Mike Gordon Talks New Solo Album and Being 'Deeply In Love' With Phish
This week, Phish bassist Mike Gordon releases his fourth solo album, "Overstep." The 11-song set features contributions from longtime Gordon collaborator Scott Murawski as well as acclaimed drummer Matt Chamberlain (Fiona Apple, Tori Amos) and finds him exploring a range of different music styles, from rock to reggae to funk.
"So much of what I hear on the radio seems to use the same tonality and the same groove," Gordon says. "But every once in awhile you hear a track, you crank it up, and it feels fresh. To me, I just get bored so quickly with the same sounds."
"Overstep" isn't the only thing that's keeping him busy these days. Phish are working on their new album with producer Bob Ezrin (Kiss, Pink Floyd) and Gordon is readying his own solo tour, which kicks off this Friday in Syracuse, N.Y.
Billboard recently spoke with Gordon about the genesis of his new album, how his songwriting differs from Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, the status of the next Phish album and more.
Is the title "Overstep" indicative of what the album is about?
Hmmm. I asked myself that one when the title popped up and you know, I like to not analyze things sometimes. My favorite songs and movies are the ones I don't understand. And "Overstep" is kind of like that. What am I overstepping? Overstepping my bounds in some ways? I don't know the answer to that. One of the goals was to simplify and go for whatever's feeling the core passion in me and Scott when we were making the songs. Trim away the fluff. I guess it's ironic that there's a lot of different styles represented.
You recruited and worked with drummer Matt Chamberlain. How did you two meet?
We played on a track together on Marco Benevento's album [2012's "TigerFace"]. But we weren't in the same room. I kept hearing about him through the grapevine and then I started listening when we were looking for a drummer. And what blew me away was to have someone that's so solid. He's hammering on weird things around the studio and half the tracks were recorded on this toy drum set. Most of the songs have a real drum set and then they have this toy drum set being whacked in the background.
As you and Trey continue making music outside of Phish, what's the biggest differences these days in how you two write?
It's an interesting question, because of course, after 30 years, Trey is such a huge influence on me. I love the way he does songwriting and arranging. He's constantly an inspiration. We do come from some different background in that Trey likes music that's very layered. A more recent example is Beyonce, where there's many layers to the music and you only notice some of them subconsciously. Trey had this show "The Ambient Alarm Clock" on the college radio station WIUV at 5:00 am on Mondays. And he would do that: Just layer turn tables and tapes he had prepared. He was the most creative DJ they ever had. I've been interested in the opposite, where there's so much space between the notes, that everyone's playing and there's actually air in there. My fantasy is that everyone of my albums has less sound than the previous. Sometimes when I'm pairing things down, Trey is layering things up. That's a generalization. But I heard his single from the last album on the radio and I thought he had reached this perfect blend, where he had some layering going on but the groove was really funky. I called him up and this was a song Phish had tried to play . . . We don't always call each other, but sometimes we do. We have a very loving relationship in Phish. After 30 years, the fact that we're so deeply in love is crazy. But anyway, we're not always calling each other up and saying "hey, I love your single." But I had to do it. It had the space and the funk and that layering that's unique to Trey.
You both have different ways of storytelling, too.
As we've started to work on [Phish] songs, Trey has talked a lot about being very simple. I've been veering this other direction of trying to be ... not complicated, but very specific. Specific images. And I think that's one thing about making the Phish album that we're working on, or when we were working on writing [the album]. Bringing these different sensibilities together, where one guy thinks it's great to be incredibly simple and one guy thinks it's great to very specific and finding the middle ground can be cool. It's good to not always agree, actually. Sometimes it's the compromise.