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The one thing that stood out most about '90s cult favorites Soul Coughing was their unwavering drive to be unclassifiable. Their sound was a cool sonic platypus, plastered and confused on absinthe, a mixture of hipster spoken word lyrics, catchy hipster alternative-tinged guitars, and the occasional sample of swing-era jazz that all the hipsters were listening to at the time. The NYC-based Coughing managed to get a lot of college radio attention and even flirted with the top-40 and got more than a wink back from the MTV with singles like "Screenwriter's Blues" and "Super Bon Bon." For their third and final album El Oso, the band was drafted onto a major label and poised to walk with Beck as the saviors of a post-grunge alternative landscape being slowly devoured by an emerging hip-hop empire.

Beck did alright for himself.

After El Oso failed to make the tsunami splash everyone was hoping for, the reported tumultuous relationship of the Soul Coughers got the better of the situation and the band parted ways. Their lead songwriter, vocalist/guitarist M. Doughty--reborn as Mike Doughty--found himself still wanting to make music, but without a record label to call his own. He launched a solo career on simple terms, releasing homemade albums filled with soulful little acoustic and electronic ditties via his personal web site and selling them at shows in small venues across the country (the homespun marketing style which apparently also included charging $12 for a signed E.P. (!) such as when I first saw him perform last summer). Soon Mr. Doughty caught the ear of Dave Matthews who released Doughty's first solo full-length, Haughty Melodic, on his ATO imprint this past year. Me and Mike were able to chat for a few about where to get the best Indian food in Queens, naked lady photography, some stuff about music, and what's next.

Hybrid Magazine: The most important question on everybody's mind: I'm friends with you twice on Myspace. Which one is the real you? "Mike" or "Mike Doughty"?

Mike Doughty: They're both the real me. The "Mike" one was just a Myspace profile like everyone has a Myspace profile, then a bunch of fans showed up and just blew up the spot, so now there's like 3,500 friends there. But then some marketing genius at the ol' record company started up the other Myspace profile, so now I have two. So, there you go. I'm thinking of eliminating one. Did you think one of them was fake?

: I thought maybe some guy might be pretending he was you to get girls to send naked pictures to him.

MD: No. If that were the intention of Myspace, it has not worked.

HM: Before Soul Coughing you used to take tickets at one of my favorite NYC spots, The Knitting Factory.

MD: At the old one-on Houston street.

HM: Did you get to meet any of the bands there?

MD: Yeah, all sorts of bands: Sun Ra - when he was still alive, Mark Ribot, Bernie Worrell from P-Funk, lots of great, great musicians.

HM: Also where you met the other Soul Coughing folk?

MD: [quiet for a moment] Yeah.

HM: Talking about Soul Coughing for a bit - you all were the musical highlight of a horrible summer job I had where I was doing construction work and we would all listen to Howard Stern all day and you guys actually showed up on one show to perform "Super Bon Bon."

MD: Uh-huh.

HM: I thought the coolest thing about that interview was that he was surprised and kind of angry you weren't black.

MD: He was?

HM: It just stood out for me that at one point he seemed really disappointed that you guys weren't black.

MD: Well, I'm definitely way not black. I'm pretty friggin' pale to be completely frank about it. From the suburbs. Upstate New York.

HM: Where are you from?

MD: Well, my Dad's in the army so I grew up all over the place, but mostly around Westpoint, Military academy, just like a half-an-hour upstate.

HM: Do you still go to the Knitting Factory, or what are some of your other favorite clubs around town?

MD: Oh, I really don't go out that much. Like I always go out to a club, and I feel like I'm at work. So, I'm all about food. Most of what I like to do is check out spots in Chinatown, [Queens neighborhood with a large South Asian community] Jackson Heights for Indian Food…

HM: The Jackson Diner?

MD: [very excited] Jackson Diner's cool! But the place which is awesome is two doors to the left of the Jackson Diner, Deli Palace, totally go there on a Saturday or Sunday for a buffet, it's great, I'm telling you.

HM: I don't know, the Jackson Diner's pretty amazing.

