A Chat with Mike Doughty


Musician, novelist, poet, columnist, blogger, and photographer Mike Doughty is coming to Indianapolis Feb. 9 on tour with Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Doughty is a man who cannot stop creating. He's released 17 albums, one memoir, one book of poetry, a host of plays and now a rock opera and that's only since 2000.

Image Courtesy of Chart Room Media

Image Courtesy of Chart Room Media

Doughty first broke through to the mainstream in the band Soul Coughing. All three of Soul Coughing’s albums are certified Gold sellers.

After leaving the band which Doughty refers to as an “abusive marriage” he was able to create the music that he wanted to make. In 2013 he returned to 13 of his favorite Soul Coughing songs and re-recorded them for the album Circles, Super Bon Bon, and The Very Best of Soul Coughing.

A man who tells everything released his memoir “The Book of Drugs” (2012, Da Capo Press), describing his time in Soul Coughing and his drug abuse. Most recently he released the album Stellar Motel, an album that relies more on hip hop than an acoustic guitar. He will be touring with Andrew “Scrap” Livingston, his long time cellist.

The Campus Citizen caught up with Mike Doughty on the phone before the last show of his Living Room Tour and prior to joining back up with Big Head Todd and the Monsters.

You’re finishing up a living room show tour, how are those going?

They’re going great. They’re emotionally stressful, but musically they are fantastic.

Too intimate?

Oh yeah, so intimate. People are so close to you, it’s really kind of unnerving. You’re very vulnerable when you’re doing it.

How many people are you cramming into these living rooms?

40 to 50.

So you’re launching into another tour with Big Head Todd will you be bringing the full band?

No it’ll be me and “Scrap.” It’s amplified so it can get really loud, it’s not like delicate folk duo.

You had a pretty busy last year after the release of Stellar Motel…

I moved to Memphis, did a rock opera at WNYC, a lot of stuff man.

What was creating an opera like?

Tough. Just a ton of work, ultra-anxiety producing. I had a great band, and actors, and actress playing the role of God. It was just a neat experience.

Do you have any trouble going from creative outlet to creative outlet, be it music, writing plays, essays, and books, or do you find that creation is creation?

I mean at some point you have to stop worrying about and just hope that people will get it. My aim is just to do the best work I can do.

What are you most proud of?

Oh my gosh, I mean, I’m hopefully proud of everything I do the moment I do it, and then I try to forget about it. I sort of look forward to the next thing. It’s hazardous to dwell on yourself, my goal is to just keep going.

What’re you looking ahead to now?

Working on an album, kind of working on a book, playing a ton of shows. I’m always doing a ton of stuff. I think I’m going to work more on the opera, add a little more.

How far along are you with the new album?

Well you know I thought I was done, but then there turned out to be more songs I wanted to do. I recorded them and then I wasn’t crazy about them, that and the fact that I’m always writing songs all the time, I don’t want to call it just yet. Invariably when I’m certain something is going to come out at a certain time I end up being totally wrong and it ends up being pushed back.

New direction for the new album?

There’s a lot of guitars on this one, a lot of loud distorted guitars. It’s a curious development.

How do you go about writing, almost all your albums sound different, how do you get that new sound, do you focus in on a topic, or is it where you are writing the material?

I think you do better work the less you think about it. I just sort of accumulate riffs that I record on my phone during sound check or when I’m practicing scales. Then there’s lyrical fragments, at some point there’s the disciplined process of putting them both together. It’s sort of a spread out process of accumulating ideas and the more specific process of figuring out how those things fit in the context of songs.

Do you have any time just to yourself when you aren’t creating?

No, I mean that’s about it. I hang out with friends, we’ll get coffee or have dinner, but other than that I spend all my time working on stuff.

So what is your new book focusing on?

I don’t really want to say because it’s so early. One thing is for sure, if I tell you what I think it’s about it’ll end up being about something else. Again the more certain I am the more I’ll be wrong.

How do you stay hungry and continue to find things to create?

I’m reading all the time, listening all the time, just trying to stay awake and alive in the world.

In your book, you said you are done doing Soul Coughing stuff, recently you revisited Soul Coughing songs, can we expect to see some Soul Coughing songs?

Yeah, two or three. I have a ton of records at this point. Generally the biggest chunk of stuff is from Haughty Melodic. The bulk of my audience, at this point, is based in Haughty Melodic, I play them because they are good songs, most of them I wrote with Dan Wilson, he’s a superb artist and songwriter.

Mike Doughty will be performing at The Vogue on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

Doors open at 7 p.m. $25/21+

Tickets available here.