Bassist Mike Gordon has been taking advantage of the off-again, on-again touring schedule Phish has adapted since their return in 2009 by scheduling shows with his five-piece band during the breaks in addition to spending time with his family. For instance, the Massachusetts native will be playing five shows over two weekends in November and December with his solo band. Gordon was gracious enough to chat with us last week about the upcoming shows, fatherhood, and the current state of Phish, among other topics. Today, we present the first half of the interview with the second installment to follow early next month.
Brian Bavosa: First off, thanks for taking a couple of minutes. We will jump right in here. Why are you only playing a couple of shows based around select weekends this time around?
Mike Gordon: It started with some commitments that the band members had, but what ended up happening was with that being the case and with Phish having some time off from touring, I started to see this as an excellent writing phase, writing era. But I love to play gigs, too [Laughs]. So I thought that it was good compromise to do a little bit and keep a lot of attention on writing at the same time. The fact that there are just certain select gigs may mean that we will feel really loose and crazy and let anything go and let anything happen because it’s not a tour, because it’s a special situation.
Brian Bavosa: That leads into one of the other things that I wanted to get into. Are we going to hear new material at these Mike Gordon shows?
Mike Gordon: I always like to have some new material and I like to play some new covers and originals. Usually what people don’t realize is there’s a big lead time, sometimes years, in terms of writing songs and finishing them. The one Leonard Cohen quote that I like is: ‘If there’s one bit of advice I can give to up-and-coming songwriters is stick with a song long enough and it will yield. And I don’t mean weeks, I mean years.’ And it’s interesting to see when you allow songs to invent themselves by rebirthing until that can’t be done anymore, so I’ve got different things going in the creative department. And a lot of it won’t be ready for a long time, but I’m very excited about it anyway.
For me, it’s not so simple as ‘I’ve got a tour coming up, so why don’t I write some new songs for the tour?’ Usually, it’s more like ‘well, I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff that’s brewing and it wasn’t the right time four years ago for this song, or four months ago for that song, but suddenly it is exactly the right time, so let’s bust it out and fire it up’ and it’s all about timing. Generally, I think we’ve introduced a lot of material each tour, and I think there’s some material, both original and covers, that haven’t been fleshed out enough yet.
Brian Bavosa: Are there any other projects that you’re working on?
Mike Gordon: There’s a few things cooking. I’ve been working on some stuff with Scott Murawski for a while now, doing some writing. That’s becoming very interesting. I’m not sure yet what we are going to do with it, and then just reaching out and collaborating with other people and using some writing methods on my own that I haven’t used before. So, I’m just kind of excited about this exploration.
Brian Bavosa: You mention some other people or some other writing methods that you haven’t used before. Are there any examples that you care to share?
Mike Gordon: In terms of writing methods, I’ve really been trying to simplify: not using computers, not using a studio. In some cases, not even using prior ideas, just going bare bones, in the moment, and it’s often how songwriters work. It’s just for me, I am a very complicated person and I like to work with a room full of gear, and a hard drive-or four-full of jams sessions and ideas and fragments and lists and I get excited about the complicated nature of having the whole system of work that can sort of gel together in different ways. And that’s what I am stepping away from, as I’m sort of looking for a more singular, present approach. That would be the general way to put it.
Brian Bavosa: With the MSG and the New Year’s Run coming up, which obviously is familiar territory and old stomping grounds at this point in your career, do you find it hard taking off months at a time now and trying to jump back into it for a short stint of shows, in terms of regaining the momentum that you’ve built up?
Mike Gordon: It’s easier with Phish to jump back in because we have the 28 years of experience and I guess that’s what also makes it fun with my solo band is because we don’t have that, we end up throwing caution to the wind and it’s even more unexpected from not having so much history. But with Phish, I know there’s a consistency that is going to be there – these days anyway. I know it’s gonna feel good. I know that when we play four nights, there’s going to be a couple of those that I really love, or certain sets, so there isn’t really any trepidation going into it.
Brian Bavosa: How would you now, after a couple of years back on the road with Phish, describe the state of the band?
Mike Gordon: I guess I tend to describe bands and music in some abstract terms, so I don’t know if id be able to put a label on Phish 3.0, or whichever point-O we are at, but I’m really into it. There’s been a lot of really inspirational stuff for me where there are just these things happening like leaving room for the unexpected and there’s ways to allow that to happen within your personality. So, it’s all these things: I just love to have all of these incredible experiences and take all of these life lessons and musical lessons. For me, all of that is happening great in Phish [these days].
The machine that is the machine of musical peak experiences is a machine that is working well, it’s lubed and even if we haven’t played since summer, it’s gonna happen.
Mike Gordon Dates
11/12 – Portsmouth Music Hall, Portsmouth NH
11/13 – Lebanon Opera House, Lebanon NH
12/9 – The Met Cafe, Pawtucket RI
12/10 – Calvin Theatre, Northampton MA
12/11 – The Egg, Albany NY
12/28 – 31 – Madison Square Garden, New York NY
Look for the rest of Brian’s chat with Mike Gordon in early December.