Photo by Kevin Yatarola
Mike Gordon hits the road with his band this weekend for the first of five select dates before year’s end. With Phish off tour this fall, Gordon has been working on a new batch of songs and even some secret recording projects, while also discovering a new “carefree” approach to his existence. Gordon is famous for his meticulous use of lists, documenting experiences and dreams etc, but in the following interview he reveals to Jambands.com he has stripped all of that away as he enters a new phase in life. While preparing to hit the road this weekend, Gordon took time out of his busy schedule to discuss this new phase in his life, Phish’s “subconscious” decision to stray from learning composed material and why he’s been experimenting with a new Fender bass.
I know you’ve designed this current time off the road with Phish around a songwriting phase. You have some select shows coming up at the end of this month and the beginning of the next. Can you talk about what form this songwriting process is taking and how you intend that to play into these select shows?
Well, songwriting is a funny thing. There’s so many ways to do it. Often times, it takes years to write a song—so what I’m working on now, you would hear in years. [Laughs]. It’s pretty indirect. That is usually the case. I mean, sometimes it can be nice when it’s more immediate and you write something and go onstage and play it. But, for most of the situations I’ve seen—not just for my songs but for other people’s songs around me—it’s taken years where the writing phase will be a few months or a year and then the practicing and learning and then the recording and then practicing with the band and recording…it’s very indirect. But, more than usual, I’m trying to have a very carefree existence.
I’ve got all the first born attributes of being a list maker and a goal setter and a perfectionist. I’m trying to get rid of all that—change my personality so that if I’m working on something musical, maybe it does creep right in. I have some recording projects going which are currently secret, [Laughs] but fun. At least I think they’re secret. That’s an interesting question.
Last year you told us that you were working towards a more traditional songwriting approach, using just a guitar to write bare song structures. Does that tie into this new carefree approach you’re moving towards?
Yeah. The problem with being the person that does interviews is that I end up talking about something so much that I might as well not do it since I’ve already talked about it, which would be a kind of crazy assessment of the situation when this is my creative process that I’m talking about. But I just keep talking about it. After 46 years of being one way, it’s taking a while to realign myself the other way.
When I say I’m looking to do a more carefree approach, it’s kind of like baby-steps. I still am having in my schedule some projects which involve more thoughtfully assembled writing and recording based on things that have existed in the past. So yeah, I said it last year and I’ll probably say it next year. It’s just a major overhaul of my personality that I’m working on.
How do you feel that overhaul is affecting some of the other areas in your life? You’ve been sitting in with lots of different artists in Vermont lately and have all these various musical projects on the go. Have you found a balance in your life that allows you to spend time with your family while also writing and performing on a regular basis?
Yeah, there’s a lot of balancing acts and that is definitely one of them. Fortunately, I’m able to spend a lot of time everyday with my daughter and when things get busy I end up wishing it were more time with her. But usually it’s a lot of time—we go on adventures, we go running, I drop her off and pick her up from pre-school and we have lunches together. My wife and I find time, and we find time for all three of us. It’s working out pretty well.
The problem with being a person with so many different interest—even within music I have so many different interests, not to mention things on the backburner like filmmaking etc…anyone who has a lot of different interests has to either do some sort of a juggling act and hope that the different projects will inspire each other, or cut some back and make some choices. Even with music I have a few things going and they are all sort of in the works where I can’t say too much more about them. But I think I’m doing some good balancing and I’ve even gone out to see some music lately, which I used to do a lot more of, and that, has been cool.
Have you seen anything good lately?
I’ve been doing the Honky Tonk Tuesday thing more often like I used to do—not every week—and seeing some bands. I actually went to the Spin Doctors—I haven’t seen them in 20 years or something, but I’ve been friends with Chris Baron a bit and have been doing some stuff with him. Oh, well Gillian Welch and David Rawlings—who I’ve seen a bunch of times—that was great at the Flynn in Burlington.
Sunday night I went to see Orgone and I forgot I had done a gig with them and Galactic in St. Louis at the Pageant. I forgot that that was them. I didn’t make the connection. I went and I really just had a great time. But the mystery thing is, I love the bass player—I mean I’m sure all of their bass players are great, but this guy was so fun to watch. And so I went home and I Googled them and all over the place, all their bios and pictures and videos, the guy that I saw doesn’t exist. He was a figment of our imagination. They have three or four bass players that they play with and none of them was the guy I saw. Not in videos, not in bio not in pictures or movies. It’s a mystery. So I ended up going to their website and trying to contact them to figure out, you know, the mystery—because I loved watching the guy so much. But as I said, I’m sure their other bass players are all great too.