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Published: 2014/02/07
by Mike Greenhaus

Mike Gordon’s Tiny Little World

Speaking of the Wingsuit seasons, two of the songs Phish debuted on Halloween, “Snow” and “555,” were collaborations with Scott. Did those stem form the same writing sessions as the Overstep songs?

Yeah. That’s a good question. “Snow” was one of the 16 songs that we ended up with after our writing sessions. We weren’t trying to have 16 [songs on Overstep ], and I knew that not all of them would…we loved all of them but not all of them would fit together as an overall piece. We just always loved “Snow,” but we just thought that [it didn’t quite fit on the album]. The goal wasn’t about being as eclectic as possible especially when my favorite albums are ones that kind of keep a vibe going—not 100% because if every song is the same then maybe it’s boring—but within being in the same ballpark of a mood. I kind of like to listen to whole albums like that. So “Snow” is just an example of a song that didn’t quite fit the mood.

It is always so nice to hear the demos before we recorded with Paul. “Snow” was one of the first eight actually but then it just didn’t seem to fit the overall mood. So it was just one of those ones we didn’t know what we would do with but Phish just seemed to gravitate toward it and [ Wingsuit producer] Bob Ezrin did immediately. He went through…we had our many choices down to 25 songs and Ezrin told us which ones shouldn’t be and should be on the album and which were maybes out of all 25 songs. “Snow” was the first one that he thought should definitely go on the album, which I was surprised about. It’s got its own vibe but that’s been really nice and he took what he did and did more with it.

[For “555,”] when Scott and I went back to a different part of New Hampshire that is near Concord, New Hampshire we wrote some new songs and one of them became “555.” It stemmed from the same session in New Hampshire where my band had just jammed and come up with some material. There’s great stuff but we really haven’t had time to mine it.

Do you feel that in the last few years, as you’ve gotten older and made more and more albums, you have gravitated more toward this idea of the thematically-linked album rather than the idea of a collection of songs that happened to be recorded around the same time, with the same band or producer?

Yeah, I think so. I like things that fit together so I think it happens anyway subconsciously because if you take a certain method, a certain process, or a certain person to collaborate with over a certain time period then you end up with a distinctive body of work to some extent anyway. We will talk through our lyrical ideas or our music ideas but with the music sometimes Scott and I will just like we’ll have an idea that is an inking of an idea and we’ll just kind of close our eyes and imagine ourselves on stage—maybe not the typical gig maybe it’s like some weird gig in Bali or something.

We talk about what it feels like and what the song needs. So we’re kind of asking our subconscious, or our group subconscious—our paired subconscious—and then lyrically there’s going to be stuff in a given time period that we’re just kind of thinking about as individuals. Some songs are just about things we’re excited about and some songs were about reflecting or being contemplative about some moment or person in our lives. We would end talking through these moments like therapy a lot of the time just to make sure the lyrics are resonating on some level that’s meaningful. I think some of that happens on auto pilot. Maybe as we get older we get better at choosing what’s cohesive for an album and keeping it within a theme even if it’s not a concept album, per say, although that can be fun, too.

Were there any specific lyrical themes that you kind of felt kept coming up during your recent songwriting sessions?

There are these themes having to do with alienation or a delusion—imagining yourself in a situation or relationship that doesn’t necessarily exist or exist in the way that you think it does. For example, in “Yarmouth Road” he’s building this house with someone and then realizes he forgot to check with the person to see whether or not they want to be building it or moving into it and anything you do and you think the other person is on board and they’re not. Or “Tiny Little World” he’s just kind of watching someone in the coffee shop and imagining the next step and then they’re at this dance club and then they’re forming a life together and then oops he has another life and he’s leading a double life and then it all goes sour and then it’s like oh no forget it just let it be a fantasy. It’s kind of like being displaced, being one-stepped removed from these relationships. I think that’s kind of the theme.

