Mike Gordon: Access Me
Are you still living in New York now or based full time in Vermont?
Full time in Vermont. My loft was up for sale, I just rented it, so that might have been a trigger in my decision to leave New York. But, also, something about Vermont resonates with my soul. I have a lot of fun in New York, and have done some great things there, but something about New York wears away at my soul [laughs]. Transitions seem to happen in groupings for me. Phish ended, we had our last concert and my cat, who was 18 years old, died a week later. Then I found out about my loft. I’ve sort of accepted that it was just a huge transition period.
What’s the current status of Phish’s 20th anniversary video? Are you still hoping for a 2005 release?
The person who is really going to finish it is Jared who works with me. He is now doing some freelancing, but he was on salary for three and a half years. He is the one who edited that together, but we can’t really work on it yet. We’re waiting for all the clearances. The problem is there are all these great shots where there is either a special guest, which is a little bit easier, or a cover song, which is a little bit harder. Especially if it’s a Beatles song. Normally, they would charge $198,000 for eight seconds. What that means is that we would have to cut the moment out. It’s tough. Like there is a great shot of Tom Marshall singing “Tommy.” It’s the only shot of Tom and its unlikely that we are going to be able to get the rights to that song, so we might not be able to get Tom in the video. So, that’s a challenge we are going to have to face. Its like a six month period of trying to acquire licenses.
After Phish’s hiatus, Page told Relix that he came back to the band with a greater respect for the responsibility of “the leadership role.” Do you find, being the leader of your own career at this point, that you are comfortable in that role?
I think it’s great for me…And I am feeling comfortable? Yeah. I never really needed to be a bandleader. It’s not necessarily my personality. It’s kind of like being in the engine room and making the ship work, but not necessarily steering. I never felt the need to really plan out where we were going to play and make these great decisions. But, now, I think its great for me. It forces me to take more initiative and I’m just really excited. Sometimes it’s nice not knowing what something is going to be like. For example, the band I am going to put together. I am not sure what type of repertoire we’d do. I think the band I put together after Inside In worked great and I think I might use some of the same musicians, but I want this to be a little different. When you don’t know how something is going to be like, I think you have this vision that can really be incredible. When it starts to be solidified, it gets more contained [laughs]. So, right now, I am really just enjoying the fantasy and coming up with an idea for writing and playing.
Is there anything you took away from your experience in Phish that you plan to apply to your upcoming project? Do you find that you’ve tried to apply many of the same creative methods, especially in terms of songwriting and rehearsal techniques?
Well, my process was always very….well I wasn’t very prolific first of all. It’s more that Trey had a process, not that I would want to copy his process. He tried a lot of different things, which is cool. He is really good at setting a specific goal for a certain time period and following through with it and each time trying something different. But, it would still be kind of fresh for me to try some of his methods. Unless, of course, I got Ernie Stires, as my composition teacher and Tom Marshall, as my lyricist. Well, actually [laughs] Tom and I have talked about doing some stuff together. But, if I was to follow in his [Trey] footsteps it would be weird.
There are different directions I could go in not being in Phish. It its hard to know what they are [pause]. I just have so much admiration for Trey’s songwriting and the songs he brought to the band. If I did anything as cool as “Split Open and Melt”, I would be really happy. But, on the other hand, it is a chance to try new directions and I am just figuring out the paths.
This is what Trey would have said too: “If you really allow yourself to create with your own voice, then it’s going to be unique. Whereas if you’re striving to copy someone you’re not allowing the moment to exist.” I think he might have heard me write a couple of songs over the years where I was trying to sound like another band or something. But, then he would hear me do something which was very Mike-ish—- maybe have a certain voice or something and say, “Oh that’s really Mike.”
It’s the same with my filmmaking. If you apply discipline to the equation there is a lot of room to take what is purely inside and let in everything from certain sounds to chord progressions to certain approaches. There is stuff that I’ve always wanted to do, but never done. I’ve always wanted to be in complete darkness playing the bass, seeing what bass notes come up and then writing songs from that. So, if I was that open to the moment it wouldn’t be something that Phish would have done.
Your songs tend to deal with somewhat abstract concepts. Yet, you seem to be very in touch with your thoughts and inner emotions. You even keep a dream log. Do any of your newest songs approach these recent changes in a more abstract way?
Well, I have been liking singing the song “Invisible,” which is the last song on the album. It’s about being with someone who is disappearing. But, that’s change. As someone whose been divorced, someone disappearing is definitely change. I think it kind of addresses the tragedy, or the irony, of that but it does address that, or at least attempts to somehow. In a way, I think my own songwriting has gone along with the bigger bulk of songwriting Trey and Tom have done. In the earlier days trying to be as whimsical and possible, and out there as possible, and in the later days trying to be as from the heart as possible.
Actually, in November [‘04], I wrote a whole batch of songs that Leo and I didn’t use at all. But, there are some good ones in there. I am using the same sort of calypso bass and drum tracks, but you can tell I am tying to push further away and I’m trying to get more sophisticated both in terms of the chord progressions, the guitar parts and the lyrics. But, in a way, it came out kind of how you would expect something described as “sophisticated” to come out [laughs]. Like it needs to lose that aspect [laughs].
But, I think it was an important clump of songs to write and an attempt at development. People I’ve played them for say I should do something with those songs but I don’t know if I will. It’s sort of an attempt at stretching in a different direction. In a way, since I’ve written so few songs, there is so much room for growth. With Phish, Trey’s songwriting was so great that I didn’t need to write as much and now I just enjoy the concept of writing songs. When I have the solo band, I really want to do something I’ve never done before.
Have you written or recorded with your former bandmates at all recently?
No, though there is definitely talk of pairing off. Fish and I live in the same town and we really want to get together and do some recording and Trey and I have been talking. We’re all friendly and we all appreciate each other’s musicality, so it makes sense for some of that to go on.
Do you a see a time when Phish would get back on the road?
I don’t think so…but you never know. If I had to put my money on something it would be us not getting back together on the road. If it happened, we might have a different name and a whole different context of music. It would still be the four of us, so it would be very much the same chemistry, but otherwise it might not be recognizable as Phish at all.
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Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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