Mike Doughty on revisiting Soul Coughing songs
Sarah Forbes Keogh
After years of refusing to play Soul Coughing songs, Mike Doughty, the band's former frontman is not only performing entire sets of the band's material, but he also released an album of Soul Coughing tunes reimagined. The title of the disc, issued last month on Doughty's Snack Bar imprint, is made up of a list of the songs included (Circles Super Bon Bon Sleepless How Many Cans? True Dreams of Wichita Monster Man Mr. Bitterness Maybe I'll Come Down St. Louise Is Listening I Miss the Girl Unmarked Helicopters The Idiot Kings So Far I Have Not Found the Science). We recently spoke with Doughty about revisiting Soul Coughing material.
Westword: Why revisit the Soul Coughing Material now after twenty some odd years later?
I have been trying to come up with a succinct, easily articulable way of saying this to interviewers, and I got nothing. I don't know why I'm doing this. I don't why I'm doing it now. I started it, and it kind [developed] its own life, and here I am.
It's kind of funny that after refusing to play the stuff for so long. I think it's cool you're revisiting it. When you re-recorded the stuff you were trying to tap into what you sort of originally envisioned, right?
Can you expand on that a little bit?
Sure. I don't know. It's hard for me to answer questions that aren't questions [laughs]. It's hard for me. Yeah. I'm happy to answer any question, but it's got to be a question. What would you like know? What specifically?
With the new recordings of the Soul Coughing songs, it's sounds like you were trying to tap into what you kind of envisioned the songs originally being. Is that correct? Before the band members injected their own personality into the songs.
I'm definitely reaching back to where I was at and who I was when I actually sat in a room, sat on the edge of a bed with an acoustic guitar and wrote the songs.
How was that going back two decades and sort of looking at the songs now? Did you see things differently?
I mean, at its best, when you're playing a song, you're just living inside the song. You're looking out, as opposed to looking at something on a piece of paper that you wrote twenty years ago. I mean, I don't know if it's different or not. I'm just trying to be in the song.
Did you notice things that maybe you didn't notice when you wrote the songs? Did anything surface that you hadn't realized before? If that makes any sense at all.
I don't think so. It was just really trying to find the love in them, you know?
On this current tour, you're going to be doing nothing but Soul Coughing songs, right?
In doing this tour, did you have the fans in mind and giving something that they wanted all these years?
All I can tell is that I'd rather be broke than be inauthentic on stage. Everything that I've ever done is centered in the art and centered in the music.
In your book, you wrote about how there were just a handful of Soul Coughing songs that you liked. I think you said you wanted to find what you loved in those songs.
When you worked at the Knitting Factory and you got to see cats like Zorn and Sun Ra and Marc Ribot, I think you asked Marc to play with you, right?
How did working there affect your outlook on music, and did it get you into jazz and avant-garde stuff?
Sure, absolutely. There were amazing players. Just being exposed to Zorn as a person was amazing.
Did any of that seep into the Soul Coughing stuff?
Sure, of course.
In your book, when you mention the band, you never use the other guys' names. I was kind of curious why you decided to do that?
Basically because I work on pseudonyms for everybody. I just didn't get pseudonyms that were good enough essentially. It just seemed a lot more interesting from a reader's perspective to do the instrumentalists.
In revisiting the Soul Coughing stuff, did it make you want to reflect on the band and the friction and whatever else? Did any of that sort of come up in your head when you were doing this album?
This is just about songs -- its own experience. Just living in the songs, trying to navigate them.
What else have you been up to lately beside the new record and tour?
Well, I'm always writing songs. That's the daily discipline. I'm working on guitar parts. Writing things down as I go about my business in the world, on the subway or whatever. I'm always working on beats on my laptop. I'm just always working.
Has you approach to songwriting changed over the years at all?
I don't think so. Not really. I feel like I've become a better artist -- more disciplined and more sort of in tune with what the music wants to be, but that's just evolution. There haven't been any real changes I don't think.