(Photo: Deborah Lopez)
Singer/songwriter and former Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty is enjoying the present by looking into the past and crafting his own future. He released a book this January called "The Book of Drugs" that delves into his time with Soul Coughing (and yes, drugs). He split with ATO Records to form his own SNACK BAR imprint through Megaforce, on which he released 2011 album Yes And Also Yes. And most significantly, he's delved into his back catalog of demos and unreleased tracks and came to the surface with 32 songs that he will be releasing via a subscription service over 32 weeks.
The project is called the Lo-Fi Lodge, and for 20 bucks fans will receive one previously-unreleased track per week straight to their inbox, a mix of old and new material, demo-type recordings, and forgotten gems that never came to the surface before now. Registration for the lodge ends April 27, and the first track will be available April 30.
Doughty took time out from his solo/book tour (and his lunch hour) in Los Angeles, where he has been performing solo material and reading excerpts from his book around the country, to discuss the Lo-Fi Lodge, working with Roseanne Cash, and writing songs about goth teenagers shoplifting on acid for the Twilight soundtrack.
Billboard.biz: Are you on your book tour right now?
Mike Doughty: We just arrived in Los Angeles. I guess it's about two-thirds performing songs and one-third doing readings, and otherwise just telling gnarly tales of Soul Coughing. It's kind of terrifying to embark on doing readings in rock bars, but it's been great.
And how did the Lo-Fi Lodge idea come about?
It was suggested to me [by management - Pete Smolin, Mike Lavigne and Jamie Kitman at Hornblow Group] that I do a subscription-type thing. I sort of excavated hard drives to see what I had, and I had all these songs, kind of acoustic and cheap drum machine versions of songs that I later put in more "realized" versions on the records, and I just thought, "oh, that is really good." And then there were songs that I found that I was like, "why did I not put this song on an album?" And I had 32 of them, so I wanted to do something a little bit more complicated than just put them all out at once on an album. Just under a third of it is new material, but its all 100% unreleased.
Anybody else doing similar things?
Every two months you hear about somebody who has some weird idea for like a post-album universe - stuff like "if you pay $1,000 bucks a month, you'll get a phone call from the artist!" - and all that stuff sounds kind of whack to me. But this is a very particular kind of body of songs, it didn't quite entail an album… because it was such an odd proposition to begin with, I thought it would be a decent way to do this. And a lot of people have been buying it actually, it's kind of insane.
How did you come up with the $20 price?
It was suggested by Hornblow, and it seemed like a decent amount, not prohibitive. Because it's more than an album. So many artists are being talked into things like "You could be a gold circle member of Mike Doughty!" you know, just like these really weird ideas. It seemed simple, it seemed a fair price; slightly more than usual since it's slightly more than an album.
On your latest album you had a duet with Roseanne Cash.
We did a holiday show like two years ago, and she said from the stage something like, "oh my god, I'm really intimidated because Mike Doughty is such a great songwriter," and my eyes popped out of my head. I met her, she was really great. So Dan Wilson [of Semisonic fame] and I wrote "Holiday," the idea for which was just like we wanna do an emotionally resonant Christmas song, but not your kind of hipster-haha-Christmas-is-dumb song. We wanted it to be genuine, we didn't want it to be corny, you know, emotionally relatable for us.
So there was a note I couldn't hit, and I was like, "you know, I can get a backup vocalist, but why not just for the hell of it, shoot an email over to Roseanne to see if she wanted to do this, as a full duet." I'm not the sort of person who would walk up to a legendary artist upon first meeting and say hey let's work together, so I approached her very deferentially and trepidatiously when I emailed her. She responded literally in minutes, saying yes. It was mind-blowing.
And you had written a song - which was rejected - for the Twilight Soundtrack?
Yes exactly! It's funny, because I thought it was, you know, you usually get these things, and really they're just putting out the word to 500 artists, and they're all trying to do something. But actually Kenny MacPherson and Scott Cresto [of Chrysalis Music Group] sat me down and were like, "would you be interested in this?" And you know, of course I was. But yeah, it was probably just like the weirdness of my voice that made it not quite their thing.
It is a song about teenage goths on LSD in a train station, shoplifting while tripping. I just sort of connected them with why quasi-gothic teenagers would be attracted to something like Twilight. Whereas I didn't do a lot of shoplifting while tripping - I kept those activities separate - I always hung out with the awesome goth girls in high school, sneering at everything and stealing things.