Mike Gordon Talks Winter Tour Kickoff, Dynamic New Band Lineup, David Bowie (INTERVIEW)

Mike Gordon is a busy guy these days. Phish just finished four sold out shows at Madison Square Garden as part of the band’s annual New Year’s run only to immediately follow it up with their first ever resort weekend of shows on the beach in Mexico. Now, just days after getting back to the States, the bass player is planning on heading out for a winter tour with his own band.

Some musicians – especially ones that don’t need to tour for financial reasons – might be ready to step back and take a breather. On the contrary, Mike Gordon seems energetic and excited to talk about this next tour, which kicks off in Austin, Texas on Friday, January 22 and finds him and his band traveling to a handful of towns that neither they nor Phish has hit in many years. Much of the 12-date tour will take them through Texas, Arizona, and the West Coast finishing at the Gothic Theatre in Denver on February 6. Gordon’s band also underwent a lineup change recently, with Robert Walter of the Greyboy Allstars on keys and John Kimock (son of Steve Kimock) on drums joining Max Creek guitarist Scott Murawski and percussionist Craig Myers to round out a sound that is noticeably more experimental than with the previous lineup. Listen to the band’s shows from 2015 and you’ll hear reworked versions of longtime favorites alongside newer tunes and never cover songs that may seem like odd choices at first but actually work quite well (listen to their proggy, psychedelic take on Fiona Apple’s “Sleep To Dream”). This week Mike Gordon took a break from getting ready for the tour to talk about creativity, David Bowie, Phish’s Mexico run, and the musical directions he and his comrades are going in.

Hey Mike. So I guess where I want to start off is, you’ve just come off a big run of shows with Phish at Madison Square Garden and in Mexico. How have you even found the time to prepare and rehearse for this upcoming tour?

We actually predicted that, so we had some quality time in December to spend. I like being busy, it’s pretty cool. The experiences are so different with the two different bands for me that they both inspire each other, so it’s really a good situation for me to bounce back and forth. It’s a little weird sometimes, but mostly it’s just kind of cool to mix it up.

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You seem to be busier than ever these days between songwriting and all of your different musical outlets. I know you just recently turned 50, and do you think there’s something that’s allowed for this creative rush you’ve had in recent years?

I wonder, maybe people just get older and they want to cut to the chase more and do less of [things that are] distractions. So I’ve kind of divided it pretty well between family time and songwriting – that’s the most of it – and touring and other related stuff. And I’d like to do even more of what I’m already doing, but I don’t know, at some point I could even see getting back into the idea of making a movie. I just have so many things I want to do and so little time. I think that’s what it is; just taking away whatever was distracting. I’d have to sort of think about it to know what was more distracting 20 years ago, probably some things though. I guess if I did the calculations I would figure it out.

You said you want to make a movie. Is that an aspiration that’s on the table?

Well, I made a couple feature length movies a long time ago and I really think that if I ever do get to making another that it will be much more – those both came out of situations where I just knew someone else who had an idea – but I’ve had my own ideas and I’d really like to just follow through, so I think it could be really cool. I don’t want to spread myself too thin so I end up working on songwriting and calling it a day, but then I see other people doing it, like Steve Martin who has ten different kinds of outlets for his creativity. [I see] people like that and I think well, I could probably just do everything. I think the art is picking out whatever is in the clutter, so I’m just trying to learn what that is so I can cut to the chase more.

There’s been a lineup change in your band recently and have some new faces, and I’m wondering if that has allowed you to take your songs in new directions that maybe you previously weren’t able to go in?

There was a pretty cool chemistry before, but this is a whole different level of chemistry and there’s a musical bond going on with the five of us now where everyone wants to experiment in similar ways but everyone brings different stuff to the table. We’re sonically experimenting and rhythmically experimenting. There’s a common appreciation for older funk, rock, reggae, etc, that sharing that common knowledge makes it easier for all of us to share the desire to get away from it and see whatever we can do to make new sounds. Like taking someone [like Robert Walter] who’s played with the Greyboy Allstars for so many years – just such an amazing, roots sounding band – and finding that he’s so eager to be crazy experimental and be so good at it. We released our Philly show from June and there’s like a whole bunch of little moments in there that are keys to the future. Now this is the future because this is the next tour. Scott [Murawski] and I have so much new material that some of it we’re going to bust out, and there are whole clumps of stuff that’s not ready yet. I feel like we’re always just scratching the surface, but then it ends up being so fun to just do that. I’d like to be able to grow musically at ten times the rate I do, but then when I can finally sit back and listen to a tape I’ll realize that oh, we are growing. I’m like a kid in a candy store – such enthusiasm to experiment. That doesn’t mean it’s always going to sound different from Phish or our influences because we come from where we come from, but ideally for me it would sound eight thousand times more different from our influences and we’re getting there one step at a time. It’s like what David Byrne said: “the hardest thing is to get outside of your comfort zone.” I like just constantly trying, whatever that means.

