neighbor said to my mom said, “anything not in excess” is good. My mom, being sort of a radical artist herself, thought that that was the worst thing she had ever heard, and she told me that I was not to live my life with that mindset. If I’m in the middle of a peak experience of jamming then I don’t want it to end after 6 minutes— I want it to end tomorrow. I like to find the place in life where there’s extremes so when I say that all the tempos are sort of medium tempos and the moods are sort of contemplative, it doesn’t mean that I’m being apologetic about that, it means that I think that I’ve actually honed in on something.