Interview: Mike Doughty on The Hell That Was Soul Coughing, The Benefits of Psychedelics, and Fictionally Screwing a Republican
"Of all the drug addicts in the world, it's the serious potheads that worry me, because they don't think they have a drug problem. I know so many people that lead the most mediocre lives, who don't do a damn thing, it's because they're wake 'n bakers."
Do you wish that band had never happened? That it would have happened in a solo context from the beginning?
I was very dumb hanging out with those guys, because they just didn't like me from the jump. They really were very cruel to me in a lot of ways, put me down in a big way, and I believed them. I was 23 when I started the band, and they were in their 30s. I thought they must be smarter than I am, they must be right, the whole reason this is taking off is because of them. We found all these terrible people we worked with that were essentially like those guys. Soul Coughing was this weird universe--sort of a Dante's Inferno, where I was the devil's asshole, and there was the band, the management, the record company, and everybody hated me.
I wish I had just been like, "Well you guys don't like me, I think I'm going to go make a record with the Dust Brothers." Everything I did in that band I had to trick them into doing. They believed they wrote the songs. Just imagine people with a completely screwed up view of reality. Imagine the art director believing he wrote your article because, he's like, "I laid it out...so I wrote it, right?...It was just a bunch of words."
The song--"Lord Lord Help Me Just To Rock Rock On"--you compared it to "Walk On The Wild Side." Is there a danger, in talking about addiction--you're not celebrating it, but...
Maybe to some degree I am celebrating it. I certainly am not endorsing drugs. [But] I don't regret that part of my life. I don't regret doing drugs, anyway. There was a moment when they worked for me. The medicinal element--at one point if I didn't have drugs, I really would've killed myself, it was too painful to live.
There's the other point: I think people need to do psychedelics. There's something about living that you will learn from taking a psychedelic drug. A friend of mine who's a doctor said, "That's fine, but when you get the message, you have to hang up the phone." Not just "Oh wow," stay on there for forever. I was one of those people.
I don't think it's a celebration of drugs, I think it's a very fucked up and paranoid song. But yeah, I'm not shaking my finger in anybody's face telling them not to do drugs. If you're going to drugs, you should do drugs. From my perspective--if you want to stop, that's also possible. But if that's you want to stop. If you don't want to stop, have at it.
The people that really worry me are the potheads. Of all the drug addicts in the world, it's the serious potheads that worry me, because they don't think they have a drug problem. I know so many people that lead the most mediocre lives, who don't do a damn thing, it's because they're wake 'n bakers. People say, weed's not addictive--except for these guys that are waking up every day and ruining their lives! I think it's a travesty that weed isn't legal in this country, just like alcohol, but you have to take a look at what it does to people, for real.
All those Dave Matthews fans..
I think they're mostly an alcohol crowd.
What's your favorite year you've lived in New York?
2000, right when I got clean, was a great year. I moved here in '89. Gradually I became a number and sadder person and I stopped noticing the amazingness, the beauty that is everywhere in the city--the strange juxtapositions, the oddness and the grittiness. I got clean and the world became much more psychedelic to me.
The way you're doing things now, you're making more money than you would be on a major label.
I feel bad for new artists. When I was new, basically, Warner Brothers gave me enough money for a van, to support my band, have a tour manager, a sound guy. Soul Coughing never made money, really. When I worked at the New York Press, it was like my day job. I wrote under a pseudonym. I couldn't afford to live in New York. I wrote a column called 'Dirty Sanchez,' a mean column about music. It was a dark time in my life. I wrote about local musicians and what assholes they were, for the most part. I was just a tool at the time. It got kind of a following, as mean, nasty people will in New York.
We had a video on MTV, I was selling 350,000 records a year, and I wasn't making half the money I'm making now. Now I sell between 40 and 80000 records, which is chump change compared to back then, playing smaller houses, and yet I'm really making a living. Part of it is just that I'm smarter.
What happened to me with Soul Coughing--[I thought] "Let's share everything! Yeah! I'm 23!" Everyone was like, "Yeaaah sure, we'll share everything." It was a bit evil. That's the song of all bands. I remember I met with this guy Terry Ellis, sort of a big music business figure, when Soul Coughing was just looking for a record label. He called me up to his office alone. He said, "Drop the band, and just be you." I was like, "No way man! Fuck you man! All for one, one for all!"
He was right. The big scary record man was right.
Mike Doughty plays at (le) Poisson Rouge on October 31st, and again on November 28th.