Phish bassist Mike Gordon tries new fest for size

[3 July 2008]

By Erin Podolsky

Detroit Free Press (MCT)

Mike Gordon is certainly no stranger to festivals - the former Phish bassist practically pioneered the modern concept with Phish festivals in the ‘90s - but it’s been a while since he’s ventured out on his own. Now with “The Green Sparrow,” his first solo album in five years, set for an August release, he has a brand new band and a brand new outlook on performing live. “Phish has been broken up now for four years and ... it’s my first time having my own band, so I feel like I’m stepping up to the plate,” Gordon says.

Of course, who can resist wishing for a Phish reunion at Rothbury, what with former drummer Jon Fishman performing Friday night with Yonder Mountain String Band and Phish front man Trey Anastasio playing a Sunday set that ends just 15 minutes before Gordon’s begins? Gordon playfully bats down the idea, but doesn’t rule out something more informal.

“I would say that there’s no chance of there being a Phish reunion. We are getting along well, so it could happen sometime, but we’re not going to be ready,” Gordon says of the chance of it happening at Rothbury’s inaugural festival on Michigan’s west side. “But since there’s three Phish members playing the festival, there’s a good chance that we might sit in with each other. That’s always possible. Definitely no official or even unofficial reunion, but a good chance of jamming.”

The Burlington, Vt., resident had plenty more to say about Rothbury and his own music when we spoke with him last week as he was beginning tune-up sessions with his new bandmates.

Do you think Rothbury has a chance to survive among all the other festivals?
It’s hard to know because it’s a new festival. But I can tell that it already has a certain prestige attached to it, and I can also tell by the lineup that it’s going to be top-notch. So I think it could become one of the main festivals. So much of concertgoing is about festivals now, and I’ve heard the stages are really nice and I think it’s a good situation.

I think it’s actually well-situated. I always like playing in the Midwest because in some ways it can be a little random in that you’re geared up for the big Chicago show or the big New York show and then in the middle you play in the Midwest and it’s the best show in the whole tour because it’s just kind of unexpected. You get to let your hair down a little bit because you’re not as worried about it being a major place. Some of the best jams, some of the best live releases that Phish has done, came from the Midwest.

Tell us about the new album.
I wanted to come up with something upbeat but with some more sophistication than I’d had before, little intricate passages of music I kind of nestled in songs that are more accessible than stuff I had done before. So kind of reaching for a purer message but doing more things with it.

Expect to check an album that you can crank up. It’s like a party kind of vibe for a lot of it. ... it’s good when music goes in dark places sometimes, and it’s also good to let it be just jubilant at other times. My last album was probably darker, or at least stranger, and I was ready for that kind of crank-it-up, rock-to-it album. I’m really ecstatic about it but I’m trying to be cool about it. I just can’t believe that I made it, and I made the cover, too, and I just really feel it’s very close to my heart in a lot of ways.

When you’re recording, do you think about how a song is going to translate to the stage?
There are a bunch of elements I knew I wanted. I wanted it to be rhythmic and sort of danceable and rocking. I’ve been known to do some bluegrass stuff and calypso and country and I really want this to be rock. And maybe a little bit of funkiness. Actually I guess it’s sort of eclectic but much more within a rock context.

The only thing that I had that was like a solo album before was really sort of dreamy except for my movie soundtrack. I like things that are dreamy, but I knew I wanted to have sort of a more awake and exciting kind of sound and be able to play that stuff on stage.

Your band is all new, right?
We haven’t played together much yet but we’re about to start the huge practice session. But there’s something magical that’s happened even for the first few notes, just a chemistry with these people. The guitar player I’d played a lot with before, but the drummer I hadn’t, and he’s just got really saucy, grooving rhythms. A lot of people haven’t heard him before because he was out of a different circuit, maybe out of the jazz world a little bit. It’s really funky and everyone comes together.

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