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Mike Doughty: Virtual Session

Mike Doughty: Virtual Session
Mike Doughty: Virtual SessionImage and Graphic by MPR

by Jill Riley

January 15, 2021

Mike Doughty joins Morning Show host Jill Riley from his home in Memphis to talk about his new project Ghost Of Vroom, his latest book I Die Each Time I Hear The Sound. Plus, hear performances of a few recent tracks and a familiar favorite.

Interview Transcription

Edited for length and clarity.

JILL RILEY: Hey everyone I'm Jill Riley from The Current's Morning Show and I'm really glad to be looking at you right now, members of Minnesota Public Radio. We really couldn't do this without you and as we've been kind of trying to navigate how we can connect you with your favorite artists and how we can still bring you live performances, we've turned to the virtual world just like everybody else has. So thanks for making it happen. I'm really excited to catch up with today's guest for The Current's virtual session and it's been a while since we've talked to him here on The Current so very excited to introduce Mr. Mike Doughty.


Hi Mike Doughty, how are you doing?


It's a loaded question, it's a big question.

Had a nice breakfast.

Yeah that's about all we can say right now.

Yeah, had a good decent cup of coffee. That's the good part. And I'm with you--that's also good. I'm doing good because I'm with you.

All right well thank you for that, we just take pleasure in the little things like our cup of coffee and connecting with people when we're just trying to find a way to stay connected during this time, and like I said the news cycle and the pandemic and all of it. But I know that you have kept pretty busy during this past year and I'd love to catch up about what you've been working on. But again thank you for joining us for The Current session and I know that you're gonna play some music for us. Before we start, now I see you're probably at home, but where are you living now?

I'm in Memphis. I've been in Memphis for about five years now, yeah.

How do you like it there?

I love it. It's a great city very weird vibey city, yeah. I just feel comfortable here.

Yeah it's--I would love to go to Memphis. I've never been there and every time I go to Tennessee I end up going to Nashville and I--

(Doughty boos)

(laughs) And it's it's pretty crazy how that town has changed you know in the time that I've been able to visit, but yeah Memphis is on the list so I'm looking forward to visiting that city. I think before we talk more, I would love for you to play a song before we chat. What do you want to play?

I'm gonna play "Madeline And Nine".

[music: "Madeline And Nine" by Mike Doughty]

Mike can you tell us a little bit about that song?

Oh wow, so this song I started writing onn9/11. Because I had, the previous, not the night before - but the previous week had bought a background check on an ex-girlfriend and discovered that she worked at one of the World Trade Center buildings, not one or two but not seven but in some other one. She was like a bartender for for drunk stock brokers or something. It was a very weird job. Discovered she worked there, total stalker vibe. And so then on 9/11 I just started, her name's not Madeline it sounds like Madeline-ish but the first line I wrote was, "Call me back when the war's over". It had been a long time, I'd gotten sober like a year before that and was just kind of learning the ropes again on how to write a song, and it was really kind of the song that started pulling me out of that. That got me back into writing again, and it's sort of a link on Haughty Melodic which was the album--the firstnalbum I put out on ATO so it is a meaningful song to me. I've met a number of people who named their kid Madeline after the song, or because they heard the name in the song and like the name.

That's pretty incredible when people tell you something like that, or a fan will say, "Hey I named my kidnbecause I loved the name after hearing it." Does that just kind of blow your mind and go, wow I didn't expect it to have that kind of real impact on someone's life?

There's all kinds of stuff that has impact on people's lives, you know, people have had me sign their arms and then they get it tattooed on them, people get lyrics tattooed on them. Oh gosh--you know they play songs at their weddings and you know first dances at weddings, learning to play memorial services you know--you meet guys during the war that were like blasting Haughty Melodic in their humvees. You have all kinds of experiences when you're putting music out in the world that are just kind of mind-blowing because you tend to focus on you know--you and your precious little artistic expression and then you discover that the resonance in the world is so much more than you thought it might be.

