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Published: 2014/02/07
by Mike Greenhaus

Mike Gordon’s Tiny Little World

Photo by Rene Huemer

Mike Gordon has always loved lists. From archiving his favorite jams to choosing the names of potential Phish festivals, the bassist has consistently been hyper-organized when it comes to documenting his creative process. So it is no surprise that each of Gordon’s solo albums has honed in on a very specific style and technique. His latest effort Overstep centers on Gordon’s longtime working relationship with Max Creek guitarist Scott Scott Murawski. The album is the culmination of, in Gordon’s words, an over three-decade “bromance.”

Max Creek were one of the first bands to expose Gordon to the New England jamband scene and Murawski had a profound influence on the young musician’s style and technique. (Gordon famously tricked Phish into playing Max Creek’s “Back Porch Boogie Blues” in the 1980s by telling the rest of the band it was his song.) After a series of sit-ins and jam sessions in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, Gordon brought Murawski on the road in 2003 in support of Inside In, the companion piece to the film Outside Out. Murawski was Gordon’s first call when he put together a solo band in 2008 and has remained a steady member of his group ever since.

For Overstep, Gordon and Murawski spent several years co-writing a new batch of songs and then, laid those tracks down with the help of former Pearl Jam drummer Matthew Chamberlain and noted alt-rock producer Paul Q. Kolderie. A true collaborative effort, all of the songs on Overstep were co-written, and Murawski actually sings lead vocals on a few tunes. Gordon finished work on Overstep in 2013, shortly before Phish returned to the studio in Nashville, TN with producer Bob Erzin to work on the songs they debuted on Halloween as part of Wingsuit (two of those songs stemmed from the same songwriting sessions as Overstep ). Below, Gordon walks us through his creative process and his recent studio sessions.

Each of your solo albums have centered around a very specific and very different creative process. Overstep, in particular, seems based around your writing and working relationship with Max Creek guitarist Scott Murawski, who is also a longtime member of your solo band. Did you originally set out to write a full album of songs with Scott?

It kind of started with the feeling of just enjoying Scott’s company. I had this little epiphany when I was having one of my artist’s dates for The Artist’s Way [art collective] in St. Albans, Vermont where I never go otherwise. It’s an interesting town pretty far from here—about 45 minutes outside Burlington, Vt. It’s just a little bit north of us, and it’s an old military base with statues and this large green space. I was walking around there, and I just pictured Scott and I somewhere in New England in some little, empty cabin with no fridge and just a desk and some guitars. It would be very spare in the middle of nowhere, and we can just concentrate on jamming and coming up with just fun things.

Some people have such a hard time with songwriting, and I’ve certainly gone through dry phases like anyone else. There’s a Jerry Garcia quote where he says he’d rather be reading the VCR manual or feeding the cat than working on a song. And I’ve felt that before but this ended up being the exact opposite. I had this feeling like, “I don’t even care what we end up with, I just like hanging out with this guy,” as bromance-y as it sounds. It was more about imagining us hunkering down with no pressure and just having fun and seeing what happens. And the vision was multipart, too. I think I was imagining having a stage filled with mirrors for our band to play in front of [Laughter.] So that was kind of the vision and then, we started having these writing sessions. They were really fun but they were also hard. But whenever I was driving to work with Scott I had this feeling like I’m the king of the world because I’m doing something I want to do.

I remember the first time I drove down to Sunapee, New Hampshire to meet Scott. It was snowing and for the first time in a long time I didn’t listen to any music, and I didn’t make any phone calls on my drive. I usually listen to my hotline messages but this time I did nothing. I just drove down and kept thinking—it was like a meditation and I was just so excited. It was like taking a jet pack down to Sunapee, which eventually was going to be the album title, Jet Pack.

Do you think you will end up incorporating mirrors in your live show?

That was originally going to be part of the idea when we took it to the road. There would be mirrors everywhere. We have great stuff [for the live show] but I don’t think we have mirrors.

How close to your original vision did your songwriting sessions end up being?

When we first got there we didn’t know what the hell to do. We didn’t know how to put our ideas together, and every time I felt the same thing happening. We would get together, and it would seem so fun and then, we would be there and we would be going a little crazy figuring out how to get our ideas organized. Then, when I left and I had this feeling like we hadn’t done too much and when we drove away and listened to the demos we made, and I realized we had done just as much as we set out to do. It’s just a funny cycle like that. I would actually say it was kind of an epiphany that I need to get together and write with this guy mainly because it would be fun.

