Mike Doughty – Circles Super Bon Bon Sleepless How Many Cans? True Dreams of Wichita Monster Man Mr. Bitterness Maybe I’ll Come Down St. Louise Is Listening I Miss the Girl Unmarked Helicopters The Idiot Kings So Far I Have Not Found the Science

pic: ericmpearson

pic: ericmpearson

It is well documented and proclaimed by Mike Doughty himself that Soul Coughing was one of the darkest and painful periods in his life, one which has been an ‘out of bounds’ subject musically really ever since his departure from the band at the start of this century and becoming clean from the drugs which stalked that time. The publishing of his The Book of Drugs earlier this year saw Doughty address that darkness but in many ways the fact he has gone on further to look back and revisit Soul Coughing songs for his new album is a striking surprise. In many ways book and new album Circles Super Bon Bon Sleepless How Many Cans? True Dreams of Wichita Monster Man Mr. Bitterness Maybe I’ll Come Down St. Louise Is Listening I Miss the Girl Unmarked Helicopters The Idiot Kings So Far I Have Not Found the Science, a title made up by listing all the song titles within it, is a ‘cleansing’ of the shadows and demons bred in that moment of his life. Revisiting and re-interpreting some of his favourite songs, his intent he states of wanting “to separate the songs — not the recordings, but the songs — from the darkness” and “wanting to figure out what I meant, who I was, where I was when I wrote the songs “, Doughty has created an album of classic tracks stripped and in most cases given a new irresistible aspect in which Soul Coughing fans and those new to the man will eagerly devour.

Admittedly our introduction to Mike Doughty came post Soul Coughing, awareness of the band solid but direct knowledge of their sounds restricted to two or three well-trodden songs recognition wise. This made Circles Super Bon Bon… an album which is more than a re-interpretation for our imagination, a release which for its majority is a uniquely new endeavour to contemplate. This is a plus in many ways though it means any comparison between the originals and what Doughty originally visualised and is explored by him now is for a future discussion. From those which can be compared, Doughty has thinned them down yet built them up with a funk bred energy and a lighter vitality; it is a touch which works a treat though arguably relinquishes some of the potency of the dark spawned lyrics and their provocative impact. The PledgeMusic financed album is an enthralling and invigorating encounter all the same, one which bridges Doughty’s recent solo exploration and Soul Coughing whilst showing the distinct differences.

The album opens with Sleepless, an evocative gentle caress of keys teasing the ear as electronic beats build a cage for music and 539618_10152183023660200_1861384510_nthe unique tones of Doughty to court and at times prowl. The song walks with intent and a slim intensity but one which still offers a shadowed intrigue clad clime around which a reserved yet eager funk seeded swagger adds its adventure. It is an absorbing clarified and tantalising persuasion which ignites a sturdy appetite in those new to the songs and those one suspects well acquainted with the tracks.

Both How Many Cans? and True Dreams of Wichita place a contagious grip upon the senses and emotions, the first with a pulsating lure aligned to another funk kissed dance. Keys and especially the excellent emotive dark tones of the upright bass of Catherine Popper, who stirs up a mystique and compelling resonance across the whole release, enslave the imagination whilst the rhythms with a near metronomic tempting drive the track perfectly. To be honest the drum programming is the one limiting and less successful element of the album, though not enough to make any ruinous contribution as shown here but for personal preferences a live percussionist at least would have added even greater depth to the invention. The second of the pair instantly seduces with the bass again a temptress which cannot be denied from its opening breath whilst Doughty with his eager croon pulls the song into a keen and enthusiastic stroll which is pure infection. Samples also make their small stabs throughout to add further unpredictability to a song which revitalises and improves strikingly on the original.