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You mentioned you feel like a kid in a candy shop, which is interesting, and I wonder if you feel like it’s easier for you to be creative and experimental in your music as you get older.

There are people that have talked about doing their best work when they were in their early 20’s, but I find it to be the other way around. I feel like when I was younger there were more insecurities, inhibitions, self-consciousness. I don’t know all the reasons why, but I just feel empowered now. Even going from high school to college – I had such nurturing parents – I had a feeling I could do anything. But I didn’t realize how many of my own mental hang-ups there would be to get to that point. Now I feel like even those are all calmed down and out of the way, and I really can do anything, but there are still some decisions about how to go about it. It feels like it all just comes more readily. Maybe I’m just Mr. Positive Attitude, I don’t know.

I want to ask you about David Bowie, because your band plays a cool version of “I’m Deranged”. Can you comment on where the inspiration to play that came from and maybe just reflect on what David Bowie meant to you?

Well, that [song] just came from the David Lynch movie Lost Highway, and it’s an appropriate question because David Lynch turned 70 today. Plus [David Bowie] does an incredible cameo in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which is really bizarre and cool. I just think that [David Bowie] is an incredible example of someone doing things their own way. Whatever you think of conformism and trends that people are trying to follow over the decades in music, and how boring that is for people for follow trends and tap into formulas, it just doesn’t seem like Bowie did that. Every part of his musicality and his personality and everything around it was so original, and yet he had songs that were big hits. He didn’t have to do one or the other, so just such an incredible mixture. I guess that’s what I think my own deepest goals are – I would like to be much more accessible and much more unique and weird at the same time. So who is a better inspiration for that than David Bowie? And then seeing the videos he put out for the songs from [Black Star] when he was dying and how incredibly inspiring those are up until his last minute, never giving up the desire to create cool and interesting stuff.

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The idea of envisioning your own mortality and turning it into art is pretty morbid in one sense and also really inspiring.

Yeah, it’s a little dark. I think music should be scary. If it’s just mimicking life – I want music to be more of a fantasy to give you a different place to go. Just like David Lynch, with Bowie the themes get to be very dark, but they’re handled in such a fresh creative way that the experience ends up being kind of light. If you just try to be happy, you might be ignoring an emotion that’s in there. I think with music and movies, it’s those juxtapositions that I really like. So there’s an expected thing with my band – or with a jam band, to use a horrible word – that it be happy music, but so much of the time it isn’t. So much of the time when it’s working there’s a certain darkness. With bands like the Grateful Dead, there’s always a positive message but there are dark stories and characters. So [the Mike Gordon Band ends] up seeking covers these days that are kind of in minor keys and are a little bit darker, more angular, and sinister, and that’s only to go against our own expectations and make sure there’s enough of what we find scary in there.

It’s like the idea of fighting to reach the light.

Yeah, or that Stravinsky quote that keeps going around: “Run from beauty and it will follow.” Sometimes the most beautiful things are more dissonant and dark. I’m always trying to balance those feelings in music and maybe in life, but at least in music [laughs]. Actually I think my life is more even keeled these days, more steady, but in music [the goal is] to find the fine line between dark and light, funny and serious.

So the last thing I want to ask you is about your thoughts on Phish’s experience in Mexico this past weekend.

It was pretty cool! It took a little getting used to at first. I’m technically minded so playing with no roof always makes for better sound, but there’s also always an adjustment period. Having the ocean right next to us and having it all lit up and people swimming in it was pretty special. I like getting out of situations that are just predictable, like we play Deer Creek because we always play Deer Creek. Sometimes great things can come out of a predictable situation because then you can experiment more with the music. But the cool thing about [playing in a place like] Mexico is that the size and the shape and the smell is so exotic to us, and that’s pretty cool. Actually, [the Mike Gordon Band] is starting this tour in Texas and Arizona. Phish played not too long ago in Texas, but it’s been a long time since I’ve come through Arizona, so it feels like being on a mission and on an adventure. Both of those are examples of getting outside your comfort zone, which is great to do.

The Mike Gordon Band kicks off their tour on Friday, January 22 at Emo’s in Austin, Texas. You can check out all dates on the poster below and ENTER OUR GIVEAWAY to win tickets to catch the band in L.A. on January 29.

MIKE GORDON WINTER 2016
01/22 Emo’s, Austin Tx
01/23 Numbers, Houston, TX
01/24 Granada Theater, Dallas, TX
01/26 Rialto Theatre, Tucson, AZ
01/27 Orpheum Theater, Flagstaff, AZ
01/29 The Fonda Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
01/30 The Observatory North Park, San Diego, CA
01/31 The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
02/02 Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR
02/03 Neptune Theatre, Seattle, WA
02/05 Park City Live, Park City, UT
02/06 Gothic Theatre, Denver, CO

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One Response

  1. So many great venues on the West coast! I’m always changing my mind, but currently my favorite indoor venue is the Ace Theater & Hotel in DTLA & of course how can you beat the Gorge?!

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