You ended up writing more songs than can fit on a single album but at what point in the writing process over the past few years did you feel like you had enough material for a unified album?

We took our time because we didn’t want to rush it and there were different phases. Sometimes we weren’t working so much and other times when I was off from Phish tour we were working every afternoon. At a certain point we realized we had eight good songs, and we went in one five day stretch to North Adams, Massachusetts and came up with eight more which we hadn’t expected. And of those eight more I only thought there were three good ones but they all ended up being great and pretty much are all on the album. Not all of them but most of them. There’s some extra tracks too that we haven’t decided what to do with.

Eventually you brought in Paul Q. Kolderie, who has worked with Radiohead, Uncle Tupelo, Pixies and Portugal. The Man, but was something of a wild-card choice for you. How did you land on him as your producer and what were his initial impressions of all these songs you had stockpiled with Scott?

We went through some interesting phases. The first phase was that someone recommended we work with David Fridmann, who does all The Flaming Lips records. It’s a very distinctive, peculiar, interesting lo-fi recording style and it was really tweaking my brain. I was driving around listening to everything David Fridmann had done because, in some ways, he was the perfect guy and, in other ways, he was not the perfect guy, and I had no idea whether he would work with us or even had time. But it just didn’t fit. The ideas didn’t fit regardless of whether he would have done it. Then we met a couple producers, and we talked through some long lists of questions. I tend to generate long lists of ideas and there were a lot of people that didn’t quite fit but that were great. I thought about Joe Henry who did Bonnie Raitt’s last album and a lot of other albums. He’s great, and he’s a songwriter but maybe kind of not quirky enough. He might not have understood the humor in it as much. It just might not have been the perfect fit.

Then there were two guys we met and both were great, but with Paul it just kind of felt like he was into what we already had done in terms of some of the things that were making it a little unpredictable sounding. He’s a real philosophical guy and we just kind of sat around and had these long conversations and it just felt good. He also does everything himself: he engineers, produces, assists, fixes your guitar amp and etcetera. And he had lived only a few miles from New England so that kind of felt like this was a whole New England conceived project. I really liked that he was able to dart through the hills and meet us here and meet us there. That just felt right, too. I like the idea of making something that is ‘of the region,’ the hills of New England. Even meeting Scott [years ago], I would sort of drive around and see Max Creek in some old barn in the middle of Western Massachusetts. Our whole friendship has been sort of New England based so to get Paul, who is from the same turf, felt sort of right too.

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There are 34 comments associated with this post

Benny Franklin February 14, 2014, 15:29:30

If “Hey JC” left his wife and kids for his love of Phish they should be happy he is gone. I mean really gone.

wookinpunub February 8, 2014, 16:21:09

I stopped reading at the second “bromance”. Scott M is a monster. Mike’s hair is another kind of monster. Many beverages are best served cold so these ‘bros’ might find a cabin with a fridge. Im just trying to help.

Roger Waters February 9, 2014, 22:47:12

Wing suit will change music like the wall or dsotm. It will open at number one on the charts and craft a new course for music as we know it. Phish played their best tour ever by a mile this fall. Trey just nails every song and has written what most will consider to be jagger/Richards Lennon/McCartney level stuff in Waiting All Night and Wombat. 555 truly is The new In the Flesh. What is it like to just lay down the gauntlet 30 years in? To reach your creative peak and Treys playing peak. He even reworks tunes on the fly out of the catalog like that epic type 2 Punch from MSG. Wingsuit is truly the best thing that happened to my life in my 17 years in the tri state.

Monica marry Me February 9, 2014, 23:28:30

Oh yeahhhh Yarmouth road is probably the best reggae dub song since Exodus. It’s been amazing these last few months since Wingsuit. It transcended time and I played that set in my house in repeat for weeks. The mother of my children and wife of 20 years came in and said, Zephyr (my name), “this is the worst thing Phish has ever done. I am embarrassed you call yourself a man and think song like Yarmouth Road and Wombat are remotely good compared to even pedestrian Phish work from the past.” I stood my ground, turned up the music which was 555, and struck her down like a child. I backhanded her pathetic soul relentlessly until she said she liked Wimgsuit. Then I called my lawyer and filed for a divorce because she’s a lying hussy. I’m glad my son saw me stand up for my music. I met his Mom and New Years 1992, but she is a newb and I won’t have a family member who does not recognize the pure genius of 2013 Phish. My kids will thank me.

Um February 10, 2014, 01:23:28

Hey “Roger Waters”,
You don’t know shit. Stop talking about music. Thanks.