Super Bon Bon is one of the loftiest pinnacles on the album, the addiction sparking low key magnetic stomp fusing jazz blazes and funk romping to a kinetic compulsion which hot steps across the senses for the fullest temptation. Its might is not quite matched but impressively supported by the likes of the soul flamed Mr. Bitterness, the almost bedlamic virulently contagious Monster Man, and the melancholic beauty that is Maybe I’ll Come Down, a darkly hued enticement which seduces from first note to last. To be fair every song upon Circles Super Bon Bon… is a masterful reflection and unleashing of what Doughty intended initially for the songs, some with more potency and temptation than others as shown by the excellent sinewed stomp of Unmarked Helicopters and the evolving electronic frenzy of So Far I Have Not Found the Science, both two more passion igniting enterprises.

Circles is another track which is more dramatic in its new vision whilst retaining the essence which made it an insatiable tempter of hearts. Losing its discord lilt for a sturdier folk voice but still retaining the hypnotic impossibly addictive bait of the original, the track is a major triumph and opening into the original intent of Doughty. In this instance being able to make the comparison to the first version, a track which has gripped our psyche from its first unveiling, the impression of the dark clouds around him and song back then is pronounced, though you always have to bear in mind the input and creative design of the rest of the band in the creation of the songs which purposely impacted on its shadows too.

Completed by the radiant yet raw shine of St. Louise Is Listening, the album is a captivating insight and though for personal tastes Doughty has achieved greater potency with his recent solo releases, the Good Goose produced Circles Super Bon Bon… makes for one intriguing and with some real gems within it, thoroughly satisfying release.

http://www.mikedoughty.com/

8.5/10

RingMaster 25/11/2013

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Mike Doughty: The Question Jar Show

Though having only relatively recently been properly introduced to the wonderful and talented Mike Doughty there already exists a real excitement when anything appears from the man. A few weeks ago we had his excellent new album Yes And Also Yes swiftly followed by his biography The Book of Drugs, both outstanding slices of openness and inventive expression. The life and honesty of Doughty is the breath which fuels all his work and is in full flow with this now available new release The Question Jar Show, an album to further leave the heart and ear blissfully contented. It is a real treat and joy cementing Doughty as one of the most thrilling and charismatic artists in music today whilst making for the most enjoyable hour and a half you can wish for.

The release is a double cd album consisting of tracks collected from his The Question Jar Show of 2009/10. With its unusual and intimate set up the tour was and album is much more than simply a live recording. The Question Jar Show consists of just Doughty and the excellent bassist/cellist Andrew “Scrap” Livingston bringing stripped down but lively and vibrant versions of his songs. As the title suggests there is also a question and answer session interspersed between the music, though really it is just the most hilarious and entertaining chance to see the witness the charm and irrepressible humour of Doughty. Before each show on the tour the audience was invited to submit questions which were placed in a jar and introduced throughout the performances. With the obvious chemistry between Doughty and Livingston musically and as friends ignited by what are unpredictable, hilarious and generally crazed questions the result is a show with a warmth and intimacy which gives as much fun and pleasure to listen to as was obviously felt by those actually there. The type of questions asked included such gems as “Would you rather trip an old lady or kick a puppy?” and “Would you rather be stuck in a tank with a thousand tarantulas or Howie Mandel?”, so you get the flavour of what came up for Doughty to feast upon with great wit and eagerness.

Musically the album leaves one basking in superior songwriting brought down to its raw but essential heart. The twin attack of the guitar of Doughty and the cello of Livingston is a fresh and stirring mix bringing flavoursome emotive teases and perfect rough caresses for the ear which brings only deep satisfaction. The few songs where Doughty goes alone are just as equally irresistible but there is something about the pair together which carries a deeper hypnotic grasp.

The wealth of great songs include the likes of (I Keep On) Rising Up, Like a Luminous Girl, and Madeline and Nine, all treating the senses to fine invention and the consistently engaging and mesmeric lyrics of Doughty. There is not one weakness within the performance its feel and heart organic and wonderfully relaxed. The biggest highlights come in the shape of Looking at the World from the Bottom Of A Well, Busting Up a Starbucks, and Navigating by the Stars at Night. To be fair though choosing any track over another is impossible with the likes of Down on the River by the Sugar Plant and (I Want to) Burn You (Down) as irresistible and impressive as those mentioned and the other s left to your discovery.

The Question Jar Show is simply fantastic and its body so absorbing and infectious one could listen for 4 hours plus and it would still finish too soon. Mike Doughty is one of the few artists which can truly brew an immense enthusiasm and excitement for his work from just being himself creatively and personally. There is no pretence or flattery involved with his music or his live performances as this great album proves. He is always just himself and quite simply ensures it is the best time had and spent in his company whichever way he pleasures the heart.

RingMaster 12/06/2012

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Interview with Mike Doughty

The beginning of 2012 has already given many impressive and inspiring releases but not many are as essential and as completely fulfilling as Yes And Also Yes from Mike Doughty. The album consists of fourteen vibrant, witty and mesmeric indie pop songs which engage and inspire through quality song writing and captivating sounds. Alongside the album Mike also has an autobiography The Book Of Drugs out which deals with drugs, music, and the “weirdness, and messed-up-ness, of life in Soul Coughing” that have been part of life to date. With immense pleasure we had the chance to talk with Mike and ask him about the album, book, his music and more.

Hello and a warm welcome to The Ringmaster Review, thank you for letting us pry a little into your creative world.

2012 is starting off with a bang for with the release of your new album Yes And Also Yes and your autobiography. What is your overriding emotion as they find their way into the ears and eyes of the world?

I tend to keep distant from what the world thinks of what I’m putting out. I definitely feel obliged to the audience, but I think the way to do the best work is to keep your head down, pay attention to what you’re making, not how it’s perceived. Otherwise, I get delirious, and the machinery jams.

You have had a fair few releases under your belt to great acclaim but does the feeling ever lessen on the eve of releasing something new?

Like I said–I have to pay attention to the work, not to the reaction. That said, I guess the short answer is no–because there’s always anxiety.

Do you have different feelings, nerves, tension or whatever over the book compared to the album as it exposes a different and more personal aspect of you in many ways?

References to ex-girlfriends in songs can be super oblique, but in the book, they’re described in detail. That’s been a painful and weirdly exhilarating process, communicating with people from way-back-in-the-way-back. There are people I love of whom I tell some pretty gnarly stories–I’m very scared of their reactions. I don’t want to lose them.

Can we first talk about the album Yes And Also Yes? The title has been commented on everywhere I am sure but can you give our readers the inspiration behind it?

It was the title of an online dating profile. I improvised it–you had to type something in that box just to post it. Later I realized it was kind of weirdly suitable to where I was at. It also related to improv sketch comedy–Del Close and “the rule of yes” and that kind of stuff–and I’ve been doing a lot of comedy shows around Manhattan and Brooklyn, playing a couple of songs on a bill of five or six comedians. So maybe I absorbed some of that.

Any thoughts on those kind of sites, haha did you find any budding romances?

There were some almost-almosts, but nothing of substance, and lots of awkward shittiness. I met my girlfriend through friends–she’s basically been nearby me forever–and there’s a really intense connection that makes all that slogging through dates really ludicrous. Though maybe I had to scan the horizon before I realized she was standing behind me. I say to her, all the time, “Where the hell were you all this time?!”

How would you say Yes And Also Yes differs and has evolved from previous albums Sad Man Happy Man and Golden Delicious?

To a certain extent it feels very specific to where I wrote most of the songs–an artists’ colony called Yaddo in Upstate New York. A lot of it was coaxed from ideas that I’d been collecting since I finished the last album, but it was an unusually intense thing to have them all bloom in the same tiny span of time.

Am I right in believing not all of your fans were taken with and liked the directions you took with previous albums and were strong in their desire to share that with you?

