Mike Doughty Looks Back With ‘Drugs’ Memoir, Looks Forward With Solo Career
When Mike Doughty parted ways with Soul Coughing in 2000, it wasn’t just the end of one of the more innovative bands of the ‘90s alternative movement -- it was also the start of a soon-to-be flourishing solo career. Whereas Soul Coughing made their name by combining elements of alt rock, hip-hop, jazz and spoken word into a stylish groove that spawned hits like ‘Super Bon Bon’ and ‘Circles’ -- singer/guitarist Doughty himself dubbed their sound “deep slacker jazz” -- his solo work as a singer-songwriter follows a more straightforward but no-less-impressive blueprint.
Although Soul Coughing fans didn’t know it at the time, the band’s music was fueled in part by extreme dysfunction behind the scenes. Doughty, just 22 at the time they formed, recruited his backing trio of veteran players from New York’s thriving experimental music scene while working the door at famed NYC club the Knitting Factory. But the older musicians soon pulled rank on the younger singer, forming a united front that constantly battled him over everything from song royalties to album cover art up until the very moment of the quartet's ugly split. These days, Doughty has absolutely nothing nice to say about the group that put him on the map.
All of which is covered in great detail in ‘The Book of Drugs,’ Doughty's pull-no-punches memoir that hit shelves earlier this year. It's all there: his oppressive childhood as the son of a West Point professor, his life-changing move to the Big Apple, the rise and fall of Soul Coughing and his subsequent solo career. And, of course, drugs: you don’t title your memoir 'The Book of Drugs' if you haven't done more than your fair share.
Doughty boasts a dozen various releases as a solo artist, including this year’s ‘The Question Jar Show.’ The live double disc compiles recordings from his tour of the same name, which found the singer's acoustic performances bolstered by a segment in which he answered ridiculous questions written by audience members before the show and then picked randomly from a jar. Last fall he released his "super funky" fourth studio album, 'Yes and Also Yes,' which features a duet with country singer Rosanne Cash called 'Holiday (What Do You Want?)' and 'Na Na Nothing,' which, in some convoluted way, he co-wrote with Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx.
Doughty recently completed his first round of live dates behind ‘The Book of Drugs,’ which also includes readings from the book and the return of the question jar. He's currently back on the road through a May 19 gig in Westhampton Beach, N.Y. -- check out his complete itinerary here. Diffuser.fm recently caught up with Doughty at home in Brooklyn, N.Y., to talk about 'The Book of Drugs,' his difficult years in Soul Coughing and his solo career.
You recently finished your first round of live dates behind 'The Book of Drugs.' How did they go?
Yeah, I spent three weeks out pushing the book. It went really well. I was kinda a bit freaked out before I started doing them because I’ve been reading the book within the show, which I haven’t really done before -- I haven’t even really read prose aloud before in front of a crowd. It went really well. I was kind of surprised that it went as smoothly as it did.
How is it different from the 'The Question Jar Show' tour?
It’s just me alone acoustic, I’m not even bringing my cello player [Andrew "Scrap" Livingston] along. It's just full-on one man, one book and a bunch of songs.
‘The Book of Drugs’ is a wild ride, and it starts with a picture of two Post-It notes saved from your darkest days that are covered with nonsensical scribble intended to document lyric ideas.
They’re super f---ed up, I look at those things and cannot believe that that’s where I was.
Considering your state at the time the events in the book happened, how can you be sure that they went down as you wrote them?
Really how can anybody be sure that anything happened? It’s been a really weird experience, basically ex-girlfriends are coming out of the woodwork, talking to me about what they remember as having gone down and everybody remembers everything differently. You know if three people observed something happening, all three people have a different view of what happened, it’s trippy.
What inspired you to write the book?
Well you know, I had a bunch of good stories. I don’t really think I have a particularly deep viewpoint or perspective on what happened to me -- I’m relatively young for a dude writing a memoir. Basically it’s like I’ve been threatening to write a book and some dude was like, "Cool, do it and I’ll put it out." So to some degree my bluff was called.
‘The Book of Drugs’ really lives up to its name in terms of tales of substance abuse, and now you’re clean. Yet you’ve also said that if heroin "hadn't stopped working," you would probably still be doing it.
Oh yeah. When I first started using it, heroin was super awesome. It doesn’t stay that way -- it certainly didn’t stay that way for me, it stops working. It stops being this amazing feeling and just becomes this desperation. But if I still got high I might have chosen just to live a super mediocre life and, I don’t know, stay with Soul Coughing and play a bunch of gigs that I didn’t really care about and just be able to get high.
Oddly enough, some of the most entertaining passages of the book deal with the way you were mistreated by your Soul Coughing bandmates.
It was pretty weird, looking at it on paper it looked a lot weirder than I remember it. It’s kind of amazing what I found acceptable treatment.
You guys were together all the time touring, doing interviews and making videos -- was it obvious to anybody that you did not get along?
Certainly to people we worked with, it was totally obvious. But I must not be as smart as I thought I was because other people are like, "Dude, we had no idea that this was going on." And the reason they didn’t is because I didn’t talk about it. For some reason I thought that people were mind readers.
Is it weird to be bearing your soul about your experiences with this band that was so beloved in certain circles when you don't share that sentiment?
To me, I don’t like those records, I’m super disappointed in the way they turned out, and I couldn’t be more proud of the records I’ve made in the last 11 years as a solo guy. So it's very strange to me for people to like Soul Coughing as they do because I just don’t.
Do you not like the songs? Or how the records sound? Or…
Kind of all of it. I think I’m a better songwriter now, certainly. The things that I find least offensive about Soul Coughing are like nowhere near close to the things that I love doing now.
It's even been written that you’ll walk out of a bar if you hear Soul Coughing, is that true?
Oh totally, I hate the way it sounds. Sometimes they’ll put it on at a club after I’ve played and I’ll run around the club being like, "Where’s the CD player? You’ve got to take that s--- off!" I just hate hearing it, I do not like it at all.