Dig the New Soul Man��

Charleston City Paper | October 13, 2005
Yeah, so I’m sinking my ear drums into the new solo album from that Mike Doughty guy — he’s that 35-year-old resident of Manhattan’s Lower East Side who used to sing and play in the oddball alt-rock band Soul Coughing, see? Anyways, I’m listing to this disc, Haughty Melodic, which was released on Dave Matthews’ label ATO Records, see, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Man, this guy’s nervous-sounding singing voice sure is funny, and the snare drum sure sounds ringy and roomy … but damn, this is a dandy-sounding little collection.’

“Grey Ghost” and “Busting Up a Starbucks” have a nifty full-band sound that’s not too cluttered. The lead-off tune, “Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well,” sounds pretty serious. Dave Matthews doesn’t manage to ruin the hypnotic and waltzy single “Tremendous Brunettes” with his backing vocals. I’m curious about this stuff, see? Yeah.

So I ring Doughty up on the phone, see? You know, to get some real answers about his recording session with hotshot Minneapolis producer Dan Wilson and his new band — suspiciously called “Mike Doughty’s Band.”

So I get on the phone, right? And he’s in a hotel room in Seattle, and he says to me, he says, “Yeah, I got together with Semisonic guy Dan Wilson about two years ago and we started really simply, just doing demos of what became the basis for some of the songs on the record. I did them with guitar, piano, and drum machines, so it was just about as bare-bones as it could be. We added more and more stuff. We did it bit by bit by bit. You end up with a lot of time to think about everything. That’s a huge part of the DNA of the album: sitting at home for a few months going, ‘maybe there should be some trombone on this,’ or, ‘maybe there should be some organ rather than electric piano.’ Invariably, I’d come back and want to add this part or that part to the mix. It’s interesting that you find it spacious, ’cause there’s a lot of stuff in there.”

So I says to the guy, I says, “Well, it’s subtle. It doesn’t sound very cluttered. I like when bands add unexpected instrumentation. I think some of the best rock records include some of that kind of thing, sorta snuck in there.”

So Mike says back to me, he asks, “I’m just curious. What’s an example of some those records?” Well, I says back to him, I says, “Well, I think Reckoning by R.E.M. is a good example: it had piano and weird percussion all over the place, but you barely notice it. Listening to it, you can picture the drummer, guitar player, and bass player, and the background sounds are subtle effects. Listen to some of the Beatles and Beach Boys albums. There’s all sorts of stuff added on top of the basic tracks, but it rarely sounds cluttered. Now, if the Minutemen tried to add extra instrumentation, it would have sounded terrible. But then, they recorded full-length albums in two days.”

So Mike, he laughs to himself and agrees, and says, “Cool. I do hope it’s one of those albums that as people listen to it, they’ll be like, ‘wow, I never heard that organ sound before.’ So all the stuff will reveal itself over time.”

So I heard this and says back to the guy, I say, “Yeah, but you know, so many bands spend too much time working on an album and practically drive themselves insane trying to perfect every little overdub and special audio effect. But you seem to love working like that. What’s up, man?”

And Mike, he says back to me, he says, “Yeah. Look, first of all, it was a really close collaboration between two guys, so you didn’t have five different people who each had an opinion about where things should go. Despite the fact that it took so long, it was actually a really efficient process. When we schedule time to work, we really went to work. Sometimes it was super-frustrating dealing with the long breaks between sessions, but it worked well.

“It’s very interesting how people are reacting to this record,” he adds. “I never read the same thing twice [laughs]. Some people say, ‘I love Soul Coughing and I love this,’ or ‘I hated Soul Coughing but I love this,’ or ‘I love Soul Coughing and I love this,’ and some people are like, ‘It’s all shitty, except for “Busting Up a Starbucks,”’ and on and on. It’s phenomena. It’s something I’ve never experienced in my career. In terms of what people like and don’t like, and where people are coming from in terms of whether it’s an improvement on what I did with Soul Coughing or not — it’s all mixed up. You know, having a lot of passionate opinions beats indifference by a mile!”

So, yeah, I think that’s true and all, so I ask him about this whole association with Dave Matthews and how that’s affected his career and all that, and I say, “I know that most people either absolutely love Dave Matthews’ music or absolutely hate Dave Matthews’ music … I know I can’t sit through too many of those endless fiddle or saxophone solos, and all that mumbling he does on the mic, and all that racket on the splash cymbals…”

So Mike laughs, and I ask him more directly if the connection to ATO Records and Dave is a major distraction, a funny thing, a blessing or what, he says to me, he says, “Well, I think he’s really great. I sort of discovered him when Soul Coughing did some dates opening for him in ’96 or so. I though he had an amazing voice that connected with the crowd and sounded huge. His shows were so emotional and everyone felt really close to it. It was fabulous. It’s really disappointing when someone automatically rejects things just for being mainstream. I’m coming from pretty much the weird side of music, with Soul Coughing, so some people coming from the Dave Matthews world are actually pretty mad at me! I just say, to hell with them. I dig the guy and he’s been really, really nice to me as far as what his company’s about and what they’ve been doing with my record.”

Okay, then. Oh yeah, Mike Doughty’s Band includes three new guys. Drummer Pete McNeal, who used to be in Cake, met Doughty at Bonnaroo 2004 and he said, “I love what you’re doing and I want to be in your band.” “Handsome” Dan Chen, as he’s known by his mates, is a guy Doughty found on www.craigslist.org. For real. Andrew “Scrap” Livingstone was just a fan who sent in a demo and fell right into the lineup.

“It was very natural how everything happened,” says Doughty. “We started doing gigs in June. I’m so excited. I couldn’t be happier. I’m gonna be on a bus for the first time in years, which is exciting after driving around by myself as an underground artist for the last few years. I feel like I’m in the big leagues now.”

You betcha, see?��

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