Mike Doughty is always up for reinventing himself. Formerly the lead singer of Soul Coughing, Doughty has found a voice as a solo performer. Mike is back in Minneapolis this week for six shows where he revisits his Question Jar Shows, which involve letting the audience ask him anything they want.
Before his gigs at the Dakota Jazz Club, Doughty gives a clue on what to ask him while he's in town and talks about his latest tracks that he built around some lost Elliott Smith recordings that he found while moving.
Gimme Noise: So how many shows are you actually doing when you're in Minneapolis?
Mike Doughty: I am doing six shows -- two shows each for three nights.
Why was Minneapolis the place for so many shows?
Basically because they asked me; it was not premeditated. They invited me, and I love Minneapolis.
What's your favorite place to visit when you're here?
I almost live at French Meadow, and I also love the Dogwood.
This is not the first time you're doing the question jar show concept, is it?
No, this is the rebirth of the question jar show.
Why did you want to do these interactive kind of shows?
Well, my friend Marty said something like, "Why don't you do something that's like your blog?" But there's nothing like my blog. I think his point was something that involves spontaneous talking. The other thing was, I interact and talk with the audience, and I wanted some kind of forum where I wouldn't fall into a routine and start saying the same thing every night. I wanted to jolt myself and be surprised and be surprising.
Have you ever been stumped by any of the questions?
People have asked me stuff I don't know the answer to, but I always have a response. There's none that have ever actually rendered me speechless -- to my recollection.
That will help some people with what they want to ask you at your shows.
Maybe they can render me speechless that night.
I wanted to ask you about the Elliott Smith recordings that you recently put out. I read the interview that you did with the Willamette Week about the songs. When you were cleaning out your stuff and you came across the tapes, did you wonder what they were?
Oh, no. The cassettes said "Elliott's Stuff." [laughs] I knew immediately what they were, and I have suitcases and boxes full of cassettes and VHS tapes and digital tapes and all kinds of stuff that I have never organized. I'm just not good at it, so it was miraculously sitting on top of a pile. I opened up the box, and there they were.
What was your reaction or your thoughts when you listened to this stuff that hasn't been heard in over a decade?
I was blown away. The recordings were very short. I don't remember exactly, but I think it was between one thing and another thing that he dropped in. It was around the time he was recording the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. I was in Los Angeles and he was in Los Angeles, and he dropped in and sat in the studio and played these three songs.
To have someone you're close to pass away and find something of theirs years later -- that must have been astounding.
It's startling to say the least.
Have you read any comments from people about the tracks?
I do not read any comments. Please do not tell me what any of the comments say. That's something I learned a long time ago, "Do not read the comments." There is nothing to be gained from reading them.
I try not to read them myself, but sometimes you get drawn in. It's a pretty soulless place.
Yes, you're exactly right. Surely there's comments on your articles where somebody says, "This is the dumbest thing I've ever read in my life. This is the worst thing that Western civilization has ever produced." It's like, "Why?" No one benefits from reading that.
It's interesting how the internet has given everyone a voice. Certainly there are a lot of people that I follow on Twitter that I'm very stoked to hear from, but some are just trolls gathering under the bridge. I try and find illuminating thoughts -- not only my own stuff but -- on anything. It's pure ugliness on comment pages.
I was watching something great on YouTube -- what was it? Oh, yeah, it was a Giorgio Moroder record from the late '70s, early '80s. [laughs] You want to punch these people in the face. They were absolutely indignant at this thing. It's like, "How about you don't listen to that record? It takes half an hour to listen to this. Don't. Please go outside and throw a softball around or something."
Your career has spanned many decades. How do you think you would have survived if you started making music now?
Not at all. My career is based on the fact that a record company paid for a van and a motel room. It's really as simple as if you don't tour for a few years when you're starting out, you don't have an audience. It doesn't happen. There's an incredibly small number of people that have just been able to put out records out and haven't been slogging through the clubs playing to 12 people and the next time they come through, they play to 50 people, and they keep coming through until they have enough people that they can pay their rent. It's a damn shame that people don't have the opportunity.
I'm totally stoked to live at this point in history. I make plenty of money, I make the work I want to work, and I'm very close to my audience. It's absolutely perfect, but it's people in their early 20s that are starting out that are at a big disadvantage.
What advice would you give 20-year-old Mike?
[laughs] I would tell 20-year-old Mike that you gotta work hard. It sucks, but it's great. If you want this life, I think the hard work is worth it. When I was 20, I couldn't afford guitar strings, much less gassing up a van and driving across the country.
Mike Doughty will be at the Dakota Jazz Club on March 13, 14, and 15.
7 pm and 9 pm
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