QRO got to sat down over a coffee to talk with Mike Doughty. In the sit-down, Doughty talked about his recent release & tour of reworked songs from his Soul Coughing days, about his memoir last year, The Book of Drugs, what’s next (including playing “Fire Truck” again…), people coming to him with their own addiction experiences and more, revisiting those difficult days in Soul Coughing, Celebrity Rehab from an addicts point of view, not being angry with Starbucks, the question jar, the song before the fake last song, and much, much more…
QRO: What brought about redoing the Soul Coughing songs?
Mike Doughty: Well, I’ve been trying to come up with a succinct answer to deploy in interviews for that, and I don’t think I have one…
It sort of gather it’s own momentum. I had met Good Goose, who produced it, and I had wanted to do something with him, and this was just sort of the first idea that came out of the box, really. I had sorted picked the songs, and there were some I was still interested in. A lot of it came from happening to meet Good Goose at the right time, and from happening to meet the guy who runs PledgeMusic, Ben Rogers, at the right time.
It wasn’t not premeditated, but it wasn’t particularly premeditated.
QRO: How hard was it to go back to that material? In The Book of Drugs, you describe yourself as being “full-bore bat shit crazy” about Soul Coughing…
Going to the songs wasn’t difficult, playing the songs isn’t difficult – dealing with my own memories isn’t difficult, because I’m reaching back to writing the songs.
MD: Going to the songs wasn’t difficult, playing the songs isn’t difficult – dealing with my own memories isn’t difficult, because I’m reaching back to writing the songs. It’s sort of independent of the experience of Soul Coughing. The Soul Coughing versions are kind of like ‘cover versions’ of each song. It’s a very strange feeling.
The difficult part is dealing with the weight of everyone else’s memories on it. I just want to make music, and put it out into the world. And then, to sort of deal with everybody’s implications – which I have nothing to do with; I just trying to play a bunch of songs.
QRO: People would read more into redoing the songs…
MD: There’s nothing really cathartic about it for me; there’s something definitely cathartic about it to the audience. There’s an extent I want to serve that, and an extent to which I don’t want it to be a part of my life. I just wanna focus on the art, really.
QRO: Did writing the memoir encourage you, or at least make it easier to revisit the Soul Coughing material, or was it just coincidence?
MD: It was probably more than a coincidence, but it was definitely a thought I had before I wrote the memoir.
Certainly it piqued my interest, what it was to try and separate the songs from the experience – and, in fact, separate the songs from the contributions from the other people in the band. Separate it from the recordings, which… I’m not a fan of the recordings of the old songs. So it was sort of trying to locate a certain kind of ‘purity’.
QRO: Did at least putting out the memoir before putting out the record at least explained one of the reasons you were doing the record?
MD: No – in fact, I think it’s really embarrassing! I definitely said, “No way!” – and immediately turn it around and recorded them all again. Which, you know, in my brain is consistent, but people were taken aback – they did not expect it.
Mike Doughty playing Soul Coughing’s “Circles” live at Webster Hall in New York, NY on November 23rd, 2013:
QRO: Oh, I have to ask: why did you title it with all the songs on the record?
MD: Because the other option would have been ‘Circles and Twelve Other Hits’…
As the years have gone by, the titles of albums have become less identifying to me. I will be more likely to refer to “the third Soul Coughing album” than “El Oso”. Titles, in general, are meant for an audience to discern between different time periods and different recordings.
I guess the other options were like take a lyric – I thought it would be corny to be like, ‘The Rebirth of Soul Coughing’ or something portentous and stupid like that.
I also wanted it to be clear that those songs were on it. [laughs] I didn’t want there to be any question what the content of the album was.
QRO: I did notice that you put the biggest hits, “Circles” and “Super Bon Bon”, first…
MD: First. Because the other option would have been, ‘Circles, Super Bon Bon, and Eleven Other Hits’…
QRO: In the book, you say you only like a handful of Soul Coughing songs – yet between the new record & live show, you’ve played well more than that…
MD: In terms of the recordings, there’s a very small number. In terms of the songs, I mean… I guess, all told, this thing has been about twenty-five Soul Coughing songs. So I guess that would be more than a handful. That would be like a third of the repertoire.
QRO: I saw you at Webster Hall (QRO venue review), closing out the tour of Soul Coughing songs – I was surprised at how many Soul Coughing songs you did that weren’t on the record. How did you pick which songs to put on the record vs. which to do live?
