Artist Interviews

Q&A: Mike Doughty

By | Published on Wednesday 23 June 2010

Mike Doughty

Formerly the frontman of Soul Coughing, Mike Doughty began to pursue his solo career after the band split in 2000. His first solo album, ‘Skittish’, was released that year, and he has has since released three more, with his fifth – ‘Sad Man, Happy Man’ – due out later this year. Meanwhile, he will play a gig with indie pop superstars They Might Be Giants on 26 Jun at Royal Festival Hall, and a headline gig on 29 Jun at Hoxton’s Underbelly. We caught up with Mike to ask the Same Six.

Q1 How did you start out making music?
At some point when I was a kid listening to Led Zeppelin, the music turned into a drug for me. Listening enacted this huge emotional change. So I realised that I had to do this with my life. I started playing bass, really poorly, because some other kids at school started a terrible punk rock band and needed a bass player. I couldn’t play anybody else’s songs, so I wrote my own, that I could sing over my own crude basslines. Eventually I switched to guitar, and started playing sorta-folkish stuff.

Q2 What inspired your latest album?
Food, a breakup, various ineffable yearnings. I was touring a lot with my cello player, Andrew ‘Scrap’ Livingston, just the two of us, and I became enamoured with the stripped-down sound. And I knew a lot of my crowd wanted another acoustic release, like my first solo album ‘Skittish’.

Q3 What process do you go through in creating a track?
Songwriting usually starts with a chord progression that I improvise when drinking coffee in the morning. I record it onto my computer and forget about it. Then, as I’m walking along in the world, on the subway, etc, I’ll hear words or think them up, jot them down in a notebook. So months or years later I’ll have a pile of words and phrases and a pile of chord progressions. I’ll start trying them out with each other, testing melodies, bumping them around.

Q4 Which artists influence your work?
I’m not so much influenced by artists as tracks – from really different sources, like from pop tunes to Arabic music. I’ll take a swatch of melody from a song and bump it around until it’s a little different, then use it. That said, in terms of other artists that are doing acousticky stuff, I love Jose Gonzales and Bon Iver. Billy Bragg, John Lee Hooker, and Ani DiFranco are artists that influenced me in terms of trying to do acoustic, solo music with a real rhythmic heft to it.

Q5 What would you say to someone experiencing your music for the first time?
I would hope that I wouldn’t have to say anything. I’d prefer somebody come to it without preferences, and engage it on its own terms. If it was a Soul Coughing fan, I’d be like: Just remember, this is gonna sound nothing like Soul Coughing.

Q6 What are your ambitions for your latest album, and for the future?
I want it to be heard by as many people as I can bring it to. And, uh, I want them to dig it, of course. As for the future, right now I’m at this artists’ colony in upstate New York, I’ve finished about 20 songs in a month. So I’m already thinking about the next album – sonically and vibe-wise, though, I have no idea where I’m headed. Well, kind of an idea. As for the far future, I just hope I can keep coming up with songs and playing them for people that dig them. I want to be doing this when I’m 72.