Phish, No Fear Of Flying: An Interview with Mike Gordon Part II (Relix Revisited)
Here is the conclusion of an extended conversation with Phish bassist Mike Gordon, conducted by former Relix editor Toni Brown for the October 1995 issue of the magazine. Click here for part one if you haven’t read it yet.
I’d expect there to be differing philosophies in the band. Where do you think you’ll be in ten years?
Gordon: Usually, we talk about our goals, and we never predict the future. We like to think that certain ideals that we had would stay, and one of them is that idea of evolution. Having the music continue to change so that we would be writing new songs and trying new things, and I guess the other is that some things would stay the same. That brings it back to the same thing, the continuity that we’d still be able to get on stage and sort of fly.
Do you ever have a night where you just don’t feel it?
Gordon: Yeah, yeah. There used to be nights that were horrible. I think that we’ve gotten to a point where, even if things aren’t clicking quite as well, it’s still okay. We’re more likely to say, “Well, tomorrow will be okay.” It’s a bad feeling to leave a gig, especially if the last song was bad, because then, as musicians, we’ll spend the next 24 hours till the next gig in a bad mood and we’ve just let people down and let ourselves down. If that happens, it’s usually because different people in the band are distracted or they’re in their own worlds. There are other reasons. It could be that the acoustics are bad and we couldn’t hear each other and we couldn’t hook up for that reason. If it’s really roomy or maybe sometimes it’s good to be in an alpha state, but if we’re overly tired—it takes a certain amount of healthiness and clear-headedness to be able to focus and focusing is what it’s all about, I think.
Often, we get off the stage and analyze what we did, probably more than most bands. Maybe a little bit too much. Actually, I’m thankful for it because we’re so good at communicating, so open, that even if we go overboard sometimes, at least it gets our feelings out. Sometimes it’s not clear, there’s a lot of communication that goes on on-stage. Even just eye contact. But sometimes, we’ll get the wrong message. Trey will look at Fish and Fish will think that he’s sped up the song too much. Really Trey is trying to say “You’re not hooking up with me.” These days, it’s usually not bad but maybe not as great, and sometimes it’s just unpredictable. It’ll just happen and it’s definitely the nature of taking risks and improvising.
Do you go out with set lists?
Gordon: Trey actually writes out a set list, which ends up being a sketch of what we’ll do. We’ll veer off from it. It’s more of a list of ideas in case we can’t think of what to do, we’ll return to it.
Do you find that you just pick up in things and go with it?
Gordon: I never see a set list myself, actually. But, yeah the best sets are sets where it just goes up on tangents. I like this idea of playing with structure, and sometimes we’ll just start jamming between songs for no reason, and occasionally, we’ll break up on a tangent in an unexpected place, like between two verses of a song, or we’ll cut a song in half. But going with the flow works out the best. Trey writes the set list in an effort not to repeat songs. He gets a computer printout of what we played last year in the same place, what we played the last couple of nights and anywhere in the region recently so that we can be as different as possible. And then he writes a set list, and then we veer off from it. Lately, almost every night, we’ve been having at least one unplanned jam which is thirty or forty minutes long. We don’t know when it’s gonna happen or if it’s gonna happen. So the set list really gets forgotten.
You do a lot of Beatles covers.
Gordon: We have a lot of respect for the Beatles as songwriters. We just watched The Making of Sgt. Pepper’s where it shows them in the studio. For Halloween, we asked people to vote on what album they wanted us to play. They sent in letters through [our newsletter] Doniac Schvice.
The Beatles’ White Album got the most votes, so we learned that. The songs were simple, but to learn all of them and all the harmonies in two weeks, it wasn’t at all that easy and that was just the second set of a three set gig. It was a five-and-a-half hour gig. But we still play some of those songs. The Beatles were extremely creative in the studio with songwriting, and I think we all have a lot of respect for that. Growing up, the first album I ever listened to was Abbey Road, which my parents had. My first few years, that was the only album that I ever listened to.
I think you guys would probably jam into infinitum if you felt like it—if it weren’t for unions and curfews.
Gordon: Sometimes we might. You never know. (Laughter).
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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