MD: I was dating an Indian-American woman - Deli Palace was her Dad's spot - he went there. I was a Jackson Diner guy, and then I went there and totally converted.

HM: And do you live in Park Slope [Brooklyn] now? Going by some of the lyrics ["…and we drift back to the Slope…"] for your song "Thank You, Lord, For Sending Me The F Train."

MD: No, I live on Second Avenue. I didn't even live in Park Slope when I wrote the song, I lived in Fort Green. I guess I was always taking the F and transferring to the C, so that was the F train thing. I guess I was always somewhere on the F train when I had to go home at three in the morning,

HM: Do you think hip-hop has officially replaced rock 'n' roll in the public's eye, the way rock replaced jazz a few decades before?

MD: Sure. I think it's a lot more interesting in a lot of ways. It's kind of regrettable to be in rock music now, although that is my idiom, I'm not gonna make the switch. But yeah, there's a lot more interesting stuff going on, like you can do a cameo on somebody's record, ya know come on and bring the full force of your musical personality, like when Ludacris shows up on a Missy Elliot track - that's just a lot more interesting to me than a song-based system. But, that said, there's not a lot of hip-hop that I listen to and that I like these days.

HM: You're one of the best stage banterers. I've seen you three times in the last year or so, and you are one of few performers keeping the long lost art of actually talking to the audience alive. But then, in doing research for this interview, I was kind of disappointed to read that you prepare your stage banter beforehand?

MD: No, not really. Like right before I go on stage I figure out the stage banter. It's not like I sit around writing it a week before hand. Like right before I go on stage I think I should talk about this or that. But you know what, these days I'm sort of a lot looser - I'm sort of like, I don't know man, I'm sort of layin' back in the songs and sort of talkin' to the crowd on a more real level. There was sort of a shticky mode I was into for a while, but now I'm a bit looser on stage.

HM: Well, when I first saw you at Southpaw a while back, that's what made me a fan - a butt lot of the rock bands out today refuse to converse to the audience.

MD: Yeah, I think people who listen to a record want to hear the voice they're listening to in a different context, they want you to say stuff. I totally think it's important. I'm always kind of disappointed when a band that I really like just comes out and just sticks to the songs and you don't ever get to hear them, ya know, off the cuff. I feel the same way about mistakes on stage - one of the things that the guys in my band love is when people mess up on stage and I'm completely like "oh, well" and won't get mad about it or make people rehearse things the next day or anything like that. I know that people make mistakes and I think that people love it, I mean they just love it when you mess up.

HM: Just doing some other snooping around, I happened across the web site suicidegirls.com…

MD: Sure, oh yeah…

HM: Purely for researching purposes, of course, and I kind of notice that you were a special celebrity photographer for one shoot.

MD: Well, one of the Suicide Girls - this girl Twwly - was like "have you ever shot nude pictures of girls?" No, but I'm very willing to learn. So yeah, she was really cool about it. I'm really into photography, but I'm more into buildings and signs and landscapes and stuff like that. So, I didn't really know that much about photographing a person, so we did it outside at dusk when the light is really nice, so it's kind of hard to screw it up because the light's so good, and she was just gorgeous, so there was no way I could take a bad picture of her.

HM: Part of the benefits of being a rock star.

MD: [laughing] Yeah, my girlfriend would disagree.

HM: You've got quite a few tattoos, and I've read that you're looking to get a full-sleeve tattoo. How's that coming along?

MD: I've been looking around for a design. For some reason, I want my right arm covered. I don't know why. Maybe it's just like a folly right now, and I won't go through with it. But I'm thinking about it.

HM: You have this really unique singing style. Not sure how to put it into words-but you always seem to tac extra syllables onto words which normally are just fine with the syllables they have.

MD: Yeah, the "uh."

HM: Yeah, where did that come from?

MD: It's totally involuntary. When people started making fun of me for it, I was just like "What? I didn't know I did that?" Even today when I do a song, I'm not conscious of it. It's just a quirk.

HM: You put out your first few albums by yourself through your web site. The first one you recorded right before Soul Coughing broke up. You had a pretty big following at the time, but Warner didn't want to put out the album, but I imagine some indie-label would certainly do it, so why'd you make the decision to go out on your own?

MD: I just-I don't know what it was, but I was just so disenchanted with "large rock" at the time, that I just wanted to be "small rock," ya know? It was just a really cleansing experience to do things in the most simple, bare-bones way possible. I felt like a guy with a job, which was really nice, ya know? Eventually I wanted to be on a label, but all the labels were messed up at that point, But then Dave [Matthews' ATO label] came along and it was awesome.

HM: Just doing a googling before this interview I read that ATO is merging with an e-label - are you guys not going to put out records anymore?

MD: An e-label? Maybe I should do a little bit more googling. [starts cracking up]. What is this now?

HM: There was a press release saying ATO is going to start doing e-business, I'm not sure if it's exclusively or what. Don't question my google skills, Mike.

(see article here)

MD: Wow.

HM: Maybe you should give Dave a call.

HM: Yeah, I'm gonna call up the record company as soon as I get off the phone with you… Look, people download. It's just a fact of the matter and it really bummed me out at first. Eventually I realized, Skittish - the first album I put out as a solo dude - it's life was from people downloading it, and sharing it. It still pisses me off when you go on ebay and somebody's selling something, but you know-downloading, it's just a fact. I think it's harder for new bands, which is a drag, because that's the most difficult time of your life when you're an artist is when you're new. But for me, I'm playing shows and people dig what I'm doing, and the record paid. But other than that, the world is the world, and developments like downloading and whatever the next thing that freaks out everyone in the music industry is going to be what it is.

HM: Well, when I saw you a while back, I actually did purchase a hard copy of Rockity Roll. That's a cool album, it's like a computer-age garage album - one musician dude and a little bit of technology.

MD: Yeah, I did it with a little Roland drum machine and I did it in two days-recorded it in a day, and mixed it in a day. I just went over to my friend Pat's and recorded in a little room in a day.

HM: I really love that album - as I did Haughty Melodic, but it's a very different album, a lot more production was put into it - which process do you prefer?

MD: Oh, yeah. God we did that over the course of a couple of years. All told, it was maybe like four or five months in the studio, which for me is a long time. I'm not gonna have that luxury next time I make that record. We're gonna have to cut it in a month. The beauty of that album was that I didn't have a label, so I could just kind of meander, and every time we had a whim to do something, I'd fly out to Minnesota and I'd do it. But I like both approaches-I like all kinds of approaches. I wouldn't rule out doing another album which was a little electronic thing, and I wouldn't rule out doing a little acoustic album.

HM: So, when did you first bump into Dave Matthews?

MD: Soul Coughing toured with him in the '90s, so I knew him. Obviously he's a hard guy to get in touch with, so we hadn't gotten together for lunch, but I bumped into him at Bonnaroo in 2004, and I had brought some rough mixes for Haughty Melodic that I wanted to give to him, and he had actually heard Rockity Roll and was really into it, so it was just sort of fortunate that we bumped into each other and were mutually interested.

HM: So, what's next? Are you going to put another album out?

MD: Yeah. Startin' to. Going out to Dan Wilson's and talkin' about how we're going to do it. Obviously, we're going to do it in a short space of time, we're just getting it together what's the right way to do it.

HM: And who are you listening to now? What's getting play on your iPod?

MD: What am I listening to now?... I'm gonna open up my iTunes and see because I can never answer that question without looking… [actually takes a few seconds to walk over to his computer to open iTunes]… OH, there's this band from the '70s called The Numbers Band - they were some kind of groove band that was totally ahead of their time and they just put out this one independent record, which is called Jimmy Bell's Still in Town and I just bought it off iTunes, I heard it on WFMU and I just bought it online, it's so great. And I've been listening to a little Grime, which is UK dance music. There's a DJ called Mark One who's really great, there's a DJ called The Plastician whose really great… Louie CK who's a comedian. I've been listening to the Dead [laughs a little]. Been listening to Sufjan Stevens - he's got something going on.

-Evan Dashevsky

Mike Doughty
www.mikedoughty.com

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