Mike Gordon Can’t Stand Still
When is the last time you had a peak musical experience in the now classic canon of “Peak Mike Experiences?
Over the years they might change in their quality, or from tour to tour, but I still have these musical peak experiences. They’re different kinds now, though. In terms of the all consuming peak moment where I surrender control—I think something does happen to people when they’re around college age, whether or not they actually go to college. There is a point where you have kind of moved away from home and you’re not sure what you’re going to do with your career. You don’t necessarily have a family yet and there’s this sort of freedom that comes in that era of people’s life where if you’re at a concert and you have a peak experience or if you’re making music and have a peak experience it really is your whole being.
I remember a lot of times having this feeling of being at home on stage and feeling ‘this is much more at home then my home, then my bed at home or my living room at home. This IS home’ in the truest sense and ‘this jam that I’m in, this represents my home emotion’ and that’s a peak experience. It’s a self-actualization and it’s a bonding with everyone else around you at the same time. And this week [in Colorado], I’ve been on tour with Phish and there have been times that just felt incredible in every way, where the groove—the music—was playing itself. The muse had taken over. Even if the music started as a song arrangement with lyrics all that kind of stayed in the background but gave way toward the soul of the situation and the muse. I wrote in my journal about it— I’ve written e-mails about it this week and text messages and tweets and picture messages. So it’s definitely still happening.
At the same time, I would say it was just a great week. In Colorado we had three days of playing, plus the benefit and every night we got into these place where the jams—just the music—started playing itself, and I re-learned the lesson again that, “Oh wow, this is what I’m supposed to be surrendering to’ and thank God I stopped thinking and using my mind and yet never stopped playing at the same time. My family isn’t on the road now [in Charleston] but they were in Colorado and everyday I made sure to carve out time with [my daughter] Tessa, who is almost 2 years old now, and we walked around Pearl Street for hours everyday. We scheduled it so it was just me and Tessa and that was a peak experience too. I ended up writing in my journal that “she’s just so fun to be with” and “it is fun just seeing the world through her eyes, even if it is just a brick on a building.” We passed a tractor and she said, “Tomorrow I’m gonna drive a tractor, and I’m gonna dig rocks.”
I love seeing the world through a tiny set of eyes and then people would walk up to us and say, “Great show last night.” Sometimes I don’t agree with them when they say it but this time I did. The sun was shining and I had my soy chai and Tessa had her soy vanilla steamer that we got from the [Trident] Book store, and I had this feeling of “This is amazing. ‘I’m here with Tessa and my wife and family and it’s pretty here and the playing has been good, and I have an album about to come out that I love ,and we’re doing all these other creative projects that are engaging me creatively.” It just sort of felt like, “Well, this is heaven on earth basically.” So there are different kinds of peak experiences—it’s hard to compare them from one era of your life to another.
Has having a family influenced the lyrics of your songs?
I’m sure it does, indirectly. I try to find more direct paths—some people talk about having a traumatic experience and then they are able to write a song about it and vent that way. For me, it usually takes a few more steps of processing where it’s not so direct. I know that people will have a daughter, a little baby, and they’ll write all these songs for the baby but I don’t know. I do want to do that, actually, I would like to do that, but I’m not so direct.
Stuff has to kind of compost in my subconscious before it comes out as a song that I can relate to. We were at Austin City Limits Festival and I actually went running along the river just to see JJ Grey and Mofro. He has this song about his daughter, and I was thinking, for so many years people talked about how special it is to have kids, and it just wasn’t in my consciousness. It might have been in my subconscious but, because I think I always knew subconsciously that I would want to have kids, but now that I have one I suddenly feel like all those people that I would just not talk to because I was sick of hearing about their kids. It is hard to imagine loving someone that much. I can see why you’d want to write songs about that because songs—or poems or paintings—are ways for people to take their subconscious and express those ideas more directly.
Speaking of influences, let’s talk about some of the other artists that are influencing you right now and your recent cover choices?
Let’s see [Gordon organizes his iTunes by most played]. I tend to listen to different things and then I get in practice modes where I’m not listening to anything but my own music or Phish or whatever that I have to be working on. [Referring to Phish’s Halloween show] there are some songs on here I am listening to that I am not allowed to talk about.
But I’ve been kind of getting into that sort of masculine, growly, bluesy way of singing and that’s why I wanted to see JJ Gray. I thought he was really doing a great job of delivering his songs. The last few covers I have brought to Phish and my band were by female singers. [With My band] we did Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” and then I did Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris’ with Phish, and I did this New Orleans-y song by [Rita Clark]. Then I was thinking everyone has a masculine and a feminine part and I wanted the masculine part to be able to thrive a little bit so I’ve been listening to some Johnny Winter. I’ve also listening to [French singer] Serge Gainsbourg and that album that David Lynch did—and some Orchestra Baobab.
I also went to see Pat Metheny’s new Orchestration Project. It’s pretty wild. He takes a room full of instruments, such a big room actually that he can’t even fit them all on the stage and so he does most of them. So he’s working on that concept and it’s really pretty cool. I like to be inspired in that way— to see people pushing the limits, whether it’s a kind of music or a kind of technology or sometimes it’s just a stage set. I had that feeling when I saw Tool a few years ago and what they were doing with their backdrops, not to mention having 3D glasses built into their album cover. I’ve been having a lot of those experiences lately.