Mike Gordon: In His Own Words

There is sometimes a fine line between complete heaven and complete hell, where I wake one morning and I feel like, "What am I? A joke? The bass player from some band, that sure people liked but the music industry in general didn't take seriously, plus I wasn't the principle songwriter and no one knows who I am and I don't matter."

-Mike Gordon


How do you stay focused?

It's hard. This is a very busy year for me, both personally and career-wise. I have a new album, a new band, [a new] tour and I have all of this culminating at the same time. So, there's just a million decisions every day. There's concert events that need to be named and contests that need to be planned. We're doing this variety show in Chicago, where there's all kinds of possibilities. It's been pretty much a year where there's ten new decisions to make, and each takes some serious consideration. Not to mention learning all the songs and figuring out cover songs and working with the band members. It's kind of been a whirlwind.

Murawski & Gordon
Rothbury by D. Vann
Staying focused is hard, but I guess what happens is when I'm so busy then by default I have to just pick one thing and stick to it. Right now, that's playing with a new band. It's what I think about when I wake up in the morning. The idea is just to make it as fun as possible, and Rothbury just felt so good and was so inspiring. It was only our third gig and I think it took us a few to really just get comfortable. It can take bands months or years to have that good feeling. Even the week of practice in my studio in Vermont was very inspiring. It was a lot better than I thought it would be in terms of where the music would go and then applying it to the stage. [With] so many things on my to-do list, I basically shut down and say I have a new band that I want to focus on, and that's what I'm going to do.

How do you stay inspired and innovative amidst the focus?

It always goes in phases, but this book, The Artist's Way, was very inspiring in terms of that. Trey had recommended it ten years ago, and then I ended up reading it last year. It's the best selling book on creativity ever written and it's about returning to your childish sense of wonder. Even though it's been months since I read the book, there's two weekly exercises that I still do. It's really helpful in terms of inspiration. The weekly one is that you go on an artist date, a date with yourself for two hours. It's sort of leisurely. Every week I have an appointment where the first hour is unwinding and realizing what box I had been in, where my consciousness had been tied up, maybe thinking about a bassline or thinking about other responsibilities. And then the second hour, once the unwinding has happened, I get really inspired and think of all these ideas for things.

So, I'm on my artist date and I'm walking around - I actually did it with Scott Murawski, the guitar player [in Gordon's band] – and we walked through Boston on Newbury Street and we just brainstormed: If we could do something crazy with the new band and logistics didn't matter, what would it be? We took turns and it was really great to just have that little bit of time when there's no responsibility. Just for this evening, we're not going to learn songs or make decisions; we're just going to, say, unwind a little.

With Phish we always did that, even riding around as a band together, especially the earliest years. Any time we had together was spent brainstorming fun or crazy things we could do. Even if there were a 100 brainstorms on every van ride and we couldn't do them all, there were a few that got done. And that became what Phish was.

Later, there were so many talented people involved that sometimes there was less of the four band members doing this thinking together, and we were so busy that maybe it got to be a little more letting other creative people do some brainstorming and get together for meetings. It's better when the band can really give a lot of input. So now that I have this creative outlet I've always wanted I'm finding it overwhelming, because there's so much [to handle]. I wish I could sit down for a day with some of these decisions and just contemplate, but there are no days. I don't have a single day in my calendar when I don't have stuff to do. But it's good to be busy.

You were the one member of Phish who was against the break-up, but now it seems as though you're the busiest. Are you even craving Phish at this point?

Gordon & Anastasio :: Rothbury by D. Vann
I was the one against [the break-up], but only at first. Not too much time passed and I was really into the creative spaciousness that was there in my life that I would be able to fill. There's always this fear, sometimes I don't know if it's me or the nature of being an artist in general, but there is sometimes a fine line between complete heaven and complete hell, where I wake one morning and I feel like, "What am I? A joke? The bass player from some band, that sure people liked but the music industry in general didn't take seriously, plus I wasn't the principle songwriter and no one knows who I am and I don't matter."

In a matter of hours, I'll be working on a song and thinking, "This is the best thing in the world, it's unlike anything I've heard before. It's directly from my heart and it's got so much potential and I'm so excited and I can't wait to play it onstage or record it for the album." So, all within the course of one day, I can have pretty serious attitudinal shifts, which is why something like The Artist's Way can be so helpful because it balances, takes away the fears and puts them in their place and goes for the joys.

In terms of Phish, after that initial grieving period, which was a lot quicker than I thought it would be, I ended up having dreams, and the dreams were always backstage, they weren't really on stage. Backstage was very exotic, like we'd be playing on some rolling hills and there would be this crazy canyon with this river going through it and we were all taking turns going through these gondolas down the water and having these really weird experiences. And then, the stage is maybe 40 feet up overlooking the rolling hills and everything is really exotic and the relationship between the band members is special. I think I just missed them as people, especially in the first year when we weren't really talking too much. We didn't need a hiatus from our friendships because the friendships never waned, but we were just taking some natural time off. But, I missed them. We would hang out at band practice in real life or on the tour bus, and there's just this effortless rhythm of conversation or just shooting the shit and laughing and making each other laugh. In the last year when we've gotten together that's come back.

I've had little feelings of craving Phish but I'm so wrapped up in this thing that's so new for me that I feel like I need a little bit more time. I've got so much inspiration for the new band. Most of my inspiration is there and it's not getting displaced by Phish cravings.

I'm very thankful that everyone in Phish is still healthy so that we might be able to do it again. When we broke up I said that longevity with Phish is that we could build something that is irreplaceable. I think we all know that the chemistry of twenty years together is irreplaceable, but it's so great for me to get to do these new things and try out new combinations of people. There's no reason that both things can't coexist eventually, potentially, and so I'm not really antsy about the Phish thing. I'm much more antsy to get out on the road and make another solo album. But, I'm gonna really enjoy it when Phish does happen. 'Craving' isn't the word that comes to mind but 'excitement' is, about all these things.

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