Gathering Moss in Montana With Mike Gordon
Photo by Chris Paul
Last month we presented a feature interview with Mike Gordon that focused on his latest studio recording, Moss. Now he is out on the road supporting the release with his current group, which features Scott Murawski, Todd Isler, Tom Cleary, Craig Myers. On Thursday afternoon before the group’s performance at the Wilma Theatre in Missoula, Montana, Sam Martin checked in with Gordon for some questions about his current tour.
SM: So with seven shows down, from moe.down to the Mossery to the free show in SF, how do you think the tour is going so far?
MG: I think it’s going great. Usually it takes a few gigs for us to relax into it. Sometimes the first couple of gigs are loud and aggressive and trying too hard. And this time that didn’t happen. For some reason we got right into the more relaxed, kind of playful side. It was cool to know we could play right out of the gate like that. So yeah it’s feeling well.
It’s kind of daunting not having too much practice time. Usually I’d want more time to review some of my own songs myself and that kind of thing. But with Phish Tour so close, I did some preparation on Phish Tour and we had some days of practice up in Vermont in between. It ended up being that we knew the material well enough and it’s been some fun stuff and I’ve been having a really great time. There’s always little challenges and things to tweak and things to work on during the soundchecks. But the feeling has been really good.
One thing, I used to not listen to the shows at all, to anything that I did live. And I’ve changed and now I kind of want to listen and see if I’ve learned anything. So I still haven’t been dedicating time to it but I’ve been stumbling into the back lounge where every night a couple of the band members listen to a recording that was made. That’s been interesting and I’ve really been liking that experience in a different way than what I’ve been liking onstage. On stage feels like a modern day Little Feat or something with the funkiness and the tightness and a dancing sort of sound where in the back lounge it sounds more dark, maybe because the lights are off, (laughs), where it sounds more Jimi Hendrix not exactly but that kinda dark John McLaughlin sound and both of those would be a stretch, but just that vibe of going on a long musical journey. It’s dark (laughs). It probably has to do with the fact that listening while I’m playing requires a certain level of consciousness I guess and sitting there in the back lounge I can go straight to my subconscious and listen as an observer rather than a player. And so maybe I’m seeing the longer arc of the songs and jams rather than the changes within them, so it’s kind of interesting.
It’s cool too looking to see even if the song is new or obscure and a lot of the material is obscure for new fans in a lot of ways. So they might sit there deadpan at the beginning of the song, but I’ve been really liking this band’s ability to elevate and find whatever the soul of the song is and kinda let it rage by the middle or the end. Even if it’s a simple or melodic song or whatever kind of song it is sort of say, “Well this is just the starting point” and really just see how much energy and soul the song has to offer. As a band we don’t get as much time together as I would like. One guy is a school professor and a couple people play more jazz than rock.
SM: Going back to the Green Sparrow release, you’ve been touring with the same line-up. I assume that contributes to you guys gelling quicker?
MG: I definitely think so and that was one of the goals. I really wanted to invest myself with first having more of my own material but then sticking with the same people so the chemistry would grow. Obviously I know what it’s like to grow some chemistry after 27 years, but to do that outside of Phish and have a different chemistry grow and have it happen like with Grateful Dead members where I’ve seen them play with their new bands after 10 or 15 years and you start to see some deep, deeper telepathy going on. Even though it’s not the band you grow up with in your adolescence it still happens. So yeah I’m sensing that, it’s pretty cool, it’s a whole group of different challenges but that’s what I love about it.
SM: So why play a smaller market like Missoula, and can you elaborate on who decides tour destinations because every other show for the most part is in a larger market?
MG: I think we wanted to keep it interesting and fresh and not always play the same places and kind of places and or come back to an area and not play the same city exactly. Not that we’ve been here before, but there are only so many directions that the bus can take us too. You make a certain trajectory, but with that said, it’s sort of interesting and off the beaten path places that we’re looking for…
SM: More obscure venues?
MG: I believe we (Phish) played Bozeman, MT in 94 [Editor’s note: 11/18/94].