When Mike Doughty released his second official solo album, 2008’s Golden Delicious, the reaction from fans was intense. “Some hated it, some loved it better than Soul Coughing,” Doughty says. “I tend to take sharp left turns. Every time I put out a record, the audience seems to like what I did two years ago better. You’d think I could shrug it off because that’s what always happens, but it always gets to me.”
Doughty admits that his upcoming album, Sad Man Happy Man – released October 6th on ATO Records – is a reaction to his fans’ reaction and that he’s giving the people what they want. “I really went for the ‘na-na-na’s’ and the simple choruses and stuff on Golden,” he says. “The songs on Sad Man are more arcane and convoluted songwriting-wise, though they’re sparer in terms of instrumentation. Although my choruses are still simple — I love taking phrases and repeating them ad infinitum.”
The largely acoustic Sad Man Happy Man is a deliberate return to everything people love about Mike Doughty, he makes albums that simmer with verbal wit, and Sad Man Happy Man is no exception with its songs about everything from relationship bust-ups (Doughty was going through one while he was recording it) to his astute observations about the American economy.
“Pleasure on Credit” is a celebratory tale of the American spender in the face of the U.S.’s credit addiction crushing the world’s markets; “Lord Lord” is all sly drug references, like “Tango and Cash” and “Dr. Nova,” which are both brand-names for bags of heroin. “That song is kind of like my ‘Walk on the Wild Side,’” Doughty says. “I like how Reed’s tune is all about tranny whores and yet is all over classic rock radio.” Doughty wrote “Rising Up” after his girlfriend sent him a terse email and, with his heart thumping, wrote five pages trying to exorcise his anxiety. “It’s my Gloria Gaynor moment,” he says with a laugh. “The message of the tune is: ‘You’re fucked, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll keep on with my spiritual journey.’ Yes, I really am that much of a hippie.”
Musically, Sad Man Happy Man finds Doughty returning to his acoustic roots thanks to its stripped-down arrangements that feature Doughty backing himself on guitar. He also did all the drum programming, as well as played keyboards and what he calls the “weird noise stuff,” while his long-time touring partner Andrew “Scrap” Livingston handles bass duties. Recorded at New York’s Kampo Studios, the album was co-produced by Doughty and engineer Pat Dillett (They Might Be Giants, David Byrne, Arto Lindsay), with the exception of album’s first single “Doubly Gratified,” which was produced by David Kahne, who helmed Soul Coughing’s 1996 album Irresistible Bliss, as well as albums by Paul McCartney, Sugar Ray, and Tony Bennett.
Doughty maintains a widely read blog that chronicles 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.
But for now, Doughty is looking forward to a fall ‘09 “Question Jar” tour with his friend Scrap and releasing 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.”
Mike Doughty will be performing 2 Shows at the Walnut Room on March 17th
Mike Doughty – (You Should Be) Doubly (Gratified)