Singer/Songwriter’s Latest Tour Leaves Nothing Unanswered

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 13:28

An Interview with Mike Doughty

by: Casey Pukl

Mike Doughty has had quite a colorful career to say the least. Starting off in the early 90’s with the alternative rock band he founded, Soul Coughing, Doughty broke up the band in 2000 over conflicts (which might be the understatement of the century). Doughty has long equated his experience in the group to that of an abusive relationship which was heavily fueled by drug use. After leaving the band, Doughty sought treatment for his drug addiction and started touring on his own.

Over the years, Doughty has developed his own following of fans and released several successful solo albums. His latest work, however, comes in the form of a memoir called The Book of Drugs, in which he recalls stories from his time in Soul Coughing and addicted to drugs. His latest tour merges his memoir and his music with a candid q&a session for a one-of-a-kind intimate experience. I had the chance to catch up with Mike Doughty last week and ask him a few questions of my own…

CP: You just released your memoir, “The Book of Drugs”, which really covers some intense ground with your previous band Soul Coughing and your drug addiction. What prompted you to do that? 

MD: Basically, I just had a bunch of good stories. I didn’t feel like I had some sort of over arching perspective on my life, I mean, I’m not that old! But I just went in and said I wanted to write a book, and someone said, ok, here’s some money, go write a book (laughs)! So then I had to do it.

CP: (Laughs) Right on. What was writing that book like for you? That period of time has always appeared to be a really painful period for you from the outside, so was writing it really difficult? 

MD: No, it wasn’t difficult. These are all things I’ve talked to a zillion people about in the past. What was startling was afterwards reading it— looking at it on paper and realizing how truly messed up that all was.

CP: Did you go through a change in your writing process when you left the band?

MD: Yeah, I mean, Soul Coughing was really difficult because those guys disliked me intensely, so I had to sort of trick them into doing what I needed them to do on particular songs. It definitely changed in the sense that it got easier, but I also got sober. That just opened it up for me and really brought that spirit of invention back that had been gone for a long time.

CP: Did you find that writing sober was more difficult?

MD: Initially, my brain was just charred, and my receptors were just utterly burned out. But once I started opening up and I started really getting into it, I felt like I was so much more engaged, so much more alive as an artist, and there was a humility that was so freeing. I was working for the songs here, not the other way around. If you can make it not about you and make it about the music, I think it makes the music a lot better.

CP: What is your writing process like? Where does that start for you?

MD: I go through an accumulation phase of just writing riffs every time I get a guitar in my hands, and I go around the world in life and write stuff down. I write down stuff I read, stuff I think up. Then at some point, I sit down and start putting the cut ups together and I’ll try to match a riff to a lyric, and then see if the lyrics suggest something melodically or if there’s a melody embedded in the riff. It’s pretty exploratory unless it’s a eureka moment thing.

CP: Do you use any particular software or loops or anything like that?

MD: Yeah. I’ve certainly done a lot of stuff on Ableton, but most of it starts on the acoustic guitar.

CP: Who are you listening to lately?

MD: Who am I listening to lately? It’s pretty shockingly terrible on a number of levels (laughs)! You know this rapper, Lady?

CP: (Laughs) Oh no!

MD: Yeah, that song, [name edited for our younger readers]. My girlfriend got me into that shit, and I think it’s hilarious (laughs).

CP: (Laughs) You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s what Mike Doughty is listening to?

MD: That’s what Mike Doughty is listening to. And the other thing, this is very typical of me, but it’s like there’s that, and then this art rock band from San Francisco in the 70’s called Noh Mercy. My listening is always like that. There’s something mainstream, and then there’s something utterly out of left field at the same exact time.

CP: You’ve got to have that balance.

MD: Totally.

CP: So your latest tour is really interesting to me. I know you’re doing a bit of a different and more interactive format where you’ll be reading portions of the book, playing songs, and answering audience questions. What has that experience been like?

MD: It’s been awesome! I was terrified to start it. I was in denial about having to do shows with readings in it, but I was committed to do it. I didn’t start picking out stuff to read until like the day before (laughs). But I was surprised; it’s gone really well. People are really into it! I really expected there to be an awkwardness to it, but it has actually been super smooth.

CP: Have you been getting a lot of really difficult questions?

MD: The double album I just put out, “Question Jar Show” is all about weird questions. Like, if you were a pharaoh, what curse would you have put on your tomb? Would you rather play Twister with Dick Cheney or punch a kitten in the face? It’s got kind of funny, weird questions, so I do get some of those. But really Q&A is code for I will tell you a bunch of really gnarly things about Soul Coughing and what a sort of emotionally violent marriage that was. 

CP: That’s kind of where I was going initially. That has to be really bizarre. I mean, if I was going to put myself in your shoes and try to imagine being you, which I really honestly can’t, but if I were to try, opening up about that experience would be really difficult. There are still a lot of people who have a really hard time letting go of that band.

MD: Well, they don’t really show up at my shows anymore. The crowd that I have is about the records I’ve been making for the last decade. Now, when people are yelling out song titles, they’re yelling out songs from “Haughty Melodic”, and boy oh boy does that make me happy (laughs). But honestly, just in my typically crazy brain, I thought that everybody knew this stuff already. I thought that everyone else knew how dark it was. But I mean, of course they didn’t! You aren’t mind readers. It’s not difficult for me to talk about it, I mean, I’m an over sharer in the first place. But it is very odd that the audience is so shocked to hear a lot of this stuff.

CP: I think a big part of that shock value is to hear it from you personally.

MD: Sure.

CP: Well, thank you so much for your time— I’m really looking forward to your show!

MD: Thank you, I’m looking forward to it too! 

Now is the time to get your questions for Mike answered! Don’t miss out on this unique and intimate show.

Mike Doughty on Spotify

WHAT: Mike Doughty
WHEN: Friday, April 13, 7:30pm
TICKETS: $10-$39 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile