Mike Gordon was talking through the songwriting process for his most recent solo album, Overstep when he thought of a quote from singer-songwriting great John Prine.
"John Prine said you don't write songs," Gordon recalled. "You edit."
That observation seems to fit the experience Gordon and his songwriting partner on the project, Scott Murawski, had in creating the dozen songs that make up Overstep.
This wasn't a project where Gordon (who, of course, is famous for being the bassist in Phish) and Murawski (guitarist in the long-running band Max Creek) saw song ideas come flooding out, producing the bulk of an album in a big burst of inspiration.
Instead, Gordon and Murawski frequently found themselves pausing or concluding writing sessions feeling uncertain about the results.
"I think what happened is, I don't know, maybe I wasn't sensing the progress as it was happening," Gordon explained in an early June phone interview. "But often by the middle it would feel like, or even when we were getting ready to leave, did we do anything here? And I think that's just an example of losing perspective because then I would drive away or listen to the stuff a week later or something and just see that 'Oh my god, this is just great. I didn't think we had anything usable, and this is already more than an album's worth' or something like that."
So much of the process of forming the Overstep album followed the Prine model of rewriting and refining songs over time, gradually honing the parts that made the material shine.
"We kept revisiting some things. It's really interesting to see how things would change," Gordon said, citing the song "Yarmouth Road" as an example. "It changed really radically more than once, rhythmically, lyrically, in terms of the topic, in terms of the process."
A good deal of sweat and time was devoted to that process, but Gordon feels it was worth the effort.
"Now that Overstep is done, it's a testament to how much fun we did have," Gordon said. "We are really proud of Overstep and how it came out. It just feels so much more developed than anything I've ever done."
Gordon's feelings about Overstep are justified. There are some lighter, blissed-out tunes, like the winding, folk-inflected gem, "Ether" and the reggae-tinged "Yarmouth Road." But much of Overstep rocks, as the album features several hooky, fairly concise tunes that pack a pleasant punch, including "Tiny Little World," "Say Something" and "Face."
Overstep is the fourth solo album Gordon has released – he also did two albums with guitarist/singer Leo Kottke – and although it's been out since February 2014, he's back on tour this June, giving fans another chance to hear how songs from Overstep (as well as other material) sound on stage. This set of dates, Gordon said, is something of a continuation of a very successful and rewarding tour he did last year in support of Overstep.
After the tour wraps at the end of June, Gordon will gear up for Phish's summer tour, which runs from late July into September. The hugely popular jam band, which broke up in 2004, but regrouped in 2009, released an excellent studio album, Fuego, in 2014. Gordon said he and his bandmates, Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell and Jon Fishman, are enjoying making new music and playing live, and have found to fit Phish and outside projects into their lives.
"It's pretty great, actually. There's a delicately crafted symbiosis going because these things feed each other," Gordon said.