Mike Gordon: Access Me
On Clone you and Leo co-wrote several songs together. But on Sixty Six Steps you are credited individually. Why shift your songwriting approach?
Well, we worked on a bunch of arrangements together, though, we credited each other separately. Leo always comes up with his own parts pretty much.
Was most of the material on Sixty Sixty Steps intended specifically for this album then?
Well, there is sort of a whole variety of songs. There are some songs we had actually played together before and there are some covers. I went through this phase where in ’03 where I went down and recorded bass and drum jams with Neil at the same studio we eventually recorded Sixty Six Steps at. Then I went home and wrote songs from them. I probably have about 40 songs from that session. It was actually more in ’04 that I wrote the songs, once in the spring and one in the fall. They were all calypso sounding, but they varied in terms of how close to the traditional form they came out. Then, I brought all of those songs to Leo and we picked 3 or 4 of them to use on the album. Actually, the song “Access Me,” which we used in Phish, was from the same batch and intended for use with Leo. On the album “Invisible,” “Over the Dam,” “The Grid” and “The Stolen Quiet” were all from those sessions.
Since the mid-1990s you have collaborated with lyricist Joe Linitz [his name first appeared next to “Train Song” on Billy Breathes in 1996]. Can you shed some light on how your songwriting partnership has evolved over the years?
Well, he sends me stuff, but it’s not in song form. That’s always the way it’s been. Half of the songs I wrote from those demos were just me, and half of the songs stemmed from Joe’s stuff. But, more than ever, I took little bits of Joe’s work, a line or even just an image from some line he had written. With Leo, I’m playing the song “Foundation,” which we recorded, but ended up not making the album. It’s pretty much Joe’s lyrics right up until the middle of the song and all me from the second half. But, there are some songs when I’ll just read his prose and a line will trigger an image and I’ll write a song from that. He will usually send packets of stuff. We haven’t done as much writing in the room together as Trey and Tom, but we have tried some. On Clone I used some of his lyrics untouched.
On your album Inside In, you wrote most of your own lyrics. Later, you applied one of that album’s tracks, “The Beltless Buckler,” to your repertoire with The Duo. Even though it seems to boast some of your most abstract lyrics, it does deal with something I’ve heard you mention often in interviews, that your belt buckle scratches your bass when you play.
Well, in terms of the music, I knew I wanted to have that sort of Western theme. It’s kind of my own character’s theme in the movie Outside Out. When I dress up as the cowboy/musician that is the music you hear. It’s supposed to kind of make fun of itself, so the melody is very simple. The lyrics came from this one shot in which I stand up and I have a belt buckle on, but no belt. We were putting the scene together really quickly and we had a belt buckle but no belt so we just taped it on. So, it seemed the perfect thing to do [laughs].
I like that the melody is so simple and recognizable. I almost feel like I must have copied it from someone without knowing. Maybe I have and there is another song with that melody. The Duo have a lot of nice melodies, which are melodic and simple, so it seemed to go along with their sound.
Do you plan to tour with The Duo again around the holidays?
There is some talk, but I am not sure yet. We’re not even sure what cities we’d play, so I’d give it a maybe at this point.
Some of the most surprising selections on Sixty Six Steps are its covers. Whose choice was it cover Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion?”
It stemmed from the label saying that they’ve had a lot of success getting Leo airplay from covers, but Aerosmith was all me! It all stemmed from Fleetwood Mac’s “The World Keeps Turning,” which I was rebelling against covering. I was actually rebelling against the idea of covers altogether, but eventually, I thought it would be cool. I put together a list of over fifty covers and put them on CD including “Sweet Emotion.” I suggested it to friends of mine and they said, “No way, that’s not going to be good.” So, I recorded it first by myself. On the album, Neil played percussion and it sounded great, really eerie. But, when I took it home, I thought it might not even make it on the album. It sounded noodley to me actually—like a jamband searching, but not finding. But, when we got to mixing, it we added a synthetic drum track and it sort of anchored it down the middle. It was really difficult because we had recorded the song live and we were speeding up down the middle and then slowing down, so we had to take every bar from the drum track and then stretch it out with the music at that moment.
After so many years in Phish, did you make a conscious decision to move away from jamming?
No. The jamming concept is dear to me. But [on “Sweet Emotion”] we were noodling and it wasn’t working. You can hear bands, or certain Phish tapes, or whatever when it sounds like we are searching and not finding it. It sort of implies that the people are in their own worlds and not connecting. Just sort of going up and down scales and thinking about different things. So, that’s what it sounded like to me—-the bad side of jamming. But, once we anchored the track, I really liked it. I tend to go on this one drive in Vermont and listen to music as an outsider, really objectively, “Sweet Emotion,” sounded so perfect to me.
Speaking of Vermont, can you talk about your new recording studio?
It’s this house I’ve had for a couple of years while I had been living in New York, but I just moved in this year. I am building a studio, but it is taking way too long [laughs]. I’m redesigning the whole attic level, but, again, it is taking way too long. I want to get in there and do some writing. I have some sort of abstract ideas for an approach to writing, but it can go in any direction. All I know is that I want to be really committed to it before I start.
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