MD: I’m not crazy about “Bus to Beelzebub”, but I kind of wanted to prove that I brought those samples in. When Soul Coughing existed, I sort of had to pretend that the guy playing the sampler contributed more than he did. The bulk of the samples on the first album are stuff that I brought to him and showed him how I wanted them played – not that he didn’t contribute some tremendous stuff…
The band was angry at me for the entire existence of the band, just for being me, so I feel like I sort of took this diplomatic position when depicting us to the press, ‘Oh, I was just the singer, and everything they came up with…’ Part of what I wanted to do is prove that I had written bass lines, that I had written samples. So that was definitely a motivation.
QRO: Are there still songs that you just hate, don’t want to revisit at all?
MD: Yeah, sure. And some of them are entirely my devising, so…
QRO: Anyone who’s had a long career has had songs that they don’t like anymore…
Mike Doughty playing Soul Coughing’s “Mr. Bitterness” live at Webster Hall in New York, NY on November 23rd, 2013:
QRO: Did you like kind of ‘surprising’ the audience with songs not on the album? It seemed to me that the crowd was surprised & delighted when you did “Screenwriter’s Blues” live, for instance…
MD: I was surprised that I was doing that one. That sort of came more out of figuring out that I could ‘DJ songs’. That was very much… The sample came from the sample player on the recording, but in terms of performing the song over that particular beat – I had been doing that years before the existence of Soul Coughing. So that was definitely like, I wanted to prove it.
Also, the central sample of the song, it’s a sample of [REDACTED] that I will never be able to use on a record. It’s very similar to the “Screenwriter’s” sample; when the sample player played that for me, that’s immediately what it reminded me of, and that’s what spurred my thinking of that particular song, which I had thought of sampling in the past.
That and the [REDACTED] on “Uh, Zoom Zip”, I sang that to the bass player, made him play that as a bass line, rather than using that as a sample.
Again, a lot of it was just proof. It was an attempt at ownership.
QRO: At at least that show, you didn’t do any solo songs – kind of the flipside of previously not doing Soul Coughing songs…
MD: Yeah – people were yelling out for “27 Jennifers” for the entire tour… You can’t win. It’s a beautiful way to not be able to win.
Mike Doughty playing Soul Coughing’s “Unmarked Helicopters” live at Webster Hall in New York, NY on November 23rd, 2013:
QRO: Do you know if, in the future, will you still do Soul Coughing songs?
MD: I’m not certain. I’ve sort of positive feelings about it at this point, but I’m not really decided at this point.
It can be really kinda dull, mining the nostalgia trench. I made a decision, thirteen years ago, to… I’ll probably make less money, but I’d rather be a vital artist than somebody just sort of repeating someone’s sophomore year in college to them for a living.
Part of the process of this was I spoke to the audience less, because I didn’t want to talk to anybody about their sophomore year in college. Because there were so many people who would like wait outside the stage door, who wanted to tell me about their frat house. ‘I don’t care – it has nothing to do with me. That’s your memory, and god bless you for having it,’ but it’s a very uncomfortable position for me, people sort of treating me as if I’m the ‘servant of their memory.’
So if I can do it in a way that I feel like a real artist playing them, I might do it.
QRO: You know that now, for the next tours, people will be way more likely to shout out for “Super Bon Bon” or “Circles”…
MD: I don’t know – it remains to be seen.
Mike Doughty playing Soul Coughing’s “Super Bon Bon” live at Webster Hall in New York, NY on November 23rd, 2013:
QRO: After The Book of Drugs came out, did you notice any difference from fans, like people not/less requesting Soul Coughing songs?
MD: I got a lot of apologies from people for yelling out “Super Bon Bon”. Honestly, people were like, “Dude, we had no idea…”
For some reason, I thought that the abusiveness that was endemic to the band was very apparent from the outside. And I guess everyone thought we were this happy little unit of friends, which people were kind of shocked to find it was this really dark, abusive cell.
QRO: People project their experience, because they don’t know the artist, they weren’t there for any of those things…
MD: I think there’s a lot of family stuff that people project on bands. A lot of deep-seated psychological turf that people bring.
