Before Phish begins leg two of summer tour tonight, August 27th, by kicking off a three-night run at The Gorge in George, WA, Mike Gordon caught up with SiriusXM‘s Ari Fink for a quick mid-tour interview. The bassist dug deep with Fink as he discussed the band’s trajectory this summer, some of his new toys, as well as some impending solo endeavors.
Even those of us without any technical know-how have certainly noticed a change in Gordo’s sound this summer. It turns out the change was no small task as Jeff Tweedy—the bass tech, not the Wilco frontman—actually rewired the bassist’s entire rig. Every wire, every unit, and every control was changed, resulting in a softer sound that Gordon had been chasing.
“What I try to do is make it sound warmer,” Gordon said. “Where all the middle frequencies, there aren’t big gaps of vibration…I need vibration. I’m addicted to vibration.”
As far as getting his stage legs back after over a year out of commission, the bassist locked back into the groove rather quickly at the beginning of summer tour.
“Atlanta really felt amazing, the whole time. And then pretty much from then on out, Deer Creek was particularly great,” Gordon said. “But the tone thing, when I start feeling relaxed onstage it makes all the difference in the world. Like if I’m a bit sleepy, if I’ve only slept a few hours, it helps. It often helps, because then I just surrender more. It’s almost like I fall into the groove, and into the tone, and let it play itself even more where I can’t overthink it.”
Phish as a unit has also taken up a fresh mentality when it comes to improvisation, Gordon says. Throughout the 14 shows that have taken place so far, the band has adopted a “less is more” approach.
“Like a jam might go on for a long, long time and in the middle, rather than adding elements, seeing which ones can be subtracted,” Gordon said. “So, you know, Trey might be playing some patterns on the guitar and then to take that away and create ambiance…it’s all just a way of saying ‘you know what, I’m just gonna relax and whatever I can think to play isn’t as cool as what the muse can think of.'”
Fink also asked about the new toys that the rest of the band has brought to the table. Between Trey’s subtoctave synths, Page McConnell‘s new synths, or Jon Fishman‘s divisive samples, the low-end is getting kind of crowded, and that’s perfectly alright with Mike.
“I think it’s pretty cool to have two low-end instruments,” Gordon said. “And Trey is doing it in new ways…I don’t find it conflicting at all. I find it really cool that that’s another that in the middle of a jam gets taken away, the upper register, and now we all get to swim in the murk, the swamp, together…Everyone keeps working at their rigs and, in some ways I’m behind, because everyone’s experimenting so much and I’m trying to keep my rig lean without too many new ideas.”
While discussing the band’s pre-tour rehearsals, Gordon tossed some “I have a secret“-level hints at what’s to come later this year in the Phish universe, possibly relating to Halloween or beyond.
“We were learning new songs, especially a handful from Trey and three from me of which we’ve played two, and then looking forward to some work on stuff for later this year. That’s all I’ll say about that,” Gordon said. “There’s a lot of progress in that department. We have to think in advance.”
Switching gears, Cactus also generated some buzz for his upcoming solo album, his first since 2017’s OGOGO. Prior to Phish tour, the bassist was working on the new album in Los Angeles before hopping on tour, a change that he described as “not even like being the same human being in a way.”
“I thought [the album] was [done] when I finished the eight months of recording and rough mixing…I don’t know how done it is or it isn’t,” Gordon said. “In terms of, like, there’s still room for song selection, I have about two album’s worth of stuff. I was imagining making a very long album and I don’t know how that will pan out, I now imagine it won’t be as fiercely long as I had thought.”
The yet-untitled album will be finished this year, but won’t be out until next. Gordon songs that have seen their debuts this summer—”Mull” and “Casual Enlightenment“—are “in the mix” for the record, along with one more original that the band learned ahead of tour.
“My goal is to make a fun, peppy, danceable album,” Gordon said. “That doesn’t mean that the emotion, the lyrics, and the vibes don’t have some tragedy or longing in there, but that it just be friggin’ fun. That’s what I want to do.”
As to whether or not there’s a song he has been chasing and hoping to play on tour that hasn’t made it yet, “I so much go with the flow. Trey works so hard at making setlists, and they’re not lists they’re just big piles of possibilities for each set, starting at 6 am everyday. The fact that someone else is dealing with that is a blessing for me so I can just go with the flow. So I don’t really question it too much, I just think Trey is so great at planning out the way that the set might flow.”
Phish tour continues tonight, August 27th, with the first of three nights at The Gorge in George, WA. For a full list of tour dates click here.