Actually, I’ve been making them happy since Sad Man Happy Man, it would seem. There are always people who go, “He’s better acoustically, as in Skittish,” or, “He’s better with lo-fi electronics, as in Rockity Roll”, or, “He’s better with a full band”, and the “He was better in Soul Coughing” contingent is always a vocal and irritating minority

How did that effect you and has it has a bearing on your emotions and thoughts with this new album?

Sad Man Happy Man I definitely was thinking of a lot of kvetching about over-instrumentation, and I responded to that. This one I just put my head down and got the work done.

How much of you as a person, your emotions and feelings as well as experiences go into your songwriting and lyrics?

Absolutely all of it–though in mysterious, nebulous, sideways angles.

I am not sure if this question makes sense haha but do you ever fear you may expose to much of the real you in your songs or is that not an issue for you?

I’m a committed over-sharer. Totally suited to these times. It’s really not an issue. The only weird thing is when strangers think they know me well enough that they email me to come to their weddings and are taken aback when I decline.

The tracks within Yes And Also Yes carries a vibrant and uplifting tone throughout and even in its darker emotive moments still has a twinkle in the eye kind of mischief. Do you write a song with a particular emotional purpose or do they evolve their own expression and emotion as they come together?

I just write them. I don’t really know where they’re going when I start, and I try and figure out what the song wants to be, rather than try and force it in a certain direction. That sounds like corny hippie shit, but it’s true. In fact, what a song really relates to, on its deepest level, sometimes doesn’t become obvious until I’ve been playing it for years.

Listening to your lyrics one cannot but be in awe at times of the way you use and link unexpected words into a natural union. When you write do you ‘visualise’ the words, feel them rather than just play with them on paper if that makes sense?

They’re definitely not intended to look good on paper, they’re meant to work sonically, absolutely in tandem with the melody, and the pocket in the rhythm they dwell in. I think about how they sound, as opposed to visually.

Is there a particular track or moment on the album that gives you personally an extra warm glow?

When my cellist, Andrew “Scrap” Livingston, says, “Shall we do it again?” before “Rational Man” it is really hilarious and strange to me–as he is extremely hilarious and extremely strange.

The album is very varied with an array of distinctly different sounds and wonderfully enterprising ‘additives’ coming together to make a truly mesmeric release. How does your songwriting evolve from that first seed of a song to the distinct creation you finish with?

I think I have an idea of how I want them arranged when I start writing. I think

The track Holiday (What Do You Want?) features Rosanne Cash, how did your link up with her come about?

She called me a great songwriter from the stage at a benefit show, and my jaw hit the floor. Then, a bunch of months later, there was a note in the chorus of “Holiday” that I was unable to hit, so I thought I’d find a female vocalist to do a harmony, and I could duck it. Before I called up some female vocalists, I just thought, Well, I’ll drop a line to Rosanne, and see if, by some weird twist of fate, she might want to do it as a full-on duet. And she did. WHOA.

Any chance you can teach all other artists how to not make terrible Xmas songs too?

Boy oh boy, the ones that I really hate are the ha-ha-Christmas-is-dumb songs. Too easy!

As you mentioned you wrote most of the songs for the album at an artists’ colony called Yaddo? For us unaware of this place could you elaborate on that and did it make the writing experience better or strikingly different to how you have composed in the past?

It was super fun. I had a studio in the woods. I was totally sequestered. It was pretty great and totally new for me, of course.

The album again is released by yourself. Apart from I am sure an increased work load, are you happier having your music released this way and what are the advantages?

The increased work load is serious–as is the increased expense. Though, allegedly, I’ll make more dough at the other end. Actually, labels have been pretty nice to me over the years, though, at every label, there’s some dude saying, “You should put a piano on that song,” basically so they can play it for other people and tell them the piano was their idea.

Do you think you needed to have gone through being on a label to understand and see you could release your work by yourself and make a living from it?

