With songs like “Oh My God Yeah Fuck It” and “Let’s Go To The Motherfucking Movies,” singer-songwriter Mike Doughty clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously. And neither does his audience.
Doughty, who’s best known as the founder and frontman of 1990s alt-rockish quartet Soul Coughing — a band that went through what you might call a less-than-amicable split, which Doughty wrote about in his 2012 memoir The Book of Drugs — is touring the U.S. in support of his new album, Stellar Motel. The tour, which takes Doughty and longtime collaborator and cellist Andrew “Scrap” Livingston from Nevada to New York, is touted as “The Question Jar Show.”
“It’s relatively self-explanatory. We have a jar, people put questions in it — the more bizarre the better — and we answer them between songs,” Doughty tells Folio Weekly. “Just the other day, somebody asked, ‘What happens to werewolves on the moon?’ I think I said something like, ‘They explode.’ My audience is really really into the weird stuff, so we rarely get serious questions. It’s almost kind of jarring — oh, sorry, that’s a terrible pun that I didn’t mean to make — when somebody gives us a serious question.”
With nearly 20 solo albums in his repertoire and an unbelievably devoted fanbase, Doughty has taken to crowdfunding to put out his last few discs. Stellar Motel was funded through a PledgeMusic campaign in which he uploaded dozens of videos showing the project’s progression. He also offered some oddball incentives for donors: recordings on microcassette, lyrics typed on his 1980 IBM Selectric typewriter, a private concert via Skype, etc.
“I don’t really know how it would work for everybody,” Doughty says of relying on fan donations. “But certainly an artist like me, who’s got a very loyal audience that is interested in getting more new music all the time — for somebody like me, it’s great.”
Compared to Doughty’s roots — back when “Soundtrack to Mary” and “Circles” were getting spins on alt-rock radio — Stellar Motel is out of left field. Actually, it’s not even in the same ballpark. Doughty enlisted the help of hip-hop producer DJ Good Goose for his first all-original studio album in three years. (Last year he released a record that reimagined 13 Soul Coughing songs, which he’s previously claimed to detest hearing.)
“It was very organic,” Doughty says of the collaboration. “It was very much a back-and-forth. I’d give him an element and he’d change it and give it back to me. And then I’d give him another element. It was just very natural and easy.”
The 44-year-old Doughty relied on DJ Good Goose to bring in a younger sound, including rappers MC Frontalot, Miss Eaves, Big Dipper, Jay Boogie, Kim from the Japanese band Uhnellys, country singer Laura Lee Bishop, Brooklyn saxophone-and-drums band Moon Hooch and the female rap trio Hand Job Academy.
The resulting record is perhaps Doughty’s finest solo effort: smart, thoughtful, energetic, infectious, fun, danceable, weird, catchy, everything a pop record should be. “Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating in the Future” and “When the Night Is Long,” the two leadoff tracks, stand out, as does the aforementioned “Oh My God Yeah Fuck It,” which is, for the most part, Doughty and Moon Hooch repeating the refrain “Oh my God, yeah, fuck it,” over and over again, interspersed with only the occasional verse, which should get old fast, but doesn’t.
But Stellar Motel does more than function as a collective of good songs. It functions as a record, a cohesive whole, all 16 songs through.
“It was really just conceived as a collaboration with him,” says Doughty of working with DJ Good Goose. “It wasn’t really a conscious pick of a direction. I think, obviously, him being him, there was going to be a lean towards hip-hop and dance music. But we just sat down and made the record between us.”
Diehard Doughty fans needn’t worry. He promises a full range of new tunes, old favorites and classic Soul Coughing tracks will show up on his current tour.
“I’ll know which one I’m going to start with and generally where I’m going to end,” he says of choosing a set list. Other than that, “it’s improvised every night. We don’t write it down. We just go from one song and figure out what the next one will be on the spot, but there will definitely be a thread. However loose, there is a thread and it’s got very much to do with the audience and how they’re feeling.”
So what’s next for Doughty? Well, don’t ask him. He won’t tell you.
“I always have something else on the burner, but I don’t like talking about it because it usually changes from the moment I start talking about it to the moment I start working on it,” he says. “In fact, I think if I talk about it, it will sort of put a curse on it and it will sound totally different than what I described it as.”