Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Interview: Mike Doughty

We want to buy your Yes and Also Yes listening kit. What’s the chance it’ll become a reality? Where’d you get the idea for it? And how do collapsible cardboard speakers sound? 

This I don't know. Hoping people would be interested enough to buy it. It's pretty much the definition of a specialty item. I'd be happy just to see them on shelves. The box looks amazing. (hoping you guys print a pic of the box!) 

The cardboard speakers actually sound pretty alright. I've bought 'em from Muji, and they're fun. Not world-shattering hi-def, of course. 

But, then, I like some pretty weird sounding things. I was in a cab in Ethiopia once, and there was this music playing, Ethiopian pop chanteuse, and it sounded spectacular. I found the CD, and it didn't sound as good as it did in the cab's tiny, messed-up, distorted speakers--they sounded like somebody jammed a pencil into the speaker cone. 

The collapsible cardboard speakers sound WAY better than those in the Ethiopian cab. I promise.

I asked Megaforce, Snack Bar's distributor, to put it out on cassette--I was stunned when they said yes--and then realized that I don't--nor does any friend of mine--own a cassette player. I'm sure there's some busted Coby walkman in a closet somewhere, but still. And I think even if you had never owned a cassette player, it'd be groovy to assemble the cassette player, and the speakers, and listen to the cassette. Bizarre, but special.

What are the biggest differences and similarities between Yes and Also Yes and Sad Man Happy Man, both in how they came to be and how they sound?

There were more people involved in Y.A.A.Y.--Sad Man was just me, Pat Dillett (the producer), and Andrew "Scrap" Livingston playing cello and bass. For this one, we kept calling people into the studio, one by one, and having them track improvised parts on lots of tunes. Carolin Pook, on violin, Thomas Bartlett, aka Doveman, on piano and organ. And Scrap, naturally. Sat them down by themselves at an instrument and just rolled multiple songs past them.

Also, Y.A.A.Y. was largely written at an artists' colony, Yaddo, up in Saratoga Springs, NY. I wrote 21 songs in a period of just over a month. That's a pretty intense way to cook up a batch of songs.

Judging by your lyrics, you seem to be a very intelligent, educated and sensitive fellow. How does that reconcile with the rock and roll lifestyle and mindset? Or do we have that wrong? Are we just making assumptions because you wear glasses?

Aaaah, I don't know if I have a rock and roll mindset. What is a rock and roll mindset? Like, you feel like a member of 38 Special in 1981? I listen to a whole lot of Black Sabbath (seriously, I do, what an amazingly weird rhythm section)--does that indicate a dollop of rock and roll in my mindset?

My historic interest in opiates I'd prefer to see as more of a Lenny Bruce and/or John Coltrane mindset. 

Educated I'm not--I mostly took poetry and playwriting classes in college, and conned my way through the literature courses. Actually, I've been reading a lot of those books lately--the ones I faked my way through term papers about.

Are you still writing poetry? From a writer’s perspective, what do you see as main the difference between poetry and song writing?

I wrote an epic poem for a literary magazine...last year? Reasonably recently. I don't generally write poems--I was commissioned to do that one. I'm mulling over a kind of theater piece that'll be more or less written in verse. But not in a horrible terrible awful way, as you'd think when somebody says "a theatrical piece written in verse". But who knows? Operationally, there really isn't much of a difference. Writing prose is a different gig, but poetry and songwriting, at least text-wise, aren't that dissimilar.

Your memoir, The Book of Drugs, is scheduled for release early next year. Kind of a dumb question, given the title, but what might we expect from it?

It's about drugs and music. It's sad and comical, there are few tales of glamorous debauchery, or bad-assery. Strange, wistful, and often funny in moments where it shouldn't be.

If you were to write a memoir using nothing but LPs by artists other than yourself, what would they be?

I'm really not an LP guy. I'm a song guy. As far as LPs, I like A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory and Led Zeppelin IV--but just the first side. Those are maybe the only albums I listen to in their entirety. The rest I just skip around to the songs I love--always have. Recent artists I've become obsessed with, like Bon Iver, and Jose Gonzales, I've listened to the entire album repeatedly, and then selected a few individual tunes that'll become my repeat-players.

Best (or most memorable) concert-in-Denver memory?

I think it may have been at the Ogden. Very hot woman jumped onstage and tried to dance with me, but it was supremely awkward, she didn't know what to do, she kind of put her arm around me in a hey-we're-pals position. I didn't kick her offstage, but she left after a few tunes. Then, post-show, she asked me to buy her a plane ticket to wherever I was playing next. 

I met David J from Bauhaus and Love and Rockets at the Bluebird, some kind of multi-band bill, and he was effusively complimentary. Very exciting, because I spent my teen years getting high with goths.

Mike Doughty will perform live at Twist and Shout on Tuesday, November 1, 6 pm.

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