Very good question. I have a super enthused audience, very sharp, very interested and engaged. And, of course, I’ve toured like a motherfucker. I think that’s got more to do with it than specific label situations.

Can you give some reassuring words for those unsigned artists who still hold on to the belief that a label is the only way forward?

There’s a zillion ways to do it–the sad thing about the labels is that they basically paid for a van and a sound guy. It’s hard to win an audience unless you’re zooming around from show to show for a few years. It’s more difficult for younger artists–even amazingly talented ones.

I read that you are bipolar? Do you think this adds something different or extra to your music that others cannot find within themselves?

Wow, I don’t really know. Since I got medicated and stopped the fucking horrible side of that shit, the songs have been really good, but they weren’t too bad beforehand, either.

Who and what are the influences in music or outside that have had the biggest impact on you as a musician and songwriter?

I was hugely influenced by David Letterman (very absurdist talk show host) when I was a teenager. He’s incredibly poetic. Also the playwright David Mamet is a Jedi of verbal rhythm. A lot of alternative stuff as a teenager–Replacements, Billy Bragg–hip-hop as an older teenager–Tribe Called Quest, Casual, Craig Mack, the Beasties.

As mentioned earlier you also have your autobiography The Book of Drugs out too. I have yet to have the opportunity to read it so can you give some insight to it and the period of your life it deals with.

It’s a long, long time to summarize. Weird childhood on military bases, coming to New York as an 18-year-old in the late 80s, putting together a band that turned into a total toxic shitshow, a long love affair with drugs that turned into a fucked-up nightmare, then emerging from that, and the world being even stranger than it was before.

How did the writing process differ for the book compared to writing lyrics apart from the obvious?

For a song, if you write 30 words, you’ve had a ridiculously productive day!

The book is an honest and stark of your drug addiction and recovery; can you without giving away too much to stop people needing to buy the book, give a little insight into this?

I don’t really know. You need to find your people. In 12-step stuff, meetings, wherever, find the people who have what you want.

Your addiction problems were more concentrated at the time of your band Soul Coughing or were they in place before then too?

Oh, sure. When Soul Coughing turned to pure shit, that’s when I just decided to say fuck it and stop trying not to be wasted consciously, because life just wasn’t worth it.

Was your experience with the band, which was without doubt not a great time a major accelerant of your problems?

Oh yeah, see above. Though if you’re a certain kind of fucked-up person–as I am–you’re gonna find horrible abusive people no matter what. Had they gone down in a shipwreck, I’d have found another three awful people to be in a band with.

Obviously the book holds much more than the things we just talked of but as the title suggests your problems with drugs and addiction are the major elements. How did you feel whilst writing about this period of your life for the book and future public consumption?

I’ll pretty much tell anybody anything about myself. I don’t have a lot of secrets. I’ve told pretty much every one of these stories over dinner to somebody. I worried, for sure, about people in my life being hurt by what I said about them, though.

Going by your lyrical style and music I can imagine along with the honest portrayal of your life there is a healthy vein of humour too throughout the book, did that humour give you a strength during your darker times?

Yeah, the dark humor, the weird consciousness, that’s basically all I’ve got.

Will you consider another book in the future?

Love to, if I have a good idea.

What is next for you once the promotion for the album and book has passed?

Songs, more songs, always writing songs.

Are there live shows on the horizon, hopefully in the UK?

I sure hope so. Love the UK.

A great thanks for sharing your time for our questions, it has been a real pleasure.

Anytime, I really appreciate the opportunity.

Would you like to leave us with any last comments or thoughts?

I’m sure I’ll think of something really interesting to add 90 minutes after I send this to you!

And lastly knowing you as an inspired poet too would you give us your favourite couple of lines from either one of your pieces or a poem that inspired you?

Rita Dove: “If you can’t be free / Be a mystery.”

Read the Yes And Also Yes review @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/mike-doughty-yes-and-also-yes/

RingMaster 17/02/2012

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