How hard was it to step away from something so big, so successful?
Mike Gordon: It was difficult for me at first, not only because it was so successful, but because my identity since the age of 18 had been wrapped up in being part of this. But as soon as a couple of months went by, I was really into the breakup. It allowed me to think about some new musical directions I might not have otherwise, spend a year writing, putting my own band together, touring with some different people. That was really important to my solo career, which I feel like was just starting in a certain way.
What led to the breakup?
I think we just need to shake things up: people’s personal habits, the group habits, the way that the organization was run -- which was awesome, but everything had to be looked at from a difficult angle, and it had to be deconstructed before it could be reconstructed.
You guys managed to play your getting back together pretty close to the vest.
There were some rumors, like there always are. We didn’t really want to make any announcements until we were sure what we were doing, and we wanted to take some time to be sure. We were just rediscovering ourselves, so I guess we just sort of had to dial that in before we let people know.
You could have come back with just a tour and no album and done quite well.
We went back and forth about which to do first. I guess we actually did those three concerts [in Hampton, Va.] before we started recording. We ended up having those 36 days of practice before the Hampton shows, and half of those were to work on older stuff that we would be playing and the other half were to work on some potential songs for the new album. So much time had gone by and Trey is always prolific, but Page and I ended up doing some more writing than usual in that time period. So there were probably 30 songs that had been brought to the table for the album before we ended up weeding it down to 10.
Do you feel like you were able to recapture the chemistry fairly quickly?
Yeah, I think so. I remember the first day back, it took about 20 minutes before it really dialed in to being that kind of show I personally had forgotten, where there’s this interplay that’s going on and we’re leaving holes in the rhythm for each other subsconsciously. It was very joyous. I remember just feeling that chemistry and being reminded what the hoopla was all about.
I saw you at Bonnaroo and believe me, you were dialed in.
When we’re at our best I think there’s this combination of tightness and looseness at the same time. It feels very professional, but there’s also this sense of a band that has surrendered to the moment. Some of the jams that night felt like stuff we hadn’t done in a long time, where the drummer is playing in one rhythm and I’m playing in another rhythm and everyone’s not just improvising, but carving patterns against other patters and having them come together in this unique way. It felt like a combination of flow and also adventure. I love it when that happens.
Why put out the album on your own label?
Are there major labels any more? I’m not really sure what a major label would offer us at this point, though I’m not the expert. While we were making the album for two months, there were some very interesting conversations about the music business and how it’s changing and what we want to do with this album. To really make an album that the fans would enjoy in a deep way, like the do the concerts. Not that it’s going to be a concert, because it isn’t. But there’s some jamming on the album, some longer extended parts. Some intense, composed stuff.
Making an album for your fans at this stage seems perfectly the right move for Phish.
Our fans are so great, why not just make something they would really appreciate and see that we’re not trying to do this big marketing campaign and sell something, or sell out? It’s really the opposite.
I remember Trey talking one time about some of our favorite albums, like “Who’s Next?” or “Abbey Road.” You have a special relationship to this album, you covet it in a way, because it’s special and it’s made with this cohesive vision. That’s what we really wanted to do, is just really have fun with this one and have it be inviting for the fans. And the fact that the first thing we released is 13-and-a-half minutes long and has a thousand chords to it, and is also very melodic at the same time, kind of represents that attitude we were trying to have.