Generally, people latch on to bands when they’re teenagers. The psyche needs that familial attachment, but you’re at that point in your life when you want to forget your family. It’s like a developmental necessity for you to get rid of your family. So I think things like that can really become these signal moments in the mind of somebody that attaches to something. So really there’s so much projected onto them.
Part of the process of this was I spoke to the audience less, because I didn’t want to talk to anybody about their sophomore year in college.
And that’s the difficulty of it, is realizing this has got nothing to do with me…
QRO: Have you had people talk to you about their own addiction experiences?
MD: That has been really surprising. I did not expect that. There’ve been a lot of people in recovery that have written to me, that I have been sort of corresponding with, have become like friendly with, people hooking me up with meetings in towns I’m not really familiar with…
QRO: Oh, especially for touring…
MD: It’s been really great. That’s been one of the great joys of it, connecting with recovering people on that level.
QRO: Personally, talking about introjection, criticizing oneself for long-ago incidents, things you had no control over, etc., connected with me.
MD: A lot of people vibe with that. I guess, if there’s a clinical term for it, it must be something that happens to more people than me…
QRO: Yeah – I hadn’t heard the term “introjection”.
MD: I was really surprised, and gratified.
QRO: That and the Homer Simpson/“Jeebus” reference connected with me…
Mike Doughty playing “Madeline and Nine” live at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York, NY on April 24th, 2010:
QRO: How hard was it to write about the rooms [twelve-step programs], given the anonymity of it?
MD: The tradition is that you don’t reveal that you’re a member of the particular fellowship. That’s very much a technicality, and I really just made sure that I didn’t name specifically which twelve-step groups I attend. But I was definitely aware of the fact that I was riding a line. I was really splitting hairs.
But more often, and not just people who are quasi-famous, talk about it, and talk about what a huge part of their lives it is. It’s difficult to keep under your hat. I certainly wouldn’t call out anybody else, on pain of death, I wouldn’t tell you of somebody else’s…
There were certain people that I know in the rooms that I went to and I was like, “Look, can I describe who you are?” And there are other people that I just drastically changed their description and their context.
But it’s a very delicate ecosystem, that recovery world. It doesn’t really work for everybody, but it works. And there isn’t anything else that actually works. [laughs] There’s becoming a born-again Christian, and then there’s this.
One of the criticisms that you hear about twelve-step programs, “Well, only one out of” however many, “One out of ten,” “One out of three,” “One of two,” “One out of thirty…” The statistic is totally laughable, because nobody who’s not in it seems to understand exactly how disorganized it is, exactly how non-scientific, non-medical – really, it’s just a bunch of people with drug problems hanging out. It really, seriously breaks down to that.
But it’s a very delicate ecosystem, that recovery world. It doesn’t really work for everybody, but it works. And there isn’t anything else that actually works.
But people will say, “Only one of out five actually stay sober.” So otherwise you want that guy to die?… [laughs]
QRO: Like you citing the different odds, “One out of” something – everyone agrees that it’s one out of something…
MD: Exactly – so that one, is his life not worthwhile?
But to return to your question, it was super difficult.
Those of us who are out in the world, talking about it – a lot of us are worried about relapsing. You know, people relapse. I have thirteen years, and I certainly know people with that much time and more that have relapsed. And the danger is that somebody’s gonna go, “Oh, look at that guy, who spoke about…”
QRO: You don’t want to be the poster child…
MD: The poster child for the inevitable failure…
QRO: There is no poster child – there’s a reason it’s anonymous…
MD: And also, it’s like, you don’t want somebody to be like, “I don’t want to hang out with that fuckin’ guy – everybody in there’s like him…”
QRO: I noticed that you seemed to extend that to other parts of the book, like referring to most people without giving their name…
MD: When you write a book, there’s a time when you sit down with a lawyer. I knew that most people needed synonyms, but apparently my synonyms weren’t vague enough. The lawyer would be like, “You can’t even use the first letter of a name.” Some of the pseudonyms were absolutely ludicrous.
My former bandmates, the synonyms I came up with were just so terrible – they read so false. I would wince when I saw them. So I made the decision to just describe them by their instruments.
After the fact, all you can really see are all the points were you could have just walked.
QRO: When you were writing it, which was harder to write about, to revisit in your mind – the drug experiences, or Soul Coughing experiences?
MD: I tell you what, when writing it, none of it was difficult to revisit. I had thought about stuff, and talked about it.
Getting it down on paper was not difficult. Going out on the road, and doing a book tour where you read the same handful of stories every night, because you figure out what ones are real winners for the audience when you read them live, I really sort of began to feel this desperate feeling of like, ‘I don’t want to go on stage.’ I love the job, so it was really peculiar that I didn’t want to play shows. I didn’t even realize it until afterwards.
I realized, in rereading it every night, looking at on a piece of paper – both in terms of the drug experience and in terms of the abusive band relationship experience – looking at it every night, every night, and saying, “Oh, I stayed for this…”
After the fact, all you can really see are all the points were you could have just walked. And then you read reviews that are like, ‘If it was so bad, why didn’t you leave?’ That’s lovely question, and one that anybody in any kind of abusive relationship, romantic, or family, or professional, or otherwise, tortures themselves not being able to answer.
‘Cause I look down at the list, and there are so many bottom lines. So many times when it was so clear: this is bad. ‘This is not good, I’m not going to get anything out of this, emotionally or artistically – time to go.’ And yet I didn’t go. It’s difficult to square that with sort of the fact, when I’ve met people who are bad news now, I’ve been able to just be like, ‘Okay – see you later.’ Even the knowledge that you’ve grown on that level is difficult to see as the positive result, when really it’s like, ‘I stuck around for so much anguish…’
I’m constantly beating myself up for shit that I did as a child.
QRO: There’s even that introjection, hating yourself for what happened, even though that’s what happened…
MD: Exactly. You cannot change it. You can hope that if you get in that situation again, you can have faith that if you get in that situation again, you will behave differently.
But I’m constantly beating myself up for shit that I did as a child. [laughs] It never, ever, ends. If somebody else told me something they had done, that they had beat themselves up for, I would go, ‘Well I can understand that,’ because you were this age, you were in this situation… you shouldn’t beat yourself up about that. But I’m unable to have that compassion for myself.
QRO: Why no chapters in your book?
MD: Because I didn’t know how to do it? Because I had written it in episodes. The way I sort of tricked myself into writing it was like, ‘I’m just gonna write a particular story a day, one or two or day.’ Write the story and then put it in.
At the end of it, I just put them all in a chronological order and sent them to my editor, waiting to hear back about how I should break it up into chapters, and he was like, “This is a really interesting idea – not having chapters. Why don’t we go with that?” I was like, “Yeah – you’re right… It’s exactly what I intended…”
QRO: At first I was annoyed that there weren’t natural stopping points, but later I realized that it made me read it faster, since there weren’t natural stopping points…
MD: That actually kind of is maybe inconsiderate of me, as a writer, to not give people rest stops on the highway.
QRO: I couldn’t look up things for the interview…
MD: Again, it was something I was expecting somebody to have a good idea about, and they thought it was my good idea…
Mike Doughty playing “Looking At the World From the Bottom of a Well” live at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York, NY on April 24th, 2010:
QRO: What do you think of televised addiction programs, like Intervention? You referenced Celebrity Rehab in the book…
MD: First of all, for addicts, it’s porn. [laughs] It really is porn! You’re always attracted to that stuff.
It’s funny – the New York Times has whatever algorithm to figure out ‘Recommended For You’ on the right side of the page, and with me, it’s like all addiction stories. It’s all Southeast Asia and drug addiction. And occasionally a story about The Magnetic Fields.
I have a generally pro-Dr. Drew attitude. I’ve met the guy, and I think… I mean, we’re all narcissists if we put ourselves in the public eye. I think he has diagnosed himself as a narcissist.
Is the other choice to exclude this?
QRO: I feel like it’s a relatively new phenomenon, in the last ten years, putting these shows on television. In the nineties, you didn’t have shows like this, unless you had real documentaries…
MD: I think one of the differences is it used to be in all of the stories, people got better. In every single one, people went to rehab and came out, and got better.
It’s hard to believe that people can do things over and over again that they know will kill them.
Whereas the statistics on Intervention are like… I don’t know that I’ve ever watched an episode of Intervention where they guy stays clean.
QRO: I’ve seen ones where, if it was airing new, it didn’t happen that long ago, they’re still clean, but they’re at some sober house kind of thing.
MD: If it was cancer, people would look at it and go, ‘Oh my god – what an astonishing success rate!’ But I don’t know how clear it is to people that… how would you say this? I guess just that it is an illness – I would say an ‘illness’ rather than a ‘disease’; I think, semantically, that’s significant. It’s an illness that kills most people. Most people that have it die, or they end up in such a compromised life.
