Five questions for Mike Doughty
When Mike Doughty broke up his band Soul Coughing amid acrimony in 2000 and was dumped by the group's label, Warner Bros. Records, he never stopped creating, despite struggles with addiction that he later documented in his memoir, "The Book of Drugs."
His home-grown solo debut, "Skittish" – recorded before the band split – sold more than 20,000 copies without label support, but on the back of years of hardcore touring. "I felt wildly liberated," Doughty said of that time.
Inking a deal with ATO, Doughty went on a creative spree to match his road skills, releasing four studio records and some other projects, too, famously avoiding Soul Coughing material, even when releasing a covers record.
But, still, something must have felt untied, incomplete, because on his new record, "Circle Super Bon Bon..." – crowdfunded in just 16 hours – Doughty makes the unusual move of revisiting material he wrote for Soul Coughing.
In advance of his Saturday, Oct. 27 gig at Turner Hall, we caught up with Doughty to talk about the new record and where he may be likely to end up in Milwaukee, in addition to Turner Hall, that is.
OnMilwaukee.com: A lot of musicians work hard to distance themselves from their former bands, but you've circled back. What led you back to Soul Coughing's songs?
Mike Doughty: First off, the process was really about the present – about being in the studio with my producer, Good Goose, and Catherine Popper, who played upright bass on the album. We were just chasing after sounds we loved. This is one of the happiest records I've ever made.
The memoir I wrote, "The Book of Drugs," was really, really dark. I guess I wanted to inhabit the songs and figure out who I was, what I meant, where I was when I wrote them – separated from the darkness of the band.
This process just kind of snowballed from picking through a bunch of old tunes, by myself, on acoustic guitar. I looked up, and suddenly it was this juggernaut of album-making and touring.
OMC: I've read that you feel like these versions are how you meant the songs to be. Had it been challenging as a songwriter to cede some control in a band setting – to see the songs end up in a form that didn't perhaps match your vision of them?
MD: It's pretty common in any art form, if you have partners, that your vision may not make it to the other side of the process, to the finished product. It was extremely challenging at the time – I had an extremely clear vision of what I wanted, which was partially more pop, and partially more along the lines of real house and drum-and-bass club bangers – but, honestly, it's a very normal experience in any creative collaboration.
OMC: Is it satisfying, then, to get a second chance with the material? Unlike in jazz or classical music or even painting – genres in which it's more acceptable to revisit and reshape the same material – It's not something rock and roll generally affords, is it?
MD: I was inspired by a lot of jazz artists' reinvention of their own compositions, or compositions that they'd done something key with, at some point in their artistic lives. I think it's just a great thing to do.
Songs evolve in performance, over years. Things come in, things go out. I'm always fascinated with bands' songs as they progress through years of touring. Songs are living things.
I really loved doing it. I may do it again.
OMC: Can you listen to the Soul Coughing records now?
MD: Well, I'm not a fan, really. Soul Coughing is great – if you like Soul Coughing. I'm over the moon about these new versions.
OMC: You've been a pretty regular to Milwaukee in recent years, any highlights you can think of? Anything you anticipate seeing or doing while you're here, if you get a free moment?
MD: My tour manager Chuck's from Neenah, and his fam always come down to any Wisconsin gig. His mom makes this kind of insanely good Chex Mix. She brings gallons, literally. Plus cheese. I know it's a cliche, but there you go.
Also, I've ended up at Pizza Shuttle more times than not.
This will be the best show you'll see all year. Nay, more than this, it might just be the greatest show you'll ever see in your entire life. ... and I'm going to miss it because it's my wedding anniversary.
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