Tuesday May 23rd 2017

Gotham Interview with Mike Doughty

Back in my college radio days, I remember receiving a package of CDs that were intended to be played on-air. Truth be told, we received a lot of albums for the station, so this package didn’t stand out to me.

Until I opened it and started listening to one of the discs included…

Haughty Melodic, Mike Doughty’s 2005 release on Dave Matthews’ ATO Records, immediately hooked me. I started playing every track I possibly could on-air. I pushed it to all of my friends. I listened to that record non-stop.

And then I realized just how un-cool I really was (and possibly still am). This “Mike Doughty” isn’t some unknown, obscure singer/songwriter that Chuck Armstrong discovered on The Wildcat 91.9. Mike Doughty is the voice, the brilliance behind Soul Coughing.

From then until now, I’ve devoured every single thing Doughty has ever created. From Haughty Melodic back to Skittish/Rockity Roll to his brand new album Yes And Also Yes, there hasn’t been a moment where I’ve been disappointed.

I know, when I get into something, I set the bar high. Fortunately, Doughty exceeds that bar easily.

I had the opportunity to chat with M. Doughty and talk about the new album, the industry, and the Occupy Wall Street protests. Doughty will be coming through New York City for two dates in November. The 18th he’s at the Brooklyn Bowl and the following night he’ll be jamming at the Bowery Ballroom. If you’ve never seen him live, get ready for a phenomenal show.

And get ready for Yes And Also Yes. It’s been out since August 30th, and if you haven’t gotten your paws on it, I can’t even fathom why you’re hesitating.

How’s the tour going for Yes And Also Yes?

In fact, it’s quite fantastic. The band is razor-blade tight. I did something a little different on this tour: I wrote a setlist that we do every night. I’ve been listening to James Brown’s “Love Power Peace: Live at the Olympia, Paris, 1972″ and I realized that that’s what he did–a show. It also relates to the idea of an album–a whole, cohesive piece. It turns the show into a single, flashing, hurtling train.

Where did the title Yes And Also Yes come from?

It was the headline for my OKCupid profile. I wanted the headline to be just an underscore, like “__”, very Sartre, but they wouldn’t let me, and I just typed out the first thing that popped into my head, which was YES AND ALSO YES. I’ve been the musical guest on a bunch of comedy shows, playing two or three songs in the midst of six or seven comedians, and I learned that the cardinal rule of comic improvising is, “Yes, and…” as opposed to “No, but…” Meaning if one says, “I’m a bear!” the other says, “Yes, and I’m a hunter,” not “No, you’re not a bear, you’re a fish…”

What was it like doing a duet with Rosanne Cash?

Delightful. I emailed her as just a shot in the dark. I wrote the song “Holiday (What Do You Want?)” with Dan Wilson. The idea was a sad but beautiful and haunting Christmas song. But there was a single, vital note in the chorus that I couldn’t hit, so I thought of getting a female singer and making it a duet. I was rather stunned when Rosanne said yes.

“Into the Un” was written for the Twilight soundtrack. What happened?

I guess it just didn’t speak to them. It’s about goth teens who drop acid and hang out at Penn Station, shoplifting.

This album is on your own label, SNACK BAR. Is it the first disc to be released on the label? What other artists are you working with for the label?

I put out an EP by a band from Indiana called The Panderers. It was pretty great. At the moment, my hands are full with my own album, so I’m not really thinking about working with another artist. At least, not yet.

In the everchanging music industry, we’ve seen in recent years the development of the mp3 file…Now, we are seeing the development of the “cloud” with services like Spotify. Have these changes affected the way you approach the record making process?

Yes. It’s made album sequencing less important, though I still do my best to put together a steady, overarching kind-of-narrative to the albums. Really, I’m a song guy, not an album guy–for the most part–so the iPodification of music has been OK for me. My audience found me a long time ago, so I’m doing quite alright–if I’d launched my solo career today, it might’ve been dismal. The world of single-mp3-buying-or-trading has been a tremendous, fun boon to me as a listener, but it’s indisputable that it’s made it much, much harder for new artists. There are several songwriters in Queens and Brooklyn that I know would be prosperous, if there were labels who’d devote resources to developing them. Sadly, it’s just not possible anymore.

Throughout your career, you haven’t exactly kept your opinions to yourself. What do you think of the Occupy Wall Street protests?

I wish they’d focus on the Democrats. They could pull the mainstream ever so slightly to the left, which is less romantic, but real change nonetheless. When conservatives mobilize, they change the face of the mainstream left. The debt-ceiling showdown was a direct attempt to win the favor of the Tea Party. When progressives mobilize, they don’t try to change the mainstream left. So the Democrats are pulled more and more to the center-right. Democratic state headquarters, by the way, is on 31st and Park. Demonstrations, and anger focused on the Democrats’ failures would scare them. It won’t scare hedge-funders and bankers. I fear that, soon enough, having affected no useful change, Occupy Wall Street will disperse, and another generation will become disenchanted with progressive politics, concluding that, in the end, it was just a pageant with signs and drum circles.

Is there any new music out there that you’re lovin’ on?

Not too many new artists, though I adore Bon Iver. I’ve been listening obsessively to Gnawa music from Morocco. Ritual Sufi Islamic music. Really trancey and amazing.

What’s next on Mike Doughty’s schedule of things to do?

I wrote a memoir, “The Book of Drugs,” that’s out on Da Capo/Perseus in January. I’m stoked about it. Tales of music and comic debauchery.

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