So you have got a new band, wanna talk about that--Ghost of Vroom. You've been busy you've got a book, you've got a new band, so let's talk about Ghost Of Vroom.

Ghost Of Vroom is me and--can you hear my dog freaking out?

I love it, what kind of dog do you--first of all what kind of dog do you have? I'm an animal person, so I always like to hear about people's animals.

He's a chihuahua his name is Lunchy and hengets upset when he hears the doorbell ring and the doorbell just rang and I wasn't expecting anybody so I'm choosing The Current over whoever--

Poor Lunchy, well we'll get to Lunchy when it's time. So Ghost Of Vroom, what's it all about?

Ghost Of Vroom--so me and Andrewn Scrap Livingston who is a bass player and cello player--oh god they're ringing the bell, can you hang on?

Yeah we can, we'll just chill. [DOUGHTY EXITS] Yeah seriously I mean this is all part of the experience the kind of the way of the virtual show. You know I did this series last spring called Phone A Friend and I was talking with Mavis Staples and I was on the phone with her which was a total trip in itself--but while we were talking on the phone her bell rang and I think it was her niece dropping off groceries because you know her family didn't want her going out to shop for groceries. They wanted to keep her safe during the pandemic and you know Chicago was kind of on lockdown like everywhere else but I just remember she's like, "Hold on a second can I get my door?" Like go get your door, I'm pretty easy going like that.

And it's funny when I do my Monday morning check-ins with Tim Nelson from Minnesota Public Radio news, maybe you hear them just after seven on Mondays--he just kind of does a news round up from the weekend and he's got a cat named Pepper and I can often hear her meowing in the background. And again it's just like the way of the world right now.

I have to show this to you - I have to show this to you.

Okay please do.

(to his neighbor) You got her? Oh my god I'm showing you the person I'm on a call with.

[NEIGHBOR] I'm sorry.


Wow. Dogs freaking out.

[NEIGHBOR] Alright I'm going to take her, thank you so much.

You're so welcome. I had no idea I'm really sorry.

[NEIGHBOR] It's okay. I'm just glad I saw her.

Wow, yeah. All right have a good one. All right that was dramatic!

I feel like we're on a reality tv show right now where we're just like getting a a day in the life in in Mike Doughty's home.

Maybe. So I open the door and it was my neighbor looking frantic and I was like, "Dude I'm on a thing can I call you back?" And she's like, "I can't because my cat is trapped in your shed in your backyard."

Oh no it's like an animal drama.

Yeah and then she runs in the backyard and I can see the shed from here she opens the door and this pretty little black cat walks out. Yeah so I'm sorry I had to keep you waiting there.

No that's okay I was just saying-- I was just saying to the people--we've got members joining in--and kind of creeping in on our conversation right now and I was just saying that--like just the way of the world, I can hear one of the people that I check in with on Mondays from the MPR newsroom-- I hear his cat meow pretty much every Monday which she's great her name is Pepper and just like this is the way of the world. Again I'm like super easy going so, you know I want to keep the animals happy. But yeah before we got the little tour we were so you were just telling us about Ghost of Vroom and you were just telling me about uh the bass player that you work with.

Yeah so me and Andrew Scrap Livingston have been working together for 15 years god probably more than that. 16, 17 years and just eventually we evolved into a band. We just became a band and so we decided to find a name for ourselves. Concurrently I was doing all the stuff that sounded like Soul Coughing and uh as a matter of fact I went to Soul Coughing and was like I wrote this album it's a Soul Coughing album do you want to do it? And I got back what I would describe as a hot plate of crazy.


I was like okay so that's not a thing. So Ghost Of Vroom was actually a working title forna dub version of Ruby Vroom which is the first Soul Coughing album. We were going to do a dub version after the real version we never got around to it. So the name has always symbolized sort of a world of possibility that was never explored back then, and you know--so I started writing upright baseline I was writing my GarageBand on my phone I started working with samples and you know I was putting up all these kind of break beats that I was listening to in hip-hop and was incredibly influenced by. And Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul and Brand Newbie and those kind of hip-hop bands. And so all these things and I was sort of doing the chant-y rhymey like Tom Waits thing and so this aesthetic was born and the partnership was a partnership. So we put out our first album our first EP which is actually our second EP because we finished an album which is coming out later in 2021. Couldn't tell you when. Made it with Mario Caldado the Beastie Boys producer And that's the--that's the big exciting thing is this album coming out this year.

That's great--well that's great news.

Yeah, yeah.

Oh I'm glad that you explained the name of the EP which is Ghost of Vroom 2 because I am sitting here like, did I miss something? Did I miss-- because I always think that I've missed something because there's so much to keep up on. But that's really cool to hear that a full length will be coming out at some point this year. We're hearing that story so much from so many artists that like you know, we're--we're sitting on some material here and I'm excited for all the music that's going to come out this year, quite frankly.

Might end up being a really good year for music. What happened with Ghost of Vroom 2 is--so we were planning on putting it out in the fall of last year and my managers came to me and were like, "Please let's wait. Please let's wait." I was like fine, we can wait that's sensible to wait. And then over the summer when the George Floyd riots were happening, the uprising was happening, when the pandemic was happening--you know whennall this weird paranoia started you know sifting, sifting, sifting in the culture and you know the violence and all the stuff--I ended up writing this EP and I went to the people I worked with and was like, "I got bad news I'm putting out a record like now."" And so it was like a month between me finishing that and putting it out. Did it again with Mario Caldado--everyone recorded like in their little basement or whatever their space was and sent it in--Scrap and me and drummer Little Pepper and Logan Hannah guitar player and then we just sent it to Mario C-Man and he mixed it up sliced and diced it and turned it into a beautiful thing. So hence Ghost Of Vroom 2 came out before it Ghost of Vroom 1.

I'm with Mike Doughty here on The Current for a virtual session and we've got members hanging out and watching this session right now, and there's a Q&A function. I know that it's either here or here, possibly here not so much here but I think right here so if you want to drop in a question producer Jesse will get it to me and I'd love to ask some fan questions while we're hanging out. But as long as we're talking about Ghost Of Vroom, Mike do you want to play something?

Sure this is actually this is not very indicative of what Ghost Of Vroom sounds like. This is the ballad on thenrecord but uh, this is called "James Jesus Angleton" and it's about the guy who was the head of the CIA during the Vietnam War.

[music: "James Jesus Angleton" by Mike Doughty]

Miken Doughty here with The Current doing a virtual session so this EP Ghost of Vroom 2 is out now, full length expected sometime in the new year and we're in the new year but sometime this year. Hey, you have a new book! I remember reading your book, The Book of Drugs and I don't remember what year that came out but it was a bunch of years ago. So the new book is called I Die Each Time I Hear The Sound, I said that out loud is that a reference to Kathy's Clown?

Yes it isnindeed.

I love that song. Why did you decide to to name it after that after that lyric?

I mean I just thought that was a powerful lyric and I always heard it thought like man that's that's a title--that's a title for something and it's just been I mean literally about 30 years since that impulse in finding the thing that it needed to be the title for, but it's also--a lot of the book is about experiences listening to music for the first time. Like first time I heard The Replacements, first time i heard A Tribe Called Quest, first time i heard Steve Reich. You know a bunch of of like life-changing musical moments and how it's it's essentially a rebirth. And there's a recurring phrase in the book which is from John Cage, he--after a piece of music he once said, "The world is absolutely new." So that's kind of a refrain in the book is there'll be--I'll describe some experience of listening to something and what the environment was and how old I was and what was going on in my life and then the refrain is, "And then the world was absolutely new." So yeah I die each time I hear the sound--I die and then I am reborn in the moment, I am a hippy.