Roger Waters February 10, 2014, 10:28:56

Um, you don’t get music. Wingsuit is like Beethoven anyone can get it. When Wombat is on every FM channel in america and there are remixes of it with Jay Z using Phish’s work as a canvass you will get it. I literally only listen to Wingsuit songs now. I skip everything else from AC and MSG. Its the new Phish, the best Phish and the only Phish to me. I simply am concerned once the album drops we won’t even get tickets to stadium gigs. I do listen to the Hartford Fluffhead to be honest quite a bit though, because it’s the best Fluffhead since 1993. It’s by far the tightest version of all time. The Theme from AC might be the best singular Phish song of all time at a show. Bush/Kush yo.

Yarmouth Toad February 10, 2014, 11:51:04

I wonder if Mike is kind of saying Treys writing is bad now, not even Murawski level. Wingsuit is Max Creek level at the best.

elizabeth courtney February 10, 2014, 17:40:36

I’m really looking forward to listening to Overstep and then going to see Mike Gordon Band. I love the direction the band is going. It has been an amazing journey. Riding the raft atop the deep cool river…, through the evolutionary creative genius of Mike.

DrC February 10, 2014, 20:04:44

Many wild comments in this this thread. I will only add that I wish Mike had more input into phish setlists.

Zephyr February 10, 2014, 20:14:11

Bottom line I ended my marriage over Wingsuit. I will get off the dom V charge in he said she said stuff, but I felt justified. Wingsuit changed my life. I am just an actor in the Phish TV show. She got in the way and the kids sadly will learn she has not a good bone in her body. My feelings of love became hate over her comments on 555. How dare she. I paid for her freeloading ass to get to AC. Sometimes if people don’t see it you must force them to see it. I believe my family knows how important Wingsuit has been to all of our lives. Thank you Trey I’m waiting all night for Monica.

Gordeaux February 10, 2014, 22:41:47

I check Mikes hotline every day even if I know it’s down. To me what he’s embarked on creatively through dress, drill or upright bass combine to show us a so,etching not seen since Sir Paul McCartney. I started balling during Yarmouth Road at multiple shows this year. The world made sense again for those four minutes. I even became oddly arroused at the first vocal sounds and I am only attracted to much younger boys. When Mike takes us to new places I feel my inner child again blossoming into a black rose of dark horrific violent death.

btbuckeye February 11, 2014, 12:10:16

Congrats on the new album Mr. Gordon. psyched for the pittsburgh show. Also, I think most of these comments are Phantasy Tour goofs. So…yeah, wingsuit is kind of like DSOTM.

Horatio Gates February 11, 2014, 16:42:09

Sorry Mr. Waters but Phish songs though mainly wonderful, are not in the same league as Jagger/Richards or Lennon/McCartney.

Question February 11, 2014, 19:52:52

What kind of payload you all think Mikes packing in the shorts? A pencil, a stump or a or an unkept, unclipped mini ear of unshucked corn?

Nathan Hale February 11, 2014, 20:46:13

“Question”, Don’t abuse our freedom of speech.

Question February 11, 2014, 23:05:41

Does anyone else hear heavy heavy Jason Mraz accents in Yarmouth Road? It’s uncanny like wordplay. I really like the adult contemporary treck we are all on together. I merely act as an instrument of the band now. I am an idiot savant capable of anything in the name of Phish. They breathed life into my sails at the first lines of Fuego in New Jersey. This summer I will drop my wife and kids at the in laws, leave a grand behind and see them in August. They are trivial now if JEMP calls.

JC February 12, 2014, 11:32:56

I wish all of the Phish fans would stop arguing. It sounds like an argument about religion where no one wins. I like Phish, but you guys make it sound like Phish is your life. I have seen a lot of music in my lifetime, but it is just one piece of my life. You sound like a bunch of college kids. Grow up.

Hey JC February 13, 2014, 22:07:59

You are no Phish fan. I’m 45, and basically left my wife and family because of my dedication to the bands new direction. 2013 Phish essentially is the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s by far their best year. People that say its sloppy missed the message. Trey messes with the crowd now and pretends to flub songs to mess with people like you that can’t be trusted. At the first notes of Wingsuit an angelic figure approached me and handed me a key. In retrospect it was simply a random guy handing me 3 percocets but that’s besides the point. That angel removed me from my family and like the hand of God pointed me to a new direction in life. One where loyalty to that creator who brought me to the angel that is Trey is honored. I have brighter days ahead because of Wingsuit. Say different and just give me a location of where you want to meet and I’ll fly to you. Windorascrub

Dave the slave February 14, 2014, 13:30:47

WOW. Left his wife and kids over Phish. They are the worst band ever. What a loser. Stay strong Phish fans.

