Phish, No Fear Of Flying: An Interview with Mike Gordon (Relix Revisited)
The name Phish conjures up the image of water. There’s a lot of imagery in your lyrics. But water seems to be pervasive.
Gordon: Well, Trey is the main songwriter, and I know with him, that he fantasizes a lot about floating, whether it’s in the air or in the water. I think it’s that kind of motion. Even when we’re not singing, I think maybe the improvisation has an underwater sort of feeling to it sometimes. A lot of times on-stage I have these feelings of motion. If the groove is really happening, it can feel like flying through the air. My theory about that is if you were really flying through the air, if [your] hang glider or whatever was actually bringing you through the air, the feeling of that, well, it’s physical but it comes into the brain as perceptions. So why not argue that you can be standing perfectly still and somehow have those same perceptions? That’s been a theme in my dreams, too. In dreams, I’ve been flying a lot, but I’ve been doing this new thing where I try to convince myself that it’s okay to fly up even though gravity is going on because gravity isn’t real in the dream. So I’ll fly up and look over the whole neighborhood and then go higher and look over the whole city and then swoop down and crash into a building and talk to people and go back up. But I think that we sort of fantasize about motion, and it’s real interesting to me the way that motion will change when the bass line changes.
Technically, if you look at a rhythmic pattern, we do a lot with rhythmic patterns, changing one accent or one syncopation will make the feeling of motion very different.
A bass is like and anchor, so it’s going to change the feel of movement.
Gordon: It changes the feel of movement, and it does it in different ways. There’s a way of playing where you can forget about scales, just think about going up and down or fast and slow. We do our listening exercises sometimes where we just improvise on tempo or texture. With the bass, for me, it’s an ongoing experiment. If I’m playing, I’ll play another note and just see what it does emotionally in terms of the group.
But what we were talking about is the underwater thing. I think that’s what it is. It’s probably a fantasy. Trey actually does a lot of diving and scuba diving, which I’ve never done before. He knows what it actually feels like to be under there. I would actually like to try hang gliding, but I know it’s very dangerous.
All these ideas that I’ve been thinking about are sort of popping into my head, and I feel another tangent coming on. I’m good at going off on a tangent and remembering where I came from. Sometimes I talk about my peak experience in November of ’85. We were playing for [a few] people in the middle of nowhere at Goddard College, and I’ve definitely grown since then and I’ve learned how to achieve those levels of consciousness in music and new musical levels since then. But I still consider that to be my peak experience. How transcendent it was.
So when I think about growth, there’s change and there’s continuity. I think that for me it’s important to remember that there is an underlying, universal thing that stays the same, and that there’s goal to return to it. In terms of growth and change, it’s an argument that comes up between me and Trey and it has for the whole 12 years. He and Fish especially say their philosophy is originality and innovation. That’s important to me, but the way that I define the musical experience is that it’s not actually an artistic experience for me. It’s not art that’s driving me forward, and [it’s not] being creative and innovating and trying to be new and original, which are artistic values. For me, it’s more of a religious thing, where surrendering to the moment, meditating, are the supreme ideals for me.
Recently, on the bus, [Trey and I] had what was actually a fierce [discussion]. I say fierce because we were raising our voices. We [usually] communicate really well, which has been one of our keys to success. But what the argument was about, and this will tie things together, I think, is Trey said, “You know, in some ways we’re a popular, happening, improvisational band in the ‘90s right now. It’s good timing for us—people are interested in improvised music and we’re selling out some good places and word has spread about Phish. And inevitably, what’s gonna happen is that another band’s gonna come along and despite all the ways we try to stretch limits with improvisation and the listening exercises and everything that we do, jamming in new ways, another younger band’s gonna come, and they’re going to do things that we have never even thought of doing. And we should accept that that will be another step in the evolution.”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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