By Andy Gadiel
Hello, thanks for calling the hotline... Let us know how you're feeling, how your day is going. What sorts of things are on your mind? Whatcha doing this weekend? What's making you click, today? What's making you YOU? OK...
The genuinely curious, enigmatic, and expressive Mike Gordon invites his fans to share their thoughts with him everyday on his voicemail. An interactive experiment now in its third year, Gordon has resisted his urge to put the forum to rest. Started as a semi-promotional mechanism for his solo album Inside In, it has become a bit of an obsession for both Mike and his loyal listeners who leave cryptic messages in response to his often prodding and revealing intros. Most of the time the mailbox is full, proving that at least a handful of passionate folks make a point to keep Gordon on his toes.
THE ISLAND VIBE
Mike has kept himself extremely busy traveling, writing, and recording new music since the departure of Phish last year. His latest effort, Sixty Six Steps is not just a follow-up to his initial collaboration with Leo Kottke, Clone, but a new direction of experimentation and exploration. Recorded in the Bahamas, the album has a natural island calypso flow and a relaxed mood, which is both easy listening and complex. Fluid and layered, the entire piece emanates with a clear and distinctive 'vibe.' I had the opportunity to speak with Mike for a few moments last month about his latest project, the past, the present, and the future.
Kottke & Gordon :: Bahamas
"It's been kind of all about the vibe. I had that childhood experience which was very intense and emotional being down there [The Bahamas] on vacation hearing all that music. I went down and had bass and drum jams with Neil [Symonette] and then tried to write some songs. It seemed like there was something in Leo's playing that matched that whole vibe, and it started to make sense. It sort of fell together by itself. Some of the best projects are like that."
While the Island vibe is a clear and prevalent force on the album, it serves to underscore the recording's surroundings and lends support to many of the original songs and distinctive covers.
"It was a question of how far to go with it. Some of the calypso patterns are very specific about how the guitar should sound. I didn't want Leo to do anything except what he normally does, so there is the fine line between them."
Mike Gordon - Sitting on the Dock of a Bay
"'Rake and Scrape' is the tradition Bahamian calypso version. A lot of the traditional calypso stuff had a lot of horns too, but what I heard by the poolside when I was twelve was just bass, drums, guitar, and keyboard playing these rhythms that were so exotic sounding to my ear that I didn't even know where they were coming from. The bass line tended to be on the up-beat a lot, which is a lot more like Latin music than reggae... almost Afro-Cuban. It's almost like if you took the Afro-Cuban groove and put in a lot of major chords and fast guitar strumming, then that would be the calypso sound. Usually there is one guitar that is strumming fiercely on every 16th note. I was considering going in and erasing every first note of whatever Leo randomly plays, and I think we tried that and used it in at least one case."
GETTING OFF THE GRID
As we've seen in previous projects, Mike's work tends to tell the story of his own life experiences, which is especially prevalent in the aptly titled track, "The Grid," off he and Kottke's new release Sixty Six Steps.
"The whole story is pretty much true to my own interpretation. I got out there off the grid and realized I wasn't far enough out. I was sort of seeing it as my cabin that I lived in for twelve years and of course my home studio was in Vermont. And then after that, I was in New York, but the cabin I saw as off the grid because it was secluded in the woods with no other houses in view and was supposed to be off the grid. Going there I was discovering that I was still living a normal life and that's not good enough. So that's why the line – 'I told my friends and family that I wasn't very well hid' [is in there]."
Mike Gordon by Jay Blakesberg
"I don't know what it was, it [the version of "Sweet Emotion" on Sixty Six Steps] just clicked or 'what the hell' let's try this one. The people I was hanging out with when I thought of the idea thought it was a terrible idea."
Many Phish Fans will appreciate Gordon's solid take on the often-covered "Ya Mar." He even snuck in a "Play it Leo" for good synchronistic measure.
"I listened to the original version of 'Ya Mar' by Cyril Ferguson. It's so good. It's just this amazing groove, and the plastic on my album is so worn down that it's kind of fuzzy. When I went down to the Bahamas when I was younger, they played all of their songs with that groove. Even the ones they played by the poolside became over-produced on their album except that one."
Typically self-evaluating, Mike gave some perspective into his own process by sharing this story of the post-production experience.
"Being in the Bahamas, I started to really get into it - the process - and then I got home and I let some time go by. I went for a drive; I really like going for a drive to listen to music. What happened was I was able to listen as a complete outsider on this drive. I wasn't the one who had gone to the Bahamas or Costa Rica but was maybe some Phish fan or whoever had picked up the album. I was listening to the bass and the instruments kind of weave in and out, and I completely fell in love with it. It was just a complete peak experience."
"Although it turns out the treble knob was completely off, and I didn't realize it. It was an accident - a subliminal bass player habit."
Mike and Leo are about to embark upon a month-and-a-half, twenty-five show tour. Playing as a duo will give them an opportunity to offer a truly intimate experience.
"We both really liked playing with him [Neil] and he recorded the album with us, but there's something special that happens with the duo too."
Kottke & Gordon :: 6.19.05 :: Telluride Bluegrass Festival
By Tobin Voggesser
"On this last tour, for the first time ever I used no bass amp and no monitors, so the sound had to come from the bass itself. I got an acoustic bass guitar, and I heard Leo just from his guitar itself and a little bit from the front of house. It was the softest sound I ever heard on stage in my entire life, even with the percussion."
Never one to rest for long, Mike has plans to get right back to work upon his return:
"The tour ends in the first couple of days in November. Hopefully by then my studio should be done. It was supposed to take a couple of months but will likely take a year. It's my attic designed by the same guy who designed Trey's barn. Everything is a bit one-off using weird materials including Cyprus that was underwater for a few years. When the studio is done, I'm going to start writing and put the solo band together again."