Mike Doughty talks Twitter, Miley Cyrus and the possibility of a Soul Coughing reunion
Back when indie music was still called alternative, Soul Coughing garnered an underground cult following with their debut album Ruby Vroom, which combined obscure looped samples with jazzlike grooves.
In his deep rasp, lead singer Mike Doughty wove stream-of-consciousness poetry around funky post grunge arrangements. Super Bon Bon and Screenwriter’s Blues gleaned the group mild mainstream success in the mid to late ’90s, but bad blood between members, coupled with personal drug addictions, forced Soul Coughing to break up in 1998.
After conquering his heroin addiction, Doughty entered the solo artist arena in 2000. His lyrics range from conscientious to downright esoteric, and he fancies instrumental arrangements with hints of the experimental. His latest album, Sad Man Happy Man, was released last October on ATO Records.
Now fifteen years into the business and five solo albums deep, Doughty comes to Ybor City’s Orpheum for an acoustic set on Feb. 11. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15. Call (813) 248-9500 for details.
He recently spoke by phone from his Brooklyn abode about his love of the road, Twitter and why he’d rather have a root canal than do a Soul Coughing reunion.
Has anything changed with the recording process of Sad Man Happy Man?
It’s hard to for me to discern from my angle what is different and what is the same. I’m just making the music. I can tell you that basically, I’ve been doing gigs with my cellist Andrew “Scrap” Livingston for about a year and a half, and I really wanted to do an album that captured that. In terms of where is sits in the overall flow of my career, I’m speechless.
How do you feel about performing live?
It’s different with every crowd, but I still get stage fright every once and a while. And at very odd times too, not necessarily at the most important gigs. When I first started it was terrible. I was absolutely terrified. It’s hard for me to believe I ever really got over it because I was so scared.
I heard that you had been a fan of boy band music? Is that true?
In the late 1990s there was this Swedish guy named Max Martin who is an amazing pop songwriter. A lot of the boy band music back then was totally plastic or whatever, but the songwriting was great. I’m not hearing the same level of songwriting with Miley Cyrus. She doesn’t really do it for me. I don’t know if that’s surprising to anyone, though.
On the new album, you do a cover of Casper the Friendly Ghost. What provoked that?
I guess I figured out the song so I could sit around and play it on my own. There’s all kinds of songs that I play around the house just because I dig them, and that one just ended up sounding record-worthy. When I recorded it I didn’t even think it was going to go on the record, I thought it would be a B-side or something But I just love the song.
What kind of relationship do you have with the fact you were in Soul Coughing?
Honestly, about two thirds of Soul Coughing music I really don’t like. Which is troubling when somebody comes up and says, “I love Soul Coughing,” I’m like, “I don’t love Soul Coughing.” I try to politely smile and say thank you and keep my feelings to myself. But it was like I grew up and became a rock star and it was an incredibly miserable experience. Really terrible, and the relationship of the band was terrible.
Like Stewart Copeland and Sting, eh?
I think Sting and Steward Copeland were super-happy friends in comparison to Soul Coughing. We were just bad news.
So a Soul Coughing reunion isn’t going to happen unless apocalypse is at hand?
No. Even if there is an apocalypse at hand. I don’t need money that bad.
What are you listening to right now?
I’m fixated on Bon Iver — or “Bonyver,” or however you are supposed to pronounce it. Jose Gonzalez is my guy. A lot of John Cage’s prepared piano pieces are really beautiful and weird. And I’m always listening to lots of John Coltrane.
Do you think that the idea of the coveted record deal has disappeared?
Well, yeah, back when I got my first record deal, there were deals for bands like Soul Coughing. And they would pay for a van, hotels rooms, get you some gigs and push you on your way. Now I don’t think that exists as much anymore.
Does that hinder musicians who are just starting out?
It’s a great time for someone like me who has an audience. It’s a difficult time for someone starting out to find an audience from scratch.
So I hear you’re a tweeter?
Oh yeah (laughs) I think it’s a great little form. It can be very poetic in its own way because you have parameters of those 140 characters. It can be really great in the right hands, and then it can be really boring if it’s someone telling you what they had for breakfast.
So your artistic spirit isn’t hindered by the parameters of 140 characters?
I think having parameters is a great little trick for creating something. You have to deal with the form as it is, you have to figure out a way to live in this form and still be creative. And it can be really liberating to have parameters as opposed to staring at a blank page and being able to do whatever the hell you want to do.
-- Arielle Stevenson, tbt*. Photo: 60 Cycle Media.