Mike Doughty Interview: Yes and Also Yes

Mike Doughty is a talented guy. I’ve been a fan since my high school days when I played Soul Coughing on repeat, and I later became addicted to his solo work when my musically adept cousin pointed me to Haughty Melodic, one of my favorite albums in history. So when he agreed to do an interview with The Dishmaster to promote his new album, Yes and Also Yes, I was elated. While preparing for the interview, I quickly discovered that he and I have very different feelings about the band he spent numerous years with. In fact, he once referred to his time with Soul Coughing as “the devil’s asshole.” You can therefore imagine my trepidation on broaching the subject. But I wouldn’t be The Dishmaster if I didn’t get the dish. So I dove right in, and I happily discovered that Mike was not only gracious about discussing the subject; he was also honest, which is rare in this industry. Read my interview below, and then listen to his song, “Na Na Nothing,” at the end of the post. It’s fantastic, and so is he.

I was a huge Soul Coughing fan. You’ve described your experience with Soul Coughing as “Dante’s Inferno.” Do you think being in a band inherently lends itself to fights over songwriting?

No. My band mates, in my opinion, were sociopathic. It was worse than your average band conflict. The majority of the songs were solely written by me. My band-mates’ [perspective] was “You’re not very good, and you’re very lucky to have found us,” and they also threatened to leave the band over the [songwriting split], and they were stupid enough to have done that. I do not know a story of a band crazier than mine.

Did they ever approach you after reading your interviews about them?

No. I refuse contact. But there was an interview with the keyboard player, where he basically said, “Doughty doesn’t really write music at all,” and he wasn’t trying to be a dick. He really believed that. It would be one thing if they were just mean-spirited and conniving, but to really talk to someone and say “The sky is blue,” and have them follow up, “No, it’s red” . . .

Is that why you no longer sing Soul Coughing songs?

I choose not to sing them. Chances are I wouldn’t sing those songs even if it was a good experience. I just want to get away from it. I just have songs that I like better. I’m not going to come to your house and steal your iPod. You are welcome to listen to those songs. But I don’t want to play it. If people come to the show and say they want to hear “Super Bon Bon,” I’ll tell them not to come back. And if I could give you your money back, I would. I genuinely dislike the Soul Coughing stuff. I don’t think most of the songs are very good at all.

Is that because you’ve changed styles as a musician since your time in the band?

If I had not had to constantly appease my band-mates, it would have sounded more like my solo stuff. We were Captain Beefheart, and we could have been Led Zeppelin. It sucks that this work I really dislike is hanging around my neck. I feel like a creative person that wants to keep creating art and I have a large audience that digs it.

Too bad schmucks like me keep asking you about Soul Coughing.

I don’t think you’re a schmuck. I just really wish honestly, humbly, and respectfully that guys that want to hear Soul Coughing don’t come to the shows. It’s so aggravating.

Did getting away from the label contribute to your freedom as a solo artist?

The label was very good to us. But there were a lot of stupid decisions made by my band-mates that lost [the label] money, and I look back and don’t understand why someone didn’t step in and say, “This is what you’re going to do and you’re going to like it,” because it would have been better for us.

I’ve heard you say that you make more money now than you did on the label.

It loops back to the band. But I also don’t own the Soul Coughing songwriting. The label was making a profit even when we were in the hole. But the band spent a lot of money. I remember a gig in DC and my drummer insisted on taking a tour bus instead of a van. There was so much money spent. I am not excluded from that. I would stay at the Royalton for a month making my record, and when I got out I couldn’t pay my rent. When I went solo that’s when it all made sense to me. Also — I wasn’t wasted anymore.

When you write music, do you ever look back on your songs and discover a new meaning?

Yes. You have a perspective on the emotional context after playing it for a bunch of years that you don’t have when you record it. I don’t really want to talk about it because very, very deep factors in my personality are revealed to me years later. But I’ll tell you one thing – “I don’t need to walk around in circles” was about Soul Coughing.

I love the song “Holiday” on the new album. I read that Rosanne Cash said something nice about you during a concert. Did you contact her after hearing what she said?

She said from the stage, “I’m really nervous because Mike Doughty is here and he’s such an amazing songwriter,” and my jaw hit the floor. So when Dan Wilson and I wrote “Holiday,” there happened to be this note there that I couldn’t hit, so my solution was to get a female backup singer who would sing along with the chorus . . . but I [thought] . . . as a shot in the dark, let’s send this to Rosanne Cash and see if she’ll do a full-on duet . . . And she said yes. It was astonishing.

Because of the climate of the music industry, artists are making most of their money on tour. Does the excessive traveling bother you?

No, I love touring. This last tour I did with the band was a dream. Everybody was so awesome. I’m touring with dedicated, smart, funny, interesting people that are a blast to work with, and I like being on the road.

Is it true you wrote this on an artist’s colony? Do you usually write in one condensed period of time?

It was more writing from square-one than I had done in the past. I wrote it in a more linear way than I [usually] work in.

How did you choose the title, Yes and Also Yes, for the album?

It was an improvised headline to an OkCupid profile. You can’t put the profile up without a headline, which is annoying, so I wrote “Yes and Also Yes.”

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