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Interview: Musician Mike Doughty on Yes and Also Yes

My appreciation of Mike Doughty‘s music started much later than most fans, as I first became aware of his work with his 2005 album, Haughty Melodic. When I found he had a new album, Yes and Also Yes, set for release on August 30, I immediately set up an email interview to find out what was in store for fans of his work.

If you’ve never seen Doughty live, take a spin around YouTube for a bit and you quickly will realize that you should see him live as soon as possible. To best frame the album in proper context, I quote Doughty himself: “I recorded it in a studio in Koreatown, Manhattan, from July ’10 to April ’11.

“Produced by Pat Dillett. Notable musicians included my trusty factotum Andrew ‘Scrap’ Livingston on bass, and the pianist Thomas Bartlett, a.k.a. Doveman, who basically plays with everybody who’s groovy (Justin Bond, Antony and the Johnsons, Glen Hansard, The National, David Byrne, Yoko Ono). I’m releasing it on my own label, Snack Bar, through Megaforce. I split with Dave Matthews’ label ATO so I could run my own shop and have more control, business-wise.”

I had a chance to listen to the album in preparation for this interview, and I was pleased to find there’s not a bad cut among any of the 14 songs. One song that I hope will garner a lot of attention is “Holiday”, a Christmas duet with singer/songwriter great Rosanne Cash. About Cash, Doughty said: ” I did a show with her, and she said, onstage, ‘I feel nervous playing my new songs, because Mike Doughty is here, and he’s such a great songwriter.’ That blew my mind.” Honestly, to borrow a phrase from Doughty, their duet blows my mind. I am the kind of person that hates hearing Christmas music anytime other than December. But this song has such an amazing hook (as most of Doughty’s songs do), I ended up playing it seven times in a row the first time I heard it.

The whole album pulled me in just as much and it was a pleasure to interview Doughty. We also got to discuss another recent Doughty musical project, Dubious Luxury, released earlier this month. My thanks to Doughty for his time and thoughts, as well as Rob Moore for facilitating the interview. 

You’re an artist who clearly loves to play live. In developing Yes and Also Yes, how much did you play some of these songs before an audience prior to entering the studio? And did any of the cuts change drastically from how it was initially conceived compared to the final version?

I’ve been playing a lot of comedy shows, around Brooklyn and Manhattan, as a musical guest, and I played “Na Na Nothing”, and “Day By Day By” at nearly every one of them, plus, maybe, “27 Jennifers”. If I play something a lot, before or after recording it, the phrasing will change ever so slightly, so there’ll be a cumulative evolution that I barely notice, unless I listen to a five-year-old version, and then it’s kind of startling. So, I don’t really know.

Are you feeling more or less pressure to succeed, now that you run your own label again?

“Succeed” is a tricky word. I live on music, and I don’t have to work another job, so that’s success to me. I’ve had richer and poorer years, relatively, since I started making solo albums. But I have to say, as a solo guy I’ve made a lot more money than I did in Soul Coughing, though that band sold a lot more records. My only extravagance is flying business class, which I’d probably do even if it was straining my finances, because flying is so wretched. That said, there’s more pressure to generate cash from the album, because, since it’s my label, I did it all on my dime.

Now that you’ve done a song in German (“Makelloser Mann”), any desire to musically explore through other foreign languages?

Well, “Makelloser Man” is a bunch of random, peculiar phrases. I hope to write a real song in German some day. Always wanted to learn Spanish, to read Borges, Octavio Paz, and Pablo Neruda in the original.

About Tim O'Shea

  • Julie

    Sorry, but this is most disappointing. I was the hugest fan of Mike and Soul Coughing. I bought every release, but this is just the end for me. We’ll see this on the soundtrack to Grey’s Anatomy or some other lame show. Do your thing and good for you, but you were poised to be an eternal musical force and now you release these things? Ugh.