January 29, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 37°F


Inspired by the ordinary

Indie rocker Mike Doughty has been recording music since the mid-1990s. Since his original band, Soul Coughing, split in 2000, he has released three albums and collaborated with Grammy-winning producer Dan Wilson. At 8 p.m. tomorrow at Castaways, he’ll bring his signature vocals and free-flowing lyrics to Ithaca for the first time. Senior Writer Ian Holliday spoke with Doughty about the inspiration for his music, his religious beliefs and the necessity of blogging for modern musicians.

Ian Holliday: You used to lead a band called Soul Coughing. In what ways is your solo work similar to that work? How is it different?

Mike Doughty: It’s just different because it’s not collaborative. With Soul Coughing, I was the leader, but it was a lot about group sound and what individuals sounded like in the band. I actually sort of revisited that for “Golden Delicious,” my last solo record. I really sort of tailored it to the individual musicians, the drummer and the keyboard player in particular.

IH: Your songs and albums have some great titles. One of your most famous songs “Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well” is a really interesting image.

MD: That’s taken from a Haruki Murakami novel called “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.” There’s a character that actually goes down into a well and looks at the sky and reinvents his life down there.

IH: Where do the titles for your songs come from? And in the case of ones that are titled after the lyrics, where do the lyrics come from?

MD: I just sort of keep my ears and my eyes open as I walk through the world. I write things down, I eavesdrop on people, I clip things out of the newspaper, and then I just sort of pay attention to my own stream of consciousness and write down the stuff that seems good at the time. Then when I sit down to write I sort of gather all of this stuff together and comb through it to find the gems or at least the stuff that I like.

IH: Your music sometimes has religious messages, whether obvious in “His Truth is Marching On” or more subtle in a song like “Unsingable Name.”

MD: It’s a spiritual message. It’s not really a religious message. I don’t really belong to any organized religion, and I don’t really subscribe to any common faith.

IH: So how would you sum up your spiritual views?

MD: Well, I believe in God and I don’t believe in God. It’s a hard thing to sum up. I have relied on a power greater than myself at a number of really critical times in my life. And then I spend a lot of time doubting the existence of God. I’m definitely a split-decision, agnostic kind of a guy.

IH: How does your spirituality affect your music?

MD: Just as much as my girlfriend and the food that I eat and the people I hang out with. It’s just a part of my life, and everything from my life eventually somehow gets in there. I start from words or phrases much more than I start from concepts.

IH: You’re a pretty avid blogger, correct? What’s the attraction to that for you?

MD: I always had something going on online. I used to go to Soul Coughing message boards on AOL back in ’93 or ’94. I was kind of on the interaction-with-people thing pretty early. Eventually it just got the point where I was like, “Well, I should have my own space for myself.” I got much less democratic.

IH: You also contribute to the Huffington Post, correct? How would you say new technologies have affected your career?

MD: It’s been a mainstay of not just my career, but my life, as long as I’ve had a laptop. It’s at the heart of being a musician these days either with your blogging or putting up your songs online. But more than that, it’s just an important part of my life.

IH: In your various writing gigs, whether it’s a blog or the Huffington Post or one of the music reviews you’ve written to support yourself over the years, you usually write about music. Has being both a music critic and a musician ever gotten you into trouble?

MD: I wrote a catty thing about a certain rock superstar once, and he got really mad. Occasionally, just as a blogger, you’re talking about what’s going on in your life, and I wrote one thing about this guy that I’m not going to name. I was like, “That guy was a real a—— to me.” I just naively thought I could put that out there, and he totally freaked out on me … He e-mailed me and was like, “Dude, what the f—? You’re making fun of me in public.” I guess I thought it would never get back to him, but even if it wouldn’t, it’s just not nice to write stuff like that, so I really regret it.

Mike Doughty will perform at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Castaways. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at www.castawaysithaca.com.