QRO: Die, or end up in jail…
MD: Jails, institutions and death…
It’s hard to believe that people can do things over and over again that they know will kill them. The empirical evidence has stated again and again, ‘Eventually this will not even get you high. You’ll probably die. Humiliation is a definite.’ It’s hard for somebody who doesn’t have it to look at it and say, ‘Why can’t you just walk away?’
I read a review of Shame, the sex addiction movie with Michael Fassbender, I read a review of it – the review was like, “They don’t even show the guy having fun!” [laughs] That’s exactly it – he’d doing something compulsively over-and-over again, and it’s not fun at all, and he can’t stop it. It’s so ridiculous…
Like, I know people with gambling addictions, and porn addictions – somebody with a porn addiction, that shit is scary! ‘I spent the last week looking at porn. I looked at porn until I passed out, and then I woke up and kept looking at porn again. I slept with the laptop within arm’s reach.’ I don’t have that – thank god I don’t have that. So when I look at a guy who goes to a blackjack table, and then loses all his money, and then loses his house, and then loses his wife’s money… I can’t fathom it. And of course the natural thought is, ‘Well, why don’t you just walk away?’ You can’t walk away. You can’t walk away.
My discipline in songwriting. Every day, I’m writing.
QRO: Do you think, as people are more willing to talk about addiction publicly, people are referring to other addictions that aren’t? Like ‘I’m addicted to [the smartphone game] Candy Crush’…
MD: You know, if you do something to extent that it is really fucking up your life, and you’re sitting here going, ‘I don’t want to do this, this is bad; I don’t like this at all.’ And you keep doing that. I mean, if there’s a synonym for addiction, maybe that’s just a paradigm that we haven’t, that there’s a next iteration of it that we haven’t come up with.
The sex addiction thing is really interesting right now. Because people who are not sex addicts – I’m not a sex addict, or porn addict; most of the people I know have a porn problem – it seems like, ‘Well, that’s super fun! It’s normal! Why wouldn’t you want to do that?’ And people are destroying their lives doing it.
I guess it is possible for a celebrity to get in a bunch of affairs, and then just go off to a rehab and it’s just a total sham, but if you meet people that are real sex addicts – and some of these people, the famous people, might be, I don’t know – it’s really fucked up. It’s like, ‘What’s going on with their lives?’ Really fucked up, really horrible.
I know a woman who’s a bulimic – she was in Russia. Family’s Russian, and she had a bulimic relapse in wherever she was in Russia. And the only rehab that she went to was for Russian dope fiends. Like, real, living under a bridge, Russian heroin addicts. And initially, they were all like, ‘What the hell are you doing here? You throw up – what’s that?’
And then, apparently at the end of it, they were like, ‘Yeah, we really are glad we don’t do that…’ [laughs]
QRO: People now know that it doesn’t have to be a substance – it can be porn, food…
MD: There’s nothing wrong with heroin – heroin’s great. It’s me that’s the problem.
I can’t believe the legs that “Fire Truck” has. I cannot believe…
QRO: Have you been working on any new songs?
MD: Yeah, always. I learned a long time ago not to talk about ideas before they are complete, because inevitably they change drastically, or I end up switching to another idea.
But I will tell you that my discipline in songwriting. Every day, I’m writing. Whether it’s a little bit or a lot, at least every morning I write guitar parts.
QRO: Are you looking forward to getting back to your ‘regular career’, after doing Soul Coughing stuff, not to mention The Book of Drugs, for the last few years?
MD: I don’t know what it’s gonna be, actually. It just occurred to me that it’d be really interesting to do like a tenth anniversary of Haughty Melodic tour. Probably my best album, in terms of the songwriting, simply because it took the longest. In terms of the writing – the longer you wait to complete the songs, to have a body of songs to make an album, the better the album will be. So the more time you spend writing, the better. The more time you spend in the studio, the worse. Studios just kill you, sort of dehydrate you psychically.
I guess it’s not insignificant that doing Soul Coughing songs album buys me time to not put out an album of new songs. I mean, you never know – I have plans to get together with people, and they could totally train wreck, or they could turn into things that are immediately albums. So I don’t know – that’s way too long-winded of an answer…
The thing about Starbucks is they get a lot of shit, but they actually do stuff that other companies should be doing.