So you mentioned The Replacements and since we're in Minnesota--since we're in the Twin Cities and quite frankly a place that you are quite familiar with. You know there was a long time like where I thought you lived in Minneapolis. I really did I thought you lived here!

I made Haughty Melodic in Minneapolis with Dan Wilson and I was just catching--because you know he's like he's a very successful man so I was just grabbing time whenever he had time and he was in Minneapolis. And so I would just go and I would stay in Uptown for like a month at a time--three weeks, two months--whatever. It took us like three years to make that record so I really feel like I lived in uptown between 2002 and 2005.

Yeah and Uptown having, you know--such a close tie to a band like The Replacements. So I mean you mentioned it, I mean do you want to talk a little bit about maybe a story of the first time that you heard The Replacements? Or a song that you really tie a memory to?

So I used to go by whatever was in the punk bin--"punk bin" at Uncle Phil's records and tapes in Highland Falls, New York and there were you know--like the Violent Femmes were in there and The Replacements were in there and I was like probably the only guy buying them so I would go and like whatever was left from the last time I'd be like "Who are the Hoodoo Gurus?" Alright I'll buy that. You know I had no source of anything to read--it was just completely like blind whatever was in the punk bin and so I bought Let It Be and it was this golden autumn day and it was a long walk from my house to this record store in this town, and you know--I had to like go through my town and go to another town. You know, teenager 15-year-old whatever walking all that way and from I Will Dare to Answering Machine and just how Answering--nI mean Answering Machine is like the template. Like so much of of my aesthetic in a very general sense comes from Answering Machine including the sampling you know the the Bell telephone voice. There's all kind of stuff that comes from that record. And so that chapter is about that experience and the fact that like no-- that's a unique experience and yet when I hear the album I don't think anybody hears a fall day in Highland Falls, New York going to get going to Uncle Phil's Records and Tapes so this very deep experience this deep meaningful experience that is that is evoked every time I hear that is is entirely unique to me as a listener, as everyone's experience listening to something for the first time is this entirely incredibly evocative experience.

Yeah because you've got your Let It Be experience while, you know hundreds of thousands of other people have their own Let It Be experience which, you know even though they're reading your book and getting your experiences I like how that can kind of like light up our own experiences we relate to another music fan.

Yeah and you know, the the latest one in there is as I was finishing the book I heard uh-- can I curse? I've already cursed.

Let's do it, what the hell.

All right the song called "I Can F***ing Tell" by an artist named Saint John and I heard that driving back from like some gig and it was just like, "Wow!" You know and it's just such a chill, I'm getting chills thinking about the song. And the world was absolutely new and so as life goes on just these moments of human genius, they're never gonna stop coming and you just gotta find them you just gotta be open to hearing them wherever they are.

Well the book is called I Die Each Time I Hear The Sound so you can read about you know, Mike Doughty is reflecting on on music and and tying it to certain experiences which I think we all kind of do as music fans. I think we're gonna get another song for sure before we end this session I do want to say just thanks to the members of Minnesota Public Radio again. I do have a question for you Mike I was thinking the same thing so I'm glad that one of our listeners in fact, Lance, "I love Mike's guitar. Is there a story behind this unique guitar?" It looks like--it has a story. It looks like it's had quite a few experiences.

Well yeah it's had quite a few experiences in my hands that's for sure. It's some luthier in Wales named Benjamin Maddock and it's my Brexit guitar because I was on tour in England one summer and went to this--to Hobgoblin Music in Bristol, which is like a famous folk instrument store and I saw this guitar and was like I--this needs to live in my house. And it was too expensive and I was like, I can't. I can't just buy another guitar.

Especially on tour so I went home was sad about it and then I came back the next summer after Brexit and it cost the same amount in pounds but now it was much cheaper in dollars so it was the Brexit guitar like like that terrible thing that happened to the British economy sadly was a positive--

A benefit to you, right. Hey one more question-- oh go ahead no no go ahead finish please.

