Mike Doughty

Mike Doughty - Looking at the world from the bottom of a well - Video Stream

Mike Doughty - Looking at the world from the bottom of a well - Video Stream
A man crisscrosses the country, covering thousands of miles as he drives from city to city in solitude. The only voices he hears come from the car stereo; the only eyes he meets are his own in the rearview mirror. This man is Mike Doughty, former frontman of world-renowned musical mish-mashers Soul Coughing, and he's happier than he's ever been.

With his new album Haughty Melodic, Doughty returns to the spotlight. Tracks such as "Madeline and Nine," "Grey Ghost," "Busting Up a Starbucks," "His Truth Is Marching On" and "Sunkeneyed Girl" find Doughty's unique songs rendered in fully realized form, fleshed out with the help of a full band — the first the singer has recorded with since Soul Coughing split in 2000. Among the other melodically complex and emotive tracks on the new disc are the opener "Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well," the yearning "White Lexus" and the radiant "Unsingable Name." ATO Records founder Dave Matthews makes a guest appearance, trading verses with Doughty on the rousing and amusing "Tremendous Brunettes."

Haughty Melodic was recorded in Minneapolis with producer Dan Wilson. The pair recruited a number of the Twin Cities' finest musicians to contribute to the album, instilling Doughty's songs with a colorful, ornamented sound that combined the melancholy and psychedelic. Wilson sings backup and plays keyboards on many tracks. Among the album's other contributors are cellist Jane Scarpantoni, multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, bassist/trombonist John Munson and N.E.R.D. drummer Eric Fawcett.

The collaboration with Wilson began as a simple songwriting session. "I went to Dan's house in Minneapolis in December 2003 just to mess around with some tunes, write a little," Doughty explains. "We did a little demo of 'American Car,' very stripped-down and earthy, in Dan's home studio, and it just blew me away. So I resolved to talk him into producing my album, even though I had no record deal at the time, and no way to release a record other than the way I had been doing, selling them at my shows.

Mike Doughty - Looking at the world from the bottom of a well - Video Stream
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"I'd steal Dan's time whenever he had some available — a weekend here, a week there," Doughty continues. "Every time I went out there, it would get better — I would fly home with a CD, thinking, that's it, at last, we're done, this is fantastic. But a week or two later I'd have some other idea to do something else, and I'd fly back and work some more. It was really hard getting into a musical head, and then suddenly being yanked out of the creative environment. But having all that time outside of the process, to think about what I wanted the recording to be, ended up being really invaluable."

In the process of all this musical evolution, Doughty discovered even more about what it means to be both a songwriter and an artist. "Basically, I figured out that I work for the gift," he explains. "The gift doesn't work for me. I can't just turn around and say, 'Okay, let's have a bunch of great songs, right now.' The really difficult part is when you write a song and it's like, 'Oh, I don't want to sing that.' But, no, that's the song - I can't turn it into a song about chicks and cars. People connect with the honesty. That's really my job. Sometimes you've got to sing the stuff that you don't want to say. You have to be vulnerable."

The seeds of this reverence for the craft of songwriting date back to 1996, in the midst of recording Soul Coughing's second album. Doughty had written a batch of songs that hadn't found a home with the band; faced with the prospect of scrapping the unused material, he instead entered the studio with producer Kramer (Low, Galaxie 500) and recorded the tracks that would becomeSkittish, his debut solo album. The disc wouldn't receive an official release until four years later, after Soul Coughing's 2000 breakup. But when Doughty did finally make the decision to press up and sell the album himself during his first solo tour, within six months Skittish had sold a staggering 10,000 copies. A year later, and that figure had more than doubled. In 2004, ATO Records stepped in, offering the reinvented singer/songwriter a solo deal. It was time for a follow-up.

"Going out on the road with Skittish in 2000 was great," Doughty remembers, "but it was kind of unnerving, because it was like, 'My God, how am I going to write songs of this caliber again? This record's four years old! What am I going to do now?' So what I ended up doing was just journaling; making sure that I spent an hour every day journaling, just sort of free writing.

"As time went on, two things started to happen. One was that I started listening to music really intensely again — being on the road alone in a rental car, I had all kinds of time to listen to music — so I started getting influenced by stuff again. And then the other was that I went back to the notebooks and started picking out phrases, which isn't something I had really done before. There would just be three or four words together which were sort of mysterious or resonant, so I would take them out and keep them. I ended up with a long list of all these little phrases, and as songs started to come to me, I would just go to the list and plug them in as they seemed appropriate. That's how the songs took shape." From there, the new compositions were both road-tested and committed to tape, ultimately leading to both the 2003 self-released EP Rockity Roll and Haughty Melodic. (Skittish and Rockity Roll were re-released as a two-disc set by ATO in 2004.)

Doughty is thrilled to have his future squarely in his own hands. "In Soul Coughing, there was always the question of whether or not I was the songwriter; whether the song was more important than the playing," he reflects. "Even stuff that I really loved, songs that I wrote in a very traditional way and brought to the band, I didn't really feel a sense of ownership towards. So just to make something and wholeheartedly own it as a writer, as a performer, as a singer — that is incredible."


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