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What I'm Into: Mike Gordon

By Brent Hallenbeck • December 26, 2008

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Buzz up! Last we checked in on Mike Gordon, in August, he was already celebrating a big 2008 with a new solo album ("The Green Sparrow"), a new wife (Burlington lawyer Susan Schick) and a lifetime achievement award for his old band, Phish, at the Jammy Awards in New York City.

The year has only become better for the former Phish bass player. The band announced Oct. 1 that Gordon, guitarist Trey Anastasio, keyboard player Page McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman will get back together in March for the first time since 2004 for three shows in Hampton, Va. Then, on Oct. 24, Gordon became a father for the first time when his daughter, Tessa, was born.

Gordon, 43, covered most of these topics in a phone conversation this week while juggling a bottle and pacifier for Tessa. He'll take a break from new fatherhood for a show with his solo band Tuesday at Higher Ground: Burlington Free Press: A new baby -- that's got to change your life entirely.

Mike Gordon: I guess it starts with sleep. Sleep and fun. I'm really enjoying it. The problem with not sleeping is, to stay on a routine, it's harder. BFP: You can't have much of a routine between playing with your solo band and getting ready for Phish.

MG: It's difficult to have one. For maybe in a year and a half I was in a germination phase (with the new band). Now it's just kind of a going-with-the-flow phase. BFP: Last we talked over the summer, before your show at Waterfront Park, you were just heading out with your new solo band (including Vermonters Tom Cleary on keyboards and Craig Myers on percussion). What has the process of learning to play with each other been like, especially considering how in sync you were with your fellow Phish members?

MG: With Phish we had the benefit of 20 or 25 years, and now we've had a couple of months with the new band, and I'm just starting to go back and listen to some tapes from the summer. It is pretty interesting. There's growing pains because there's a lot I feel like I want to work on and communicate, but it's exciting because people are bringing new things to the table I haven't thought of before. There's stuff that everyone could do differently including myself, but that's just a matter of making time on the schedule. What I look forward to is the time to practice without necessarily preparing for something. That's what Phish used to do, even though there wasn't a gig or an album coming up. Ideas would just come up on their own because of the way we're playing together. It has a lot to do with timing. I feel like there's enough potential for the new band. It will really evolve if we have enough time. BFP: Have you started rehearsing with Phish for the Virginia shows?

MG: We had one run which was great in New York for five days. As we had hoped, we got together after these years and people kind of got healthier, everyone did. There's kind of a humbleness -- everyone's saying, "What are you bringing to the table?" And the jamming or just sort of playing songs felt good in a way that either I'd forgotten or was sort of fresh. And I had some new songs of my own, so I really felt a part of things. BFP: Is it tricky balancing your solo band and reacquainting yourself with Phish?

MG: Honestly, I would say I haven't yet balanced it in my mind where -- I guess with my role in Phish, there's so much creative energy between the four of us, and there's an incredible amount of talent in the new band but my role has been carved out as band leader and I try to encourage everyone to contribute to the ideas. With Phish I'm reminded how even beyond the band there's crew members and management people really ready to jump in with ideas and make things happen. I can kind of step back. My career with Phish, it was so incredible to be on this musical adventure for so many years and not to be the one making all the decisions. It kind of made it even more Zen in a way, just to be the one who could get up there and play bass lines and focus on that. It's such a different mindset. I still have this feeling with Phish that it will be taken care of. So in terms of wearing different hats, there's where I have to get used to the adjustment, going back and forth. With my tour I'm a little more in the mindset of, "It'll happen," rather than making it happen. BFP: Phish broke up in part because, as Trey Anastasio said, the machine just got too big, the business end of things.

MG: I think there are a few reasons, and that could be one of them. From my perspective I thought that was a scapegoat reason. The machine, I guess, is part of it, and where people were at health-wise and just getting to this point in our life where we needed to do other stuff. The hiatus (the pre-breakup break from 2000-02) scratched the surface of that a little. At a certain point, even when it's incredible, by doing different stuff you gain perspective on both. BFP: How will you keep the Phish machine from getting too big again?

MG: There's different ways. One is that we say we're not going to let it become that, we're not going to get involved in decisions we don't need to and delegate more and not get wrapped up mentally on things as much. It's a different era, too. The era of having John Paluska as our manager -- he would plan out the festivals we did with no other bands, just keeping us on our own path. One thing on that is it required an infrastructure. We didn't want to farm out the merchandise. We had people doing it in-house, designing the T-shirts and selling them. John was a great organizer and controller and wanted more to control. It required extra band meetings to work this infrastructure that was home-grown and in-house. Now it's a different era in that sense. I still have a great relationship with John Paluska but a few of us are involved with Red Light Management (based in Charlottesville, Va.) and talking about that being the home for Phish and it's just a whole different model. Now it's like maybe we don't have to have our own festival to make great music. We don't have to do that and maybe we can be even more a part of the music industry than we were before rather than separate from it. BFP: What about plans for a new Phish CD? Is it true you've been talking with Steve Lillywhite (producer of U2 and the Phish album "Billy Breathes")?

MG: There aren't many plans right now. There's ruminating and we've had ongoing dialogues with Steve Lillywhite and there's definitely some potential there. We had lunch with him at one point, then we didn't talk to him for a good long while. There's definitely a good possibility there because there's one person we respect and get along with. BFP: How about other Phish shows beyond Hampton?

MG: There's definitely some talk about that. My feeling is we'll probably do stuff in the summer, maybe not right after Hampton.

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^ what the heck IS that thing in your avatar? it's scary!!!

It's one of Gordos' free range chickens.

In all seriousness I believe it is Sealpacka, indigenous to Greenland. Not unlike the Zonkey, or Cabbit. They're just a little misunderstood. Give it some time Phorbesie and the Sealpacka will soothe your soul with it's heartwarming demeanour.

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