The fact of the matter is, it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of even playing these songs was the last thing on Doughty’s mind. As documented in his 2012 memoir The Book Of Drugs, the Soul Coughing years evolved into a period of blackness for Doughty – and crawling from the wreckage of the band’s implosion in 2000 was the beginning of his journey to sobriety and making it as a solo artist.
But Mike Doughty isn’t one to take the easy way out (as also documented in The Book Of Drugs) and after years of ignoring his work with Soul Coughing, he decided to sit down, look his old songs in the eye, and get reacquainted. Doughty sent a feeler out for crowd funding of his project on the PledgeMusic site – and if he had any doubts as to whether anyone cared about his old songs being brought back to life, there were none 16 hours after his initial announcement when the project hit the 100% funding goal.
Circles Super Bon Bon … (the album’s full title is the names of all 13 tracks, sans commas) is Doughty allowing us to listen in as he separates the songs created during a tough period in his life from that tough period. And in the process, he may have discovered – and rediscovered – some things about himself. In short, it’s a very personal album with cool beats.
Our initial conversation was postponed; calls to Mike’s phone at the allotted hour kept detouring to his voicemail and I finally had to throw in the towel and move on to other things. A late-day e-mail from his publicist verified that Mike wanted to re-schedule for the following morning, however – and when we finally connected, he was all apologies.
“I’m so sorry about yesterday, man,” said Mike. “I was working on a piece of music and I was just obsessed with the headphones on … I looked up and it was, like, 5 PM and I said, ‘Oh, shit.’”
“That’s perfect,” I told him. “I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.” I meant it, too: the image of a head-down-and-immersed-in-the-music Mike Doughty is a happy one.
BR: Mike, I’ve been thinking that you either needed to boil these older songs right down to their marrow and gristle – and rebuild them to get right with them – or walk away from them completely.
MD: You know, in the process of getting it together to do interviews for this record I thought, “I should have a succinct way of explaining why I did this.” And after some thinking, I realized … I don’t. (laughter) I know it’s not the most compelling interview answer, but I have no idea. (laughter)
I started going through the songs after the book tour; I became obsessive about it; I happened to know hip-hop producer Good Goose … I guess it was like I wanted to make the record I wanted to make. And I definitely feel like I succeeded in doing that.
But I don’t know why I had to or why I had to do it now. I’m sure it’ll be a mystery to me until five or ten years from now – and then it’ll become very clear to me.
That’s alright. Maybe you don’t need to know right now.
Yeah. (laughs) Believe me, not knowing why has been my modus operandi for a number of years and it’s worked quite well for me.
I wouldn’t mess with it, then.
Had you touched these songs for a while? Had you sat down with a guitar in your lap and revisited them at all prior to this?
No. Not for years; not for years. Not at all.
Was it hard to hone it down to these tunes?
Yeah, it was, actually. One thing that helps is the fact that the tour’s happening, so I can do another seven or eight songs that I didn’t do on the records. Some of them were just easy: “Sleepless”; “How Many Cans?”; “Monster Man”; certainly “Super Bon Bon” – those were songs that I simply said to myself, “I need to do them right; I can’t get through life without having put these down right.”
So there was an “A” list of sorts …
Well, it wasn’t as much an “A” list as an “Urgent” list. These were songs that needed to be corrected.
I hear you. So what we have on the album is basically you – doing a whole lot of stuff; some amazing upright bass form Catherine Popper; and then assembly and guidance from Good Goose as producer … and that’s it, right?
Yeah – just the three of us.
Plus the dog – the one in the PledgeMusic videos?
Plus the dog. The dog was important.
Is that the dog we hear barking on “Monster Man”?
No – no … (laughs) Those are just some sound effects that we found.
I know. We actually played the sample for her to see if she would perk up but … she didn’t even notice. (laughter)
Maybe she’s a serious audiophile and the sound quality just wasn’t up to her standards.
Yeah. (laughs) She’s like, “Ehhh … no. I need 24-bit.”
Was that part of the mission: keeping it down to a few sets of hands so that you could do exactly what you wanted to do and get right with these songs?
Yeah … if there was any album where I wanted it to be clear that it was me, it’s this album. Plus, I could just sort of do everything, you know? My last album – The Flip Is Another Honey – I did everything; every note.
It’s where I’m at; the way I make records generally. In this case, I can’t play the upright bass and I didn’t want that to be samples … so that was the one thing I needed a Jedi for. (laughs)
Don’t go running off, chummy! Click right HERE to read the rest of my interview with Mike Doughty on Jambands.com