During a conversation with singer/songwriter Mike Doughty, two things come to his delightfully twisted mind about playing music in Phoenix: "Shopping at Zia Records" and being here "when it was 125 degrees outside." Luckily for Doughty, who is playing Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix on Sunday, January 24, he can do only one of those things while he's in town, at least during this time of year.
The 45-year-old, who now resides in Memphis, says he was listening to a new Bollywood record at home as we chatted. Perhaps another trip to Zia will give him the inspiration to come up with his next masterpiece, although inspiration does not seem to be an issue for the songwriter. Doughty has put out a baker's dozen worth of solo releases since 2000 (most recently Stellar Elevator in late 2014), the year he left Soul Coughing, the band that put him on the alternative map.
He has never stopped doing his thing, which is pairing some of the most creative lyrics you'll ever hear with equally catchy tunes. Doughty also manages to keep up a steady pace of touring to go along with his almost constant recording.
"I like touring," Doughty says. "Well, I haven't always liked it, but there is something about being in motion that I enjoy. I'm just constantly engaged by it. I do probably 80 shows a year."
The formerly blond and often bespectacled singer is single and "not responsible for maintaining anyone else's life," making touring "a lot more palatable." Along with Doughty's longtime accompanying cellist, Andrew "Scrap" Livingston, the songwriter will be playing a mix of old and new material during the current tour, including a few old Soul Coughing songs, which he only recently decided to embrace again.
It hasn't always been easy for Doughty to accept requests or even accolades related to his time in Soul Coughing, the relatively popular mid-'90s/early 2000s New York City-based group known for the ridiculously catchy song "Super Bon Bon," from the group's 1996 album, Irresistible Bliss. There were years, for example, after Doughty left Soul Coughing when he felt that someone asking him about the band was like looking him in the eye and saying, "Fuck you."
It still seems there is some discomfort for Doughty, who bristled slightly when asked about his time in Soul Coughing and the détente he seems to have found in his battle with the band's legacy.
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"I would say yes, I've accepted it. It's not a good idea to fight anything," Doughty says when asked if writing his book The Book of Drugs (2012, Da Capo Press) and releasing his album Circles, which is made up of Soul Coughing songs, was something of a catharsis.
Although he doesn't play "Screenwriter's Blues," an excellent track off Soul Coughing's first record, Ruby Vroom, anymore, it is nice to know Soul Coughing fans will get a treat (or three) during Doughty's next Phoenix show. Those who liked Doughty's former band's eclectic mix of off-kilter, pre-hipster alt-jazz should enjoy the songwriter's solo work as well. Doughty has more than honed his craft during the past decade and a half of touring and recording, although he doesn't read his press clippings.
"You've got to avoid that kind of stuff. You've got to avoid reading what anyone else says about you regardless of whether or not it is positive or negative. It's always confusing. Even when it is high praise, there is something confusing about it," Doughty says.
"You learn the hard way," he says. "When I was a kid and first started making records, I read reviews that were incredibly damaging and hurtful and made me question everything about my life. First, you have to learn to not take it personally, and then you have to learn that you can't look at it without putting your heart at risk.