Please explain what just happened.

I judged a high school/middle school battle of the bands. Female art-rockers prevailed over arena-ready, emo-tinted boy rock. Every one of the four categories of winners had a girl in the band–and only one was a high school band. The middle-schoolers were, predictably, more of a shambling lot, but were a lot stranger, and funnier, in their creative choices.


What is your earliest memory?

Disneyland. I’m in a stroller, and one of the seven dwarves is looming over me.


If you weren’t a musician what other profession would you choose?

Penniless song collector.


Please describe the current contents of your refrigerator.

Coke Zero, tomato soup, mesclun greens, turkey ham, baby-cut carrots, tofu bacon, pickled string beans, German mustard, chimichurri sauce, Stubb’s BBQ sauce, microwaveable chicken patties.


What verb best describes you?



What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and have a conversation with yourself at age thirteen?

I’d bring an iPod–which would blow my thirteen-year-old mind in the first place–packed with all the songs I would become obsessed with over the next 27 years. I wouldn’t need to say anything else.


What are the steps you take to regain your composure?

Coffee, and idle web-surfing. Usually checking the same four or five sites, over and over again, even though I’ve already checked them and they’re likely to remain unchanged.



Define “success.”

Making a living doing what you enjoy.


From what or whom do you derive your greatest inspiration?

Coffee. The ‘obsessable’ song of the moment.


What change do you want to be in the world?

I would want to be demonstrably happy. It catches on.


Are you pro- or anti-emoticon? Please explain.

I use them often. I often avoid them when I meet a woman–I’ve met a lot of anti-emoticon women. I have a strict she-must-emoticon-first policy.



How are you six degrees from Kevin Bacon?

I was on David Letterman with his wife Kyra Sedgwick once. One degree!


What makes you feel most guilty?



Please list three things you never leave home without.

I want to list three unquantifiables, or abstract qualities, but I can’t think of any, so I must say iPod, phone, and wallet.


What is the worst piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

“Do or do not; there is no try.” Terrible advice! There is try, there must be try, and more importantly there must be failure.


What is the best advice you’ve ever given to someone else?

Don’t skimp on titles; don’t name a poem Untitled. Titles are their own kind of meme, that live in the world as a micro-poem, often with a life of their own, reaching people that will never read or hear the work they’re titling.


What do you consider the harshest kind of betrayal?

My drummer stole my girlfriend once. It was devastating. I got some very good songs out of it, though.


Of all the game shows that have graced our TV screens throughout history, which one would you want to be a contestant on and why?

Meet the Press.


What do you want to know?

If there’s other intelligent life out there in the Universe, and what their music sounds like. Maybe they don’t even have music. Maybe they have music composed of smells.


What would you like your last words to be?

More morphine, please.


Please explain what will happen.

I’ll go to Yaddo, the artists’ colony, and work on some new songs.

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When MIKE DOUGHTY released his second official solo album, 2008’s Golden Delicious, the reaction from fans was intense. “Oh, people hated it,” Doughty says. “They called it ‘too pop,’ ‘garbage,’ ‘fluff.’ The guy from The Onion said something about how it was like watching Allen Ginsberg toss aside his poetic genius to write scripts for The King of Queens.’” (The Onion guy also admitted: “Okay, maybe not that bad.”)

Born into a military family in Fort Knox, KY, Doughty started out playing bass in a high-school band in Highland Falls, NY, and writing songs as soon as he picked up the bass. "When I could play two notes, I'd yell something over it and call it a song," he says. He credits the late poet and performer Sekou Sundiata’s poetry class at New York City’s New School with sparking his interest in the craft of songwriting. “He taught me that I’m working for the poem, song, or lyric, it’s not working for me. That I have to listen to it to get it to be what it wants to be, rather than trying to impose my will on it.” After eight years fronting Soul Coughing, Doughty launched his solo career with Skittish, selling over 20,000 copies on the strength of constant grass-roots touring.

Being on the road sent Doughty's creativity into overdrive. He released the live album Smofe + Smang in 2002, followed by the Rockity Roll EP in 2003. In 2005, Doughty signed with ATO Records, an independent label founded by Dave Matthews, a huge Soul Coughing fan. ATO released Doughty’s first full-band album Haughty Melodic, which went Top 5 at Triple A radio thanks to its hit single Looking at the World from the Bottom of A Well, a song that was featured on Grey’s Anatomy, Bones and What About Brian.

Through it all, Doughty has maintained a widely-read blog ( chronicling his unique shows, international travels, and creative endeavors. He’s currently writing a memoir, recording an electronic album entitled Dubious Luxury, and working on a photo book about Eritrea’s capital city of Asmara, for Yeti Books. He also recently published a play, Ray Slape is Dead in 24 by 24: The 24 Hour Plays Anthology, alongside Terrence McNally and Theresa Rebeck.

Doughty continues to tour in support of his 2009 release, Sad Man Happy Man. “Basically I'm trying to make stuff I want to listen to,” he says of the album. “And I mean that in a literal sense, not like, “Were I a listener, I would like this,” but rather something I can listen to on the subway on headphones and really dig. This is my life, this is what I do. That sounds matter-of-fact, but I really do look at it as a sort of calling — and being an artist at its best is selfless. I'm working for the language, I'm working for the music, I'm working for the songs. I'm a happier guy when I'm conscious of that.”

8 responses to “21 Questions with Mike Doughty”

  1. Greg Boose says:

    Dude. Mike Doughty, it’s great to know more about you. But I want you to re-answer the game show question. You seem like a “Press Your Luck” kind of dude, no?

  2. Hey Mike,

    I am a huge Soul Coughing fan and I saw you live several times. Your performance usually left me stunned and amazed. So nice to have you here at TNB and to get to know you more via the 21 Questions. Keep doing what you do best. Yaddo sounds fun, maybe we’ll end up there some day at the same time.

  3. Simon Smithson says:


    I’m so goddamn happy we got Doughty.

    I’ve formed so many memories to the soundtrack that’s he’s provided. I Hear the Bells is the backdrop to one of my favourite moments in the last few years.

  4. dwoz says:

    drummer stole your girlfriend….fantastic career move! Was he confused as to why he had to look for a new gig?


    that was a gratuitous emoticon.

    Cool interview.

  5. Wow, I’m now even more honored to be part of TNB, knowing that Doughty has been interviewed. So funny, in fact. Just this morning a friend of mine sent me an e-mail, asking my three favorite songs of all times. And one of them was Soul Coughing’s “Screenwriter Blues.”

    And for those of you who’ve never heard this amazing song, here you go:

    Thanks for everything, Mike. All the best in art and life.

  6. Becky Palapala says:

    Holy shit. I was gone on vacation and Mike Doughty was here.

    *hang head*

  7. samantha Peale says:

    That is good advice about titling, MD.


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