JC February 14, 2014, 14:51:12

I think Hey JC is joking, Dave the Slave. He is one of the witty ones. Didn’t take a shower for months and grew a beard at age 15 so he would think that he was a hippie. Trey this, Trey that. There are a lot of good musicians out there. Enjoy the music and stop talking.

TAB Brawl February 15, 2014, 23:34:07

I was at TAB the other night. I love TAB and Jen. A fan had on a shirt that said I am Fuego. A man came up to him and stuck his finger in this guys chest and asked if that was referring to the new Phish song. The guy kind of brah’d out and slapped a hug on this guy indicating of course it was about the new Phish song. The other guy all of a sudden took great offense. He pushed the kid in the shirt. The kid came back in for the obligatory make up Phishhead hug and was welcomed by an elbow in the face. It sounded like a Tony bass Bomb in Sand. The kid, clearly dazed, fell to the ground. The angry guy looked around with foam seeping from his mouth said, “anybody else like the Winsuit songs?” He then immediately turned to the dazed guy, who was getting up, and launched a field goal kick right in his face. Blood flew like a Hood extended glow stick war. The guy walked out of the venue untouched and left. The kid in the Fuego shirt was gurneed out while bleeding missing a few teeth. To say the least their was some creative tension in the air.

Ogden fight February 16, 2014, 01:54:53

Yeah man we were digging deep at the Ogden and these guys were on something just boooooing Trey all night. This Security guy spoke to one on his way to get a brew and apparently got nowhere. So they keep booing and one guy is screaming Obcenties at Trey. My buddy approached one and asked them to chill. This guy just laughed and put his cigarette out on my friends forehead and spit in his face. He goes, “you newb go listen to some of that new Phish bullsh$t.” I ran over to defend my friend and he immediately lifted his shirt and was packing a glock 9. I thought about moving for his gun and finishing him, but thought better. It got out of hand when my buddy got arrested for punching the guys girlfriend while his head was burnt. She dropped like a straight flush. I thought we were gonna get shot but the guy just laughed and proceeded to urinate on me while people watchd. It was kind of cool in the lights show. And itt was hot in our area. We label it the hot piss Ogden Jam.

Safety at side projects February 16, 2014, 02:01:09

Things sound altered on the road. The energy isn’t cosmic, the art is fraud and the natives are restless. We are yet the chameleons of color who soon have not to show a deeper understanding of Wingsuit. As mere palms rather than songs we are left to have more faith than belief. The thing we have all loved has yet become thy thief.

Yeah Mike February 16, 2014, 10:42:04

Is he like the best bass player ever or what. He has supple lips and big thumbs while his voice is comparable to an opera singer. If anybody starts what I read above about TAB when I am at Mikes shows they will learn. I am going to four shows, so my eyes will be wide open. Mike to be is pretty much as important as a being that sits between man and God. He is a bridge for God to communicate with us through his bass and singing. If someone gets in the way of that mid show I will not know what to do. I am sure you guys understand. I was a Golden Gloves runner up in Baltimore. I try to keep these lunch pails harnessed. You come between me and God and the Sherpa Mike will release my hounds.

hey yeah Mike February 16, 2014, 10:55:30

We understand. It seems like shows are getting a little more caustic. At times I feel like perhaps you are safer at shows in Conceal Carry states? Nonetheless, seeing most of the shows in the New York area I have noticed a pickup in distaste for the new Phish work and a violent reaction. I certainly understand your position, and do not think you should hold back your aggression. If someone even looks at you, it is possible danger will ensue. You are probably better off just taking them out immediately and moving on the next one. Do not take a chance, just start the devastation. Tech lessons to people.

Kids? February 16, 2014, 18:01:22

Do not take shots at Hey JC for leaving his kids. It wasn’t long ago I found myself confused and on Phish tour in the late 90’s. 1996 fall to be quite exact. There were quite a few kind people on that run as we explored new land that fall. The fact that we ended up at the LA Forum, well that was sublime. Unfortunately that was toward the tail end of what was a long Summer and Fall Season. I had been pretty active on the road and really don’t believe that protection should even be legal when it comes to my partners. It turns out we were pretty much living off a clean batch of Pyramids and Gel Tabs with a generous helping of whiskey from our mercantilism. I had a memory issue from the Summer and slept in lots of different tents, apparently where I littered the lawn with my own grass seed. I remember my friends telling me that multiple dank mammas were looking for me. It’s been rough financially since then with 3 different Child support payments. I do my best to avoid paying those leaches. I have changed my name and moved, yet they seem to have a beat on me. Sometimes it’s just better to leave the kids behind to fend for themselves.

