Dipping into the Question Jar with Mike Doughty
Singer-songwriter Mike Doughty is bringing his “world-renowned, award-winning Question Jar Show” