It's hard to imagine when Mike Gordon finds time to sleep. Since the dissolution of the band that made him a demigod to legions of Phish-heads, he's toured extensively with the Benevento-Russo Duo, released an album with guitarist Leo Kottke, designed an interactive sculptural art exhibition with his mother, and founded the honky-tonk band Ramble Dove. Even when he's sleeping, he's creating — Gordon has kept a log of his dreams since 1976, oftentimes using that material for songs, poems, and visual art.
Over the last year, however, Mike's been spending a lot of time alone. He compares his home recording studio in Vermont to a "wizard's castle," and about a year ago, he decided to spend six months of relative solitude inside there, working on an album. After those months passed, he invited friends like Trey Anastasio, Ivan Neville, and Chuck Leavell to join him. The Green Sparrow, released on Aug. 5, is the result of his labors. And Phish (and music) fans, it's damn good stuff.
In Phish's mid-'90s heyday, the band sent out a quarterly newsletter called the Doniac Schvice, the highlight of which was often the nonsensical ramblings and poetry of Gordon. Although the Schvice is no longer, we're glad to report that the brain behind those musings is still churning it out. City Paper caught up with Mike on the phone from his office overlooking downtown Burlington, Vt., last week. Here's his take on underground tunnels, Ayn Rand, and death threats.
Mike's last dream:
"Phish was playing at a festival and the Duo was there, and for some reason two guys from the Duo camp, maybe Marco [Benevento] and a crew member said they were going to kill me. They showed me their guns and made it clear they were serious. I was on the tour bus and ducking because I thought the Duo's van was behind us and they'd be shooting at us. Back at the hotel I took my duffle bag, and in the lobby there was Marco. I asked him if it was a serious threat, and he said, 'Yes. Some people thought it threw off the chemistry to tour with a third person.' He said, 'I wish I could reconnect with you right now,' but I could tell the friendship was ending, what with the death threat and all, and that my life was likely to end too."
"I got to dabble a little bit without binging."
The election (in seven words):
"Let's let Obama help us regain sanity."
On recording the song 'Andelmans' Yard' (from The Green Sparrow) by himself:
"There's this comment Twyla Tharp made about facing your solitude. She would go into a big empty white warehouse at 8 a.m. with no dance moves in mind and just let it come to her in the emptiness. 'Andelmans' Yard' was all day, every weekday, for two months, by myself. I tried thousands of drum beats on the guitar lick. That was a week of work. I went through hundreds of keyboard sounds and ways of playing the beats. I was pulling my hair out thinking that being so meticulous would make it not sound like music, and thought I'd rerecord it with a band, but now everyone likes it."
Who are the Andelmans?
"My mom still lives in the same house I grew up in, and the Andelmans' house is right next door. The neighborhood is pretty magical, with just five houses on a secluded road up a hill, with miles of hills and trails. Going back is like going to my safety zone, and I have this recurring dream of tunnels underneath the ground between the houses, which I think is symbolic of going to the depths of my soul. So I'm running through these tunnels, and around the bend might be my old friend growing up. I think it's like getting underneath your emotions in the songwriting process, rather than just mentalizing a bunch of chord progressions and churning out songs. You get underneath and put your soul into it. So in that song, I'm underneath the ground with the electrical wires and plumbing, and the network that connects everyone."
Offshore drilling (in seven words):
"Let's leave natural habitats for the animals."
Mike's iPod track list:
"If a fan gives me a CD, I'll listen to 10 seconds. Last year, I listened to a 42-CD series of [Ayn Rand's] Atlas Shrugged being read to me while I ran. It was really intense."
What to expect at a Mike show:
"My idea is to play bass the whole time, but the drummer switches to a hajini, which is like a tabla with a huge rhythmic sound. The percussionist plays a ngoni, which is an African harp, and the keyboardist uses a small accordion. Everyone in the band plays bass, so I'm tempted to bring my banjo and dabble with it. But it's also tempting to stick with the same thing for an entire set, not even switching between five-string basses, because it gets to be a meditation when you dial into your sound. It's the old juxtaposition, like Bach's fugue theme of striving for infinite variety and infinite sameness."