Maybe that’s a little fuzzy and a little vague. Even though I’m not allowed to talk about it, probably the idea of dancing and bopping around is a theme partly just because I was inspired by these grooves I would take to our songwriting sessions. Not all the time but some of the times, I hear something on the radio and I didn’t like the song at all but wanted to take some groove and work with it because it just felt good. If we’re at soundcheck and we start playing or even just at a gig and make up a jam there’s going to be some grooves that just feel good for the band and those are things in a way that should be songs because they just feel good. So I thought, “Well, a groove itself is not a song and it’s probably the furthest thing from a song. A melody is closer and a lyric or phrase are definitely closer, but still a groove is a feeling with its spaciousness and its propulsion and everything that a groove has and energy and sweat and that should feel good.” So it was this idea of feeling good and if we feel good hanging out and writing together then we might as well also feel good with a kind of tempo and groove and syncopation that we’re using as the pulse. So that’s kind of like an indirect theme I guess.

When you hear something at a show or soundcheck that you think would be an interesting part of a song, do you still immediately write it in your journal after the show?

Well, I’m such an organization freak that I tend to keep playlists of ideas. If I think of some guitar lick that I think should be worked into a song, I record it onto my iPhone and then when I’m going through my voicemail I email it to myself. I download it to the desktop but then I bring it in to a folder I call riffs for songs. When Scott and I get together it’s a lot more human than that so it’s pretty rare that we are using those actual files.

I remember the first time I played him the whole folder which is called Riffs for Songs. And that’s only one thing because I have an equivalent place for lyrical ideas and then, I’ve got another place for some of these grooves I’m inspired by and then, I’ve got another place for some of the jam sessions we’ve had. [As I said before], my band went to New Hampshire a couple of years and for three days we just jammed.

I read that Bob Dylan does the same thing and most people just kind of keep a stockpile of musical and lyrical ideas and then they kind of revisit them the notebooks or whatever. But when Scott and I are together almost all of that is almost negligible—it’s just a tiny inkling to kind of get our ideas flowing and then when Scott and I were in North Adams we were using artwork and all these paintings around the town and those were just as, my riffs for songs and those paintings… it almost doesn’t matter where the idea starts from, it matters where it goes and whether we can sort of nurture it a place because we’re feeling it based on the feeling. Otherwise it’s just like firewood for the fire.

Given that these songs were created in such a songwriting environment, how’s it I guess, what’s the process been like so far to kind of bring these songs to life on the stage?

Well, we’ve been having rehearsals since last October on and off. I think it’s really just a matter of matching the situation or letting the situation dictate what it wants. In the case of my band you know when it really happened is the last rehearsal. It was really intense. It was a week-long rehearsal and we were in three different locations and we were trying some new technology for the stage and then we went to a log home. We borrowed or rented a log home and we went in with practically no gear—just small stuff by a fireplace in the living room, looking up and there was like views out the back door, back windows And so by paring it down, almost back to the same exact vibe that we were in when we were writing the songs and we were working on our old repertoire and rearranging some stuff and some new cover songs too.

It wasn’t all the album material but it was focused on the album. What was really just an awesome feeling was that the band started to sound like itself more than ever before just its own combination of attributes. [Percussionist] Craig Myers might have been playing his N’goni. It is not that we’re the only band that has a N’goni because Toubab Krewe uses one but we’re the only band with this pile of attributes and a couple new instruments that I have and then a couple new ideas that we’ve had for jamming.

We were in a room together without much stuff sort of boiling down with the fireplace and everything—it just felt it was playing itself. And so I thought the most important thing would be to have some great new songs to play and we’ve worked on that. Then the other thing is to say, “Well, it doesn’t matter what song we’re playing we just want to allow ourselves to sound like ourselves like I was saying in terms of playing a groove we would naturally play at a soundcheck or in between songs because it just happens to feel good or not playing but making it up maybe.”

It’s the same kind of thing with letting people play, just fall into their instruments whatever they are and doing the kinds of stuff on them. I mean I’m speaking the obvious but it was really kind of enlightening to be in that room and just realize, “Oh we’ve really let ourselves sound like ourselves.” You know, we’ve tried to cultivate that where of course we’re going to sound somewhat like Phish or any of the other bands that the band members came from or any influences that we’ve had. But trying to say, “Well okay we know where we all come from, we’re not always going to follow that path, we’re just going to see what this sounds like.”

I was just really excited that was happening. I love the live Egg release that we did and just feeling like, “Wow, in only a few years we got this band to really kind of have a chemistry” because I like the way that release sounds and then to add a new repertoire, I’ve kind of felt like, well this is just great. We’re kind of trying to put it all together and just having an incredible time is the goal.

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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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