QRO: Are you just itching to play “Fire Truck” again?
MD: I can’t believe the legs that “Fire Truck” has. I cannot believe…
‘Cause twenty-five hundred people bought that album. It was a limited run, and it’s the enduring… It’s not even a joke anymore; it’s like a ritual.
But yeah, it’s gonna be fun to play “Fire Truck”. It is gonna be fun to be like, “This is the first time I’ve played ‘Fire Truck’ in two years…”
QRO: Have you ever heard from the Starbucks in Nyack about “Bustin’ Up a Starbucks”?
MD: I heard from the corporate office.
In fact, the song is about the pointlessness of rioting. The lyrics are really sort of sneering at some middle class kid who thinks he’s gonna bring down the system by smashing a coffee shop.
I hesitated to put in on the album, because I was like, “Nobody’s gonna get that! Nobody’s gonna get that!” And everybody I worked with was like, “No, no – everyone will understand that. Everyone will know.” And they were totally lying to me…
And indeed, everybody thinks it’s an anti-Starbucks thing. As I look for a Starbucks every day I’m out, on the road, someplace where I don’t know an awesome indie place. And the indie place is sometimes not as good as the Starbucks.
A friend of mine who works at a radio station in Seattle, Shawn Stewart on KMTT 103.7 ‘The Mountain’, booked me on a Starbucks event. And she brought the Starbucks rep back to the dressing room beforehand. And I was like, “Oh, you know that ‘Bustin’ Up a Starbucks’ song?” And she was like, “Oh, yeah – oh my god…” And she didn’t get it – I was like, “No, I’m that guy…” [laughs] And her face just fell! She had no idea what was coming next. I was like, “Listen, Shawn got me on this gig so I could explain it to you…”
So I explained what the song was about, and she told me that the entire Starbucks corporate structure had had like a day of freak-out about the song. There were e-mails from everybody in the company, ‘Who’s this guy?’ ‘What’s his agenda?’ That was perversely gratifying, but…
The thing about Starbucks is they get a lot of shit, but they actually do stuff that other companies should be doing. In terms of health insurance – people get sabbaticals at Starbucks! People get paid sabbaticals from Starbucks! I learn most of this stuff from Starbucks employees that try to guilt me about the song, and then, again, I have to explain to them…
QRO: Where did you get your backing band for the Soul Coughing tour?
MD: I’ve known Catherine Popper, the bass player, for a long time. Pete Wilhoit was my drummer on the Yes, and Also Yes (QRO review) tour. I sort of scoured the world, looking for the right drummer, and a guy that I had written to – I don’t remember who it was – was unavailable, but sent me a link to Pete. I interviewed like twenty drummers for that tour, and he was just ‘the guy’. He’s just great…
QRO: Why did you decide to do the sampling and other ‘tech’ stuff yourself, live?
MD: Because that’s how it was done in Soul Coughing. And the reason that there was a sampler player in Soul Coughing was I could not afford a sampler. ‘Cause they were like five thousand dollars in 1992. So I sort of surveyed all the sampler players that were hanging around the Knitting Factory, and I chose the guy I chose. I chose him because I thought he would be more ‘malleable’ than the other guys – which was so dumb…
I’ve always enjoyed playing samples. And now that little box is like two hundred dollars…
QRO: Given how Soul Coughing ended, were you at all nervous about having people behind you doing Soul Coughing material again – or were they?
MD: No. I mean, I said to all of them, “Please don’t listen to Soul Coughing.” Pete had not really listened to it – Cat had really listened to it. But I said, “Please, please, please – don’t refer to those recordings…”
In fact, Cat played on the album, and there were certain times where I would be like, “Look, there’s a little inflection there that’s a little bit too much like Soul Coughing.” If it was something that was strictly my invention, in the Soul Coughing days, that was fine, but I felt the most respectful, the most honorable way to do it was to not incorporate any of those guys’ creative contributions.
QRO: Was it hard teaching the songs, especially the ones that aren’t on the record, when you only had your memory to refer to?
MD: Well, that’s how you start out making every song – songs on record, at some point you have to introduce another musician to a song, another producer or whoever. So no, it wasn’t particularly hard. I came in prepared, had parts written or at least knew the directions I wanted to push the individual players in writing their own parts. So it wasn’t difficult.
QRO: And no Scrap on the tour…
MD: No Scrap, yeah… I’m hoping Scrap comes back.
QRO: Where did the idea of the ‘question jar’ come from?
MD: The initial thing was this guy, Marty Diamond, who I used to work with, who said – and it was just one sentence – “You should just do something on tour that’s like your blog.” That’s all he said, no explanation. I was just like, “Yeah, whatever, like the blog, whatever…” And I realized, ‘Oh, he’s asking me to bring something in that expresses more the wit aspect of it.’ And that was just the best idea I could come up with.
It was great. I might do it again – might.
QRO: It’s not every tour…
MD: It’s its own special tour.
QRO: And you released the record, The Question Jar Show…
I had thought, at one point, to just write all these questions down and have my friend pick them out of a jar [like your question jar] – it was a good idea in theory, but not in reality…
I felt the most respectful, the most honorable way to do it was to not incorporate any of those guys’ creative contributions.
QRO: And when did you start announcing the ‘song before the fake last song’?
MD: At some point, I started thinking about encores, and how you have to do an encore. It is the ritual that cannot be avoided. Like, The Strokes, for a while, and maybe they still do, didn’t play encores. They played a show that was as long as it would be if they did have encores, same number of songs, but everyone was like, ‘Oh, they’re such dicks – they don’t do encores…’
For one thing, I always thought the moment between the ‘last song’ and the encore was too long. And then, of course, I just figured out how to make it funny. I wanted to acknowledge the absurdity of the encore as ritual.
But then it’s really great when you get a real encore. At the Fillmore, in San Francisco, I got a real encore! [laughs] Totally unprepared for it. People actually demanded another song, not sort of the pro forma, ‘Now is the time for the encore.’ So I just stumbled out on stage and did a solo version of “27 Jennifers”. So “27 Jennifers” was in fact played on the tour.
QRO: And you just turn around on stage…
MD: I saw the Bad Brains in 1987 or ’88 at Bard College, and HR had broken his leg, so he did the show in a chair, and he sat in the chair at the beginning of the show and did not move. [laughs] When the encore happened, everybody left the stage, except HR, who just sat there. And after a few minutes, he was like, “Do you wanna hear more?” And the rest of the band came on stage.
I always thought the moment between the ‘last song’ and the encore was too long.
QRO: I once saw the two main guys in Cracker playing Maxwell’s (QRO review) – they just stepped off stage and into the crowd, and then came back on…
MD: ‘Cause Maxwell’s (QRO venue review), what the hell else are you gonna do?
QRO: You referenced working at the Knitting Factory (QRO venue review) where Sun Ra was wheeled in…
MD: That was so creepy, because he’d had a stroke. So they wheeled him in at soundcheck and left him there! Everyone went and got dinner, and Sun Ra just sat there! And it was the strangest thing, because, you know, I was working the bar, and you have to set up the room, set up the chairs, and do all these things. We’re in this sort of empty club, me and the other bartender, setting shit up, and look up and there’s Sun Ra! As you sweep the hall, there’s Sun Ra, just sitting there…
And between the first show and the second show, they just left him sitting there.
QRO: Did they tell you beforehand that they were going to do that?
MD: Oh, no. It didn’t put us out at all…
QRO: But just a heads up – this guy just had a stroke. Maybe to not leave the building, have somebody in the same room…
We’re in this sort of empty club, me and the other bartender, setting shit up, and look up and there’s Sun Ra!
MD: In case there’s a fire.
It was really, really weird. Maybe they told somebody – nobody told me…
QRO: You didn’t describe the old Knitting Factory as working that well…
QRO: Knitting Factory has had different places – now it’s out in Brooklyn (QRO venue review).
MD: It’s funny because Michael Dorf, one of the founders of the Knitting Factory, now does City Winery (QRO venue review), which runs like clockwork. The food is great, everybody that works there is super-pro. It’s the utter antithesis of what the Knitting Factory was in the early nineties.
But yeah, I’ve been back – I DJed, opening for Moon Hooch, couple of times last year, or last winter, winter of 2013, at the newest Knitting Factory. It’s very strange that it’s still the Knitting Factory. It’s very weird.
Mike Doughty playing “Thank You, Lord, For Sending Me the F Train” live at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York, NY on April 24th, 2010: