STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Mike Doughty fronted the ‘90s alternative rock outfit Soul Coughing, and has built a following since going it alone in 2000.
Along the way, the reedy-voiced Doughty got a big boost from Dave Matthews, who signed him to his ATO Records label for five years. A March 5 show at World Cafe Live will feature an opening slot by the band Wheatus, known for the memorable one-hit wonder “Teenage Dirtbag.”
In a phone call Feb. 23, Doughty apologizes, says he’s strained voice and asks if we can chat by email.
What the heck did you do to your voice? Hopefully it involved something fun.
Oh, I just blew it out yelling into a microphone. Hazard of the trade. I’ll be fine by show time tonight.
You sampled “Sunshine on My Shoulders” (in the song “Sunshine”) and covered “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” How much of an influence is John Denver to you?
I loved John Denver when I was 4 (Doughty is 46), and rediscovered him when I was 29. What a brilliant artist.
Compare and contrast your first three solo albums, which were homemade CDs, and your last two, which you utilized PledgeMusic to release.
I don’t think the PledgeMusic aspect changed much about the process, really. This one (2016’s “The Heart Watches While the Brain Burns”) was done very quickly, almost by accident. (New York hip-hop producer) Good Goose and I started working, and suddenly we had enough for an album. There wasn’t time to do a crowdfunding campaign. Right now I’m focusing a lot of creative energy on my Patreon feed, which is a new song every week — really — and costs $5 a month. That’s along the crowdfunding lines.
Tell me about when you first went solo and you were driving all over to play shows wherever you could. It sounds like it was a desperate time.
It was a liberating time. I was making more money as a guy by myself in a car than I did during the last years of Soul Coughing. When I had a video on MTV, I had a side job writing for The New York Press, under a pseudonym, to pay the rent.
Because you’re up to your ninth full-length album now, do you ever play any of the old Soul Coughing songs? Do audiences call out for them?
A few. I’m really interested in them lately, actually. The show is about half old, half very new.
As a recovered addict, what’s your opinion on the current national opioid addiction problem?
People like opiates because they’re in pain. Don’t tell people to stop taking opiates. Help them with their pain.
You wrote a rock opera about Revelation (the Holy Bible’s Book of Revelation)?
I did! So proud of it. I did it in conjunction with the public radio show “Studio 360,” and they funded a staged version through WNYC. The whole thing is up on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_K2X1w7eF6I). Amber Gray from “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet,” which is on Broadway right now, is in it, as is Xenia Rubinos. Beautiful weird visuals by Hamburger Vampire.
How do you like living in Memphis? Do you ever play any surprise pop-up gigs there?
I play lots of low-key shows in the bars. I have an improv band called Spooky Party that gets around town.
What’s your disposition on being part of a band? Is it not your thing?
I’m a better band leader than band member.
What influence did growing up in a military family have on your life?
Clearly all the moving around has been mirrored in my adult life on the road.