HT Interview: Catching Up With Mike Gordon – Part 2

After a pair of solo shows in November that have fans abuzz about the world and playing of Mike Gordon, today we present the second installment [Part One Here] of Brian Bavosa’s chat with the Phish bass player, leading up to his final three solo performances of the year. Gordon and his five-piece band are set to perform at The Met Cafe in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on Friday, The Calvin Theatre in Northampton, Mass. on Saturday and The Egg in Albany on Sunday.

[Photo by Parker Harrington]

Continuing onward about his solo career, and his newest role, fatherhood, Gordon opens up about not only the future of his career, but about his songwriting process and the days of G.R.A.B. in 2006, where he played with fellow Phish bandmate Trey Anastasio, along with Joe Russo and Marco Benevento. So dig in and enjoy, as Gordon prepares to hit the road with his solo band before finishing out 2011 with four Phish shows at Madison Square Garden.

Brian Bavosa: Your band played two shows in November, how did it go?

Mike Gordon:  It was a whirlwind of activity getting ready and hitting the road for our first weekend in six months. There was a certain smoothness of intention which felt great in the first set – like instead of the music playing itself, our souls played themselves, or at least mine did. That may sound strange but that’s how it felt. There was a relaxedness and a tightness despite it being fresh, and it was also great to have a few new songs, including an epic cover and a new original, Sideways. That one in particular felt smooooth – it’s almost reggaeish, and yet dimented enough such that I don’t know what it is… A simple, haunting little ditty about the world on its side. Or something… Very cool to rehearse something and try so many subtle variations of groove and approach – tight vs. loose, repeating vs. improvised – and then remembering that it’s only on stage that the final element walks in the door – the magic.

Brian Bavosa: How has fatherhood changed your approach to music?

Mike Gordon: That’s a really good question and no one else has asked it yet, I think. I always thought in other people that became parents that their personalities changed in a certain way. I guess there’s a certain humbleness. Well maybe it’s the nurturing quality that they program themselves for sometimes carries over to their colleagues that they are working with. I get so hung up in my own projects that I can be a very non-friendly person or very non-nurturing person to those around me [laughs], so I don’t know if that applies to me.

What happens to some degree as a parent, is to what degree you think you can control – you can’t. Because the variables are changing quicker than you can predict and in terms of the reactions and the personality shifts and the mind shifts, you know it’s just a very unpredictable situation. One month you are not going to sleep at all, and then the next month you are going to sleep. And everything having to do with that, I think it’s sort of humbling. You find some humility.

So, as a band leader, in my situation, you know, I guess I’m already a band leader that likes a lot of input from the others. I’m not a very autocratic band leader, and as a father, I’m taking a lot of input, maybe too much. Maybe I’m giving her, Tessa, too many choices? I think you develop a kind of aptitude for going with the flow more, because you are going to get a screaming tantrum out of the nicest mood all of a sudden and you have to just be ready to go with it. So, in musical situations, it might not be the screaming tantrum, but it might be a different version of that that probably gives me a little more resilience to be able to go with the flow and that’s a good thing. It makes so things don’t have to be safe.

Brian Bavosa: That’s a very interesting way to put that. I think that not only represents your solo work, but also Phish’s music.  To just be able to, at any given moment,  go in a different direction.

Mike Gordon:  There’s a big phase of the unknown that we try and cultivate, and a lot of my favorite stuff ends up being that way. I’ve mentioned this before, but my band in March, the first 16 nights had 14 shows. Five on, one off, five on, one off, four on. You know, something that Phish would never do. The nice thing about it is the wheels and engine are really greased.

One night in Minneapolis, we were across the street having dinner and I didn’t get enough sleep and was tired and I was sort of worried about maybe the setlist or maybe there was some new song that I didn’t feel like we knew well enough and we wanted to play and maybe I didn’t think was ready, there was something that was getting me a little on edge. And I don’t know what did it, but my whole mood shifted. I guess I’m a moody person where I can have these shifts, and I just pictured the stage right across the street, or could actually look out the window and see it, and pictured it as this sort of playground or arts-and-crafts studio picturing myself 20 minutes in the future and thinking anything can happen. The songs that we play, what’s said between songs, what people do, what we do, it just felt like Tessa going into an arts-and-crafts place that they have for kids, where it’s really pretty open-ended. You could be gluing things together or you could be using magic markers, or you could turn something into your materials that wasn’t intended to be your materials. And I just got this euphoric feeling, maybe childlike feeling, and then it ended up just feeling so good with that attitude going into it, and actually we ended up releasing that night. And that wasn’t the only night, but it was just an example that I remember.

[Photo by Joe Ringus]

PAGE TWO = The Story of Susskind Hotel

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