Thursday, August 7, 2008

Talkin' to the Zipcode Man: The Mike Doughty Interview

Anyone listening to “Alternative” music in the mid to late 1990s, heard Soul Coughing and the unique lyrics of its leader/singer/guitarist, M. Doughy. Well, as most of you know, the “M” stands for Mike who left Soul Coughing in 2000 amid difficult personal and band circumstances. Getting clean and renting a car and logging 9000 miles on the road, he played solo shows building a base of both former Soul Coughing and new fans. This base allowed him to sell 20,000 copies of his first solo album, Skittish. In 2003, Doughty released another album independently, the EP Rockity Roll. In 2004 he signed with Dave Matthews' ATO label for the release of Haughty Melodic and Golden Delicious (My review is here.) in 2008. Dynamic Meter got the opportunity to email Mike Doughty some questions about the new album and more.

Dynamic Meter: "Fort Hood's" words and music have an opposite feel, serious words melded with dancey music. In this song, about soldiers going to Iraq and coming home again, the way the music and the words work together seems to reflect the way our country is existing during this war. We're at war, but we all go about our jaunty existences without much thought about the price of the conflict. Did you intentionally try to contrast the feel of the music with the meaning of the words?

Mike Doughty: That's interesting, I've never thought about it. "Let the Sunshine In" is by nature a pretty uplifting chorus—but at the same time there's so much tragedy in the song. It seems like a poetic combination to me.

DM: Talk about using the "Let the sun shine in" sample from the musical Hair?

MD: I found a recording online of the Japanese cast from Hair. I thought it would be really funny, and it was—but when it got to the chorus they switched to English, and I found it incredibly moving and pertinent. I grew up on sample-based hiphop and house music, so it didn't seem outlandish to just gank the chorus and weld it to my own, new song.

DM: A lot of people have such a fondness for Soul Coughing. However, you left the band under difficult personal circumstances. Do you approach the way you make music differently now?

MD: Unfortunately, Soul Coughing was a pretty oppressive environment, and as time went by, it became very difficult to bring my songs in and get my bandmates to play them the way I needed them to. So I definitely feel freer to pursue my impulses. That's a big difference. In terms of who I am just as a creative individual, I'm more or less the same guy.

DM: What did you grow up listening to? There's always a funkiness to your music.

MD: Led Zeppelin was the first band I really loved, and then the Replacements, and then the Rolling Stones, and then A Tribe Called Quest—that's kind of my litany of favorite bands in order of appearance. It was in the early 90s when awesome hiphop was everywhere in New York that I started thinking about marrying the beat to a song-y-er type of thing.

DM: I really dig the sound of the new record. It has a real live-cut feel. Why did you choose to record Golden Delicious this way?

MD: I just had a band that I loved, and I wanted to play to their strengths, and make some space for their musical personalities. Interestingly, a lot of the reaction to Golden Delicious (and a lot of negative reaction) is that it's pretty slick and poppy. Which blows my mind, as I thought I was making this very rough, spontaneous-feeling record. So, thank you : )

DM: Compared to Soul Coughing, your solo work seems more lyrically direct. What do you think?

MD: Yeah, in the past eight years or so, my stuff has been more narrative, more about stories. I don't really know what that's about. My lyric writing process is essentially the same as it's always been.

DM: Tell me about our relationship with the poet, Sekou Sundiata and his influence on your writing.

MD: Sekou was my teacher, and he really galvanized me—made me take the music of language seriously, sort of showed me the sacredness of working with words. Also, Ani DiFranco was my classmate, and she was SO much better than I was—I really felt competitive, and learned a lot just trying to cop her tricks!

DM: How does your DJing as Mikey Dough influenced your Mike Doughty tunes and shows and vice versa?

MD: I've really gotten into making beats. I'm not sure exactly how that's going to affect my next record, but I'm very obsessive about it. At the moment it's separate from writing songs, which I still do on an acoustic guitar in the kitchen. But that might change.

DM: Are you a zipcode man, a homebody?

MD: Yeah, I kind of am. I live pretty far out there in Brooklyn, where there isn't a lot going on. I stay home and write and work on music. Out here you can get a pretty gigantic space, so not being cooped up in a Manhattan shoebox makes staying home and working much more fun.

DM: I like the downloader amnesty you have on your website, where you are absolved of your illegal downloading sins by making a donation to Doctors Without Borders. Do you do many benefits?

MD: I do some benefits once in a while. But I feel conflicted being very public about charity—I prefer to make donations privately, without being ostentatious about it.

DM: What are you listening to and digging that might not be on most people's radar screens?

MD: Well, lately, Celia Cruz, this Japanese band called Uhnellys, and some of John Cage's "prepared piano" music. But that might be a little too far off anybody's radar screen. I don't know, I oscillate between some pretty out stuff, and very poppy kind of hit-single things—DMB and Kelly Clarkson and the like. I'm kind of woefully ignorant of the current state of indie rock.

Below, please enjoy some great sounds from Mike Doughty.

The Gambler Cover

Fort Hood


Anonymous said...

Fort Hood is indeed a strange song. The beat itself is happy and uplifting, but having lived on Fort Hood, it makes me want to cry.

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