If you go to Harvester on Wednesday expecting to hear a band that sounds like Phish, you’ll be in the wrong spot. The iconic jamband’s bassist, Mike Gordon, will be leading his own band there, and music from his most recent album, “OGOGO,” swims in different waters.
Layered electronic elements, pop-leaning melodies and Gordon’s simpatico singing draw more apt comparisons to Talking Heads, Phoenix and Foster the People than to the rocking pride of Burlington, Vermont.
“I like to try to go outside of my comfort zone and find rhythms and sounds that I’m not used to,” Gordon said in a phone call in January. “I really enjoy doing that and I feel lucky that I’ve been able to surround myself with musicians and even Shawn Everett, as a producer ... that like to do that same thing.”
It’s quite a band, too — Robert Walter on keyboards, John Kimock on drums, Craig Meyers (percussion, ngoni, programming) and guitarist Scott Murawski.
The latter has been Gordon’s songwriting partner for the past decade, and for “Ogogo,” released in 2017, the pair looked to a sparse blueprint for Gordon’s sixth album under his own name.
“I want to hear less sounds per measure of music, less filled-in, more space between the notes. We said that out loud,” Gordon remembered. “However, when you do hear the notes, sometimes they’re gonna be warped, where you don’t know quite where the sound is coming from.”
The main hook, musical emotion or sentiment was to be “right in front of you,” but surrounded by something that Gordon described as “a little bit weird. That’s what our passion was. That’s a path that we’re still on, and then just refining it with new writing, new ideas, different places that it can go.”
Not that serious improvisational elements will be lacking. Gordon prefers to take a different approach to that, as well.
“I can’t help my improvisational roots, where my favorite stuff is what isn’t planned out,” he said. “I like thinking of the album and concert as very different mediums. So places to extend songs are looked for. I even like it when a jam kind of comes [from] part of a song that wasn’t what you think it would go in. But song structure developed for a reason … there are some natural tendencies that it’s not worth fighting.
“We’re taking these songs that were on the album and making it so we just can go and go and go, in a section, on this tangent, and let the song almost play itself without needing to come up with ideas, because the muse is going to play the music and all that beautiful stuff that can happen when you let it.”
His original plan included more flow and fewer chord changes. In the songwriting back-and-forth that led to “Ogogo,” however, choruses and verses and bridges and segue-worth riffs emerged, because that’s really a huge part of what Gordon and Murawski love about songwriting, he said.
“And at the end of the day, I might set a whole bunch of intentions on a way to make an album that’s different than before ... and then I hear it back, and it’s like, oh, this is just me, being myself,” he said.
Being oneself is the hardest thing, Gordon remembered his Phish bandmate, Trey Anastasio, saying. There are so many influences, and it is difficult to get away from them. But Gordon pushed himself in that direction in 2004, when Phish broke up for what turned out to be five years. In putting together his own project, he had to make his own band business and touring decisions, and his own music and recordings.
“Probably the best way to become yourself is to do it a lot, every day, and then eventually realize you don’t have to censor things just because they’re idiosyncratic to yourself,” Gordon said. “You see the beauty in letting that be. And then maybe, ultimately — now I’m getting all philosophical — ultimately it comes from the universe, and it’s not really yourself, after all. It’s just the universe playing itself through you.”