We told the cashier about it. She was like, "Haven't we seen you before?" I'm like yeah I was here last year but it's more expensivenbut now it's only blah blah blah and it really bummed her out and I was like, "Oh god I'm really sorry like I should not have shared that." That joy. I should have kept that to myself.

Yeah or like maybe the first time you went you didn't have the beard yet and like the second time maybe you could have just been like, "No you've never seen me."

I'll go there--I'll shave if I ever go back and they'll still be like, "Oh who's this new American person?"

As you're bringing your money to buy more. When you talk about you know having more guitars in the house, doing these virtual sessions and it's like kind of this world of Zoom where I've been talking with artists from their living room and I never would have had a glimpse into like, well Dan Wilson's living room or Margo Price's living room if we weren't like in this situation we are now. I was curious too and so was a member named Christy, about that poster that's on the wall behind your guitar.

Well I collect Indian film posters--Bollywood film posters, vintage ones. They're very easy to find on Ebay and they're beautiful beautiful graphic design. I'm a Bollywood fan especially lot of Mangeshkar's singing and there's an actor named Shammi Kapoor that I love a lot--comedian. You know all the 60s, 70s Bollywood stuff.

So yeah I mean I'll not give you another tour but like there's one over there, there's one there, there's one there, and like everywhere in my house are these posters that I find and frame up.

Excellent yeah thank you for answering those questions. I just want to say thanks to a couple people on the technical side today Peter Ecklund and Tom Campbell, and Jesse Wiza for producing. Thanks again to all the members of Minnesota Public Radio for making these virtual sessions happen. We really appreciate your support. Thank you so much again to you Mike Doughty and and thanks to Lunchy for making an appearance today.

Thank you my neighbor who got her cat.

Right and I'm a cat person so for a second there I was like wait wait wait--
we need to stop right now if there's a cat trap. We can pick this up later everyone. We had a good ending--didn't even have to call the fire department, so that was good.

[DOUGHTY] Did you know what was going on or what was happening? Or were you just like, "What is this happening with this neighbor?"

I was like, well I don't know--go get your door while you were gone I was just telling a story to the members that last spring, you know when the pandemic when the S had really hit the fan it's like I was doing this series where I was calling up musicians and calling up singers. I called up Mavis Staples in Chicago and we were in the middle of a conversation, she goes "Hold on I got to get my door," you know and it was her niece bringing her groceries and it was it's just great like just these little moments that I guess like, to me, it made Mavis Staples feel like so normal that she had taken time out from cleaning out the closets and then she was expecting company. So I don't know it's just kind of this cool thing that's it's awful but you know it's kind of brought us all together in this in this way that we probably wouldn't have before. Well Mike thanks for doing this today and if we could get one more song from you we would be very appreciative. What do you want to do?

All right, I haven't played this in months so I may mess it up and then stop and play something else but I'llntry. This is a Ghost Of Vroom song called "Rona Pollona".

[music: "Rona Pollona" by Mike Doughty]

Do the Rona Pollona. That's a good song I'm going to have it stuck in my head the rest of the day. Mike Doughty wrapping up a session here with The Current virtual sessions made possible, again in-studio performances when we get back there someday these virtual sessions that's where we hear--that's where we are today in this moment, made possible by members. So I'm glad that you guys could all kind of creep in and watch how one of these things is recorded you never know what's going to happen but we appreciate you being there and Mike Doughty--appreciate you being there, thank you for checking in.

Thank you very much I just wanted to say that The Current is legitimately one of the best stations in America and I've been to them all I've--I literally have been to them all. It's a great station, you guys are doing great work and I just hope you keep going and members--supporters keep supporting The Current please for the sake of us musicians as well as the sake of your own local culture.

Oh thank you so much for saying that, you have a good day enjoy Memphis and we'll see you soon okay?

Thank you so much--I'll save more cats.

Songs Played

03:23 Madeline And Nine
18:15 James Jesus Singleton
33:05 Rona Pollona