Wingsuit RULES! February 17, 2014, 18:05:29

Fuego is an example of just how tight these guys have remained. That Wingsuit set kicked ALL EARTHLY ASS! I bet God even smiled and turned the volume up! May Phish rock on forever…..and by the way who is jagger/Richards anyway….?

You go Zephyr February 17, 2014, 18:38:15

Wingsuit will be HUGE when it’s released. You old duffers need to drop that Lennon/McCartney Bullshit and listen to what they both only wished they could produce. Jagger/Richards don’t EVEN stand up to what my New England boys have brought to the audio eateries table. Watch out world… Phish is only getting started (again)!

John Hancock February 19, 2014, 16:30:55

These comments seem like people suffering from delusional disorder symptoms.

Well to be fair February 21, 2014, 01:57:35

John some of us have been on cloud nine out of body since the opening nights notes from set two at boardwalk. The announcement of a summer tour with these songs I think is slightly more anticipated than the birth of my twin daughters even.. They don’t change much from year to year, but there is only one year of the first developments of these sonnets Trey constructed from pure brawn and genius. My wife is by the book and that set moved her so much we left the twins at home a night alone to go the third night. Cleveland is a ways and the sitter was only good til that morning. The kids slept in the bathtub so when we got home we immediately played Bathtub Gin for our daughters. I made it to every show on TAB tour and have tickets to every show on Mikes tour. It isn’t that bad since I sell copiers cold calling offices so it works for deep tour. I feel like if you don’t realize Trey laid down his Houses of the Holy with the Wingsuit songs, you don’t understand music or art.. This will be in the top five albums in sales in history. Thriller, Another Brick in The Wall, Cheap Trick Boudakan Winsuit, Led Zepplin 4, Revolver. I think after a couple years go by this will reflect global acceptance of a new form of music that God graced us with on 10/31/13. THANK YOU LORD

Clive Bigsby February 21, 2014, 11:49:19

Is it just me, or cannot I not tell the sarcasm in some of these comments. I maybe wrong. Great effort from Mike, a solid CD. Loved Wingsuit, and can’t wait to hear the final product. Can’t wait to see Mike out on the road with either his solo band or Phish!

MikeisGod February 25, 2014, 15:36:20

Marco I started crying hysterically at your post. Wingsuit is as important as the St James Bible in my mind. It will take a year or two to be in everyones head, but it will heal you just the same. I’m sitting here looking at tickets to 23 of Mike’s shows for which I am going on tour. This is life man. Nothing else matters, Mike is touring and getting his own pulpit for many nights. I really think you should hit some of the shows to change your Chakra. When I turned forty last summer, I resigned myself to the fact that I was no longer a follower of God. I believe in the power of JEMP. I am not going to miss the opportunity to see these men in any setting. What if right now you knew you could have listened to Nelson Mandela in a room of 500 but chose not to? What if you could have seen Jimi Hendrix but you chose not to? What if you had a head shot at Bin Laden and you chose not to? Mike is that type of archetype. He will be viewed as a mythical leader in 50 years. I would not miss my chance at seeing this generations Mandela, so I am going to see him 23 times this tour. I’m Fuego!

Marco Polo Esquandolas February 25, 2014, 13:55:07

Wombat is the most embarrassing shit Phish has ever played.

Fuego February 25, 2014, 17:31:58

The band was supposed to kick out an album by April based off Wingsuit. It looks like the producer in Nashville told them to get real, and come up with some actual work to present professionally. Wingsuit is a tragic disaster by my favorite band. I do enjoy seeing heads new and old pretend to like it to be Jimmy Phishead to the max, but seriously you need to get a life. Phish laid down an egg in AC. An embarrassing display of ego and a fall tour full of flubs and a few good Carini’s and the Reading DWD. Trey call Tom Marshall pal, Wingsuit is a mess. No wonder Mike is going on a huge tour, then coming back for that Summer money. If they take a break again after this year it will be hysterical to see all the Wingsuit people who pretend that it’s nothing more than some new bad tunes. 2013 certainly was a very depressing year for the band, but people at least seem to be insecure enough to need to like songs like Wombat.

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