The email came a full three months before the scheduled release date.
Mike Doughty wanted to know if I wouldn’t mind having a listen to the master of his new album Yes And Also Yes.
When I picked my jaw up off the top of my shoes and erased several versions of a response email that riffed along the lines of “MOI? FUCK YEAH! TOO RIGHT! GIMMEGIMMEGIMME! YOU LOVE ME! YOU REALLY LOVE ME!” I started listening to what I now think is Doughty’s best.
Why? There’s just SO much to it. It’s meaty. There’s radio-friendly sing-along-ables. (“Na Na Nothing”, “Into the Un” “Day By Day By” “Weird Summer”) Songs with jingle bells AND beautiful Roseanne Cash! (“Holiday”) There’s weird stories, rhymes, some silly, and what they call phat beats (“Russell” “Vegetable” – the vegetarian soul sister of “More Bacon Than The Pan Can Handle” – “Makelloser Mann” in German). There’s rock…plus roll! (“Have At It”, “Strike the Motion” and “Rational Man”). There’s poignant and pretty (“Telegenic Exes 1&2” and my fave “The Huffer and the Cutter”) and there’s just SMART, witty, stuff everywhere. It’s a good, a really good, Mike Doughty album.
Two nights before “Release Day” (August 30) for Yes and Also Yes (the phrase MD put in his internet dating profile ‘cos he had to come up with something quickly), I sent over these questions to my old friend. Here’s our online “chat” through space and time and technology.
Your lyrics always remind me of words I love, lost sometimes in my everyday language and dulled by my inability to get through the 5 books I have on my bedside table, and brought back in the most groovy way. (Chump! Hapless! Tropes! <3 ) What modern lyricists turn you on?
Bon Iver is amazing–“Blood Bank” is an incredible portrait of linked moments, which I think is common to great narrative songs. Stephin Merritt is amazing. The Beasties seem goofy to some people, but I think they’re arch, funny, and referential in a beautiful way, and I truly believe “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” is their very best album. They really know how to play words. There’s two non-English songs I love, lyrically: “Ich Sang die Ganze Zeit von Dir” (I sang the whole time for you) by Tomte, and “Je Vais Prendre Ta Douleur” (I’ll take your pain) by Camille.
The band Fannypack who came off as a novelty act, had some insanely funny and sharp lyrics. They seem to have evaporated, and it’s disappointing to me that they weren’t generally hailed. Joanna Newsom’s lyrics are really creepy, and kind of glowing, behind that delicate façade. José Gonzales, particularly “Crosses” and “Down the Line”. There’s likely to be thirty great artists I remember the moment I’m done with this interview.
My favourite tracks on this, my favourite album of yours – “Huffer and the Cutter” “Na Na Nothing” “Have At It” “Rational Man” among ‘em – are all really different… And “Have At It” feels like new MD territory. The Lord seems to be helping you to rock on. Can you take us through the thoughts behind the evolution or inspiration behind these, particularly?
I was very keen on getting Scrap (my bass player, Andrew “Scrap” Livingston) to play an electric bass guitar, high up on the neck with a pick. A very 80s sound, the Cure, Cocteau Twins, etc. I’ve never had that on any of my music, ever. He plays amazing lines on “Vegetable” and “Strike the Motion” that are of that ilk.
Initially, I thought this was going to be an extremely rock kind of record. There’s sort of a middle suite–“Strike the Motion”, “Have At It”, and “Makelloser Mann”–that’s the purest version of that kind of rock notion.
But a couple things happened on the way to the ball: there were a few tracks that were hybridized with sampled/computer/machine stuff–“The Huffer and the Cutter” among them–that I’d been messing with.
And I had a late jolt of inspiration, with “Na Na Nothing”, and “Holiday” which I wrote with Dan Wilson, and also “Into the Un”, which I wrote and recorded very quickly, ostensibly for the “Twilight” soundtrack, but it was rejected. The “Un” of the title comes from a Spalding Gray monologue about the unconscious.
For those songs, I programmed the tracks and beats, and I got really micro about them, very meticulous about every detail of the arrangement. I just got absorbed.
So the record has kind of a structure–the programmed, late-inspiration tracks go into the rock tracks, which then go into the hybridized tracks.
On the eve of the release of YAAY (!), are you filled with excitement, trepidation, fear, denial or what, as your art gets unleashed on the world?
