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Postcard from Vermont: Mike Gordon (Throwback Thursday)

by Mike Greenhaus on August 14, 2014

“My goal was not to just make one album, but a whole repertoire,” he says with an honest smile. “At first, I thought I wanted to write mostly instrumental music, but then I realized I wanted to sing about something I really cared about, so I spent a month or two just thinking about lyrics and getting inside my process.”

As opposed to the ever-prolific Anastasio, Gordon only showcased a handful of original songs throughout Phish’s entire career, many of which were among the group’s most whimsical. Sometimes he’d labor over a single composition for weeks or even months. He tried different methods as well: During Phish’s hiatus, he even rented space in New York’s Woolworth Building and wrote for eight hours a day, as if it was his office job. “I have my antennas up for catchphrases or concepts, some ironic vision or philosophy and, when I have a certain groove or melody I will remember those concepts and kind of match them.”

For his current project, Gordon spent January through September 2007 working on a batch of songs by himself, sometimes spending two months on a single number. For the most part, he played all the instruments, sharpening his guitar chops and working off a series of drum loops. Then last October he brought in longtime collaborator Jared Slomoff.

“I came up with two rules: one was that Jared and I would work for eight hours and completely demo a song each day. Sometimes we’d sit here, at Sacred Ground, and have these ‘lyric lunches’ and, at the end of the week, we’d listen to these five new songs. The other rule was that nothing could start from scratch. Mostly we worked off of some idea, guitar pattern or a bass/drum jam I had done with Joe Russo, Doug Belote or Jon Fishman at some point over the last 20 years.”

Gordon finished out the year by himself, working at a brisk pace and, by December, had 62 new songs, which he then whittled down to 27, 17, 14 and, eventually, the ten songs that comprise The Green Sparrow.

“I wanted to make a rock album,” Gordon says, firmly. “I’ve done bluegrass, calypso, country and jazzy stuff, but I wanted to make a funky rock album that is uptempo and dancey because that’s what this phase of my life feels like. My other goal is that I wanted my music to be more accessible and my lyrics to be less obscure. I wanted the songs to reach out, but be more sophisticated at the same time.”

In order to sculpt his demos into fully realized songs, Gordon brought in a who’s who of jam talent to record overdubs, including Fishman, McConnell, Belote, Russ Lawton, the Antibalas Horns, Gordon Stone and Ivan Neville, the latter of whom actually laid down his tracks at 3 a.m. after a gig. Over Leap Day weekend he also spent time at New York’s Electric Lady studio, recording a few songs with the dream team of Anastasio, Kreutzmann, Chuck Leavell and, on one song, Max Creek’s Scott Murawski. Russo also stopped by to play with the ad hoc group on “XX,” a number Gordon built from a bass/drum jam the pair recorded five years ago.

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