I try my best to avoid thinking about it. Basically, I try to make my own favorite records–that’s the only way I can operate with honesty. I’m gratified when people like songs, I’m grateful to have a crowd, and to be making a good living doing this. But it’s too easy to hitch my self-esteem to what other people think of my music, so I concentrate on my own reaction to the work, and whether I said what I intended to say.
I’m very curious which songs the audience will be particularly interested in, because I’m trying to put together a set list for a full-band tour in October and November.
So….Makelloser Mann…a title from a story by AL Kennedy. Inspiration in general? Even though the song is a bunch of random German phrases…are there any areas in which you are an immaculate man?
I am definitely NOT immaculate in any way.
I am so confused by “Russell”, the song with aspartame. Help me.
This character of Russell kind of showed up as I was writing the song–I was in a tiny cabin in the woods, in Saratoga Springs, NY–and it became about him. In the second verse, you’re seeing him as he obsessively programs in antiquated computer languages–BASIC, FORTRAN, and COBOL–drinking diet cola from a brandy snifter. Then, in the last verse, I thank him, sardonically, for being in the song, and tell him that I’ll mention him in my acceptance speech when I get a Grammy. Which, I hasten to underline, is unlikely.
Snack Bar! The name of your own label! The label upon which “Yes and Also Yes” is released! Who would you sign if you could and why would this band want to join Team Mike Doughty’s Snack Bar?
I had a good year with the label a couple years ago, I released an album by the Panderers, and one tune was scooped up by Sony for a Playstation ad. That was a lovely check for them. But, disappointingly, people don’t buy records. They couldn’t afford to tour.
There’s a Tokyo band called Uhnellys that brought me and Scrap over to Japan for a three-week tour. That was tremendous. One of the best tours of my life. I’d really like to bring them over here, to repay the favor, but they’re unknowns. If I could even sell 5,000 or 8,000 records, which in the last century was a pittance, I could’ve afforded to fly them over, put them in a van, get them around the country. But that kind of opportunity is pretty much gone for new artists.
I’m very grateful that I started recording, touring, and accumulating an audience in the last century. If I had to start today, I might not get past the starting line.
Can you tell me a secret about the Drug Book? Like, not that it’s coming out next year and is about, yunno, drugs…but as I’m assuming this covers off some of the years when you and I would occasionally hang out, I’m particularly curious…’cos I actually saw the stoned Doughty, no first name. Can you reveal any of the meat of it? An example of a moment or tale?
It’s called “The Book of Drugs”. Hmmmmmm, I don’t think it’s the right time to recount any of the specific tales. I will say that I tried hard not to portray myself as a bad-ass. It’s comical, and sad, and there’s some weirdly beautiful stuff in there, but it’s not very blood-and-guts–because that’s just not my story.
I also haven’t been comfortable speaking specifically about what a nightmare being in Soul Coughing was. It was a terrible, abusive relationship, and I tell a number of extremely specific stories about those days.
Is it true that nothing’s sexier than regret?
Aaaaah–no. Pretty much everything is sexier than regret. That lyric’s meant to be acerbic.
You, like me, are kind woven into the thread of the interweb. Ever regret anything you’ve Tweeted or Tumblr’d?
I wrote a blog about how conflicted I felt about dating Asian women, and women of color in general. In general, I think I was able to communicate that I struggle with it, that I feel weird about it. But there was one woman I was seeing that was really upset by it. So, for her sake, I regret it. I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings.
If you were to back to that dating site, and revise your profile description now, what would it say?
“Will Write a Love Song About You for $10”
What makes you ridiculously happy?
When I find a song that really moves me, that I become obsessed with, that I listen to over and over again as I ride the subway. When I’m so moved by it that I make involuntary, emotional facial expressions, in public. Loving a song like that is one of the sweetest parts of being alive, for me. \m/
2 responses to “Interview: MIKE DOUGHTY on new album Yes and Also Yes – “I thought this was going to be an extremely rock kind of record””
GREAT ARTICLE! I love it when songwriters aren’t afraid to tell people what their songs are about. Balls is what that is. Or what that takes? Anyway, Mike’s got balls. Plus, telling people what the songs are about and where they came from helps us to be sure that they’re about SOMETHING- about what we feel like they’re about, and we’re not bopping to something somebody read inside a Dove chocolate wrapper.
” When I’m so moved by it that I make involuntary, emotional facial expressions, in public…”. I do this when ever a Randy Rhodes guitar solo is being played on my iPod and my daughter looks at me like I’ve got two heads.
Mike, Looking forward to the new record and am jazzed it’s got a MD/Dan Wilson tune on it. See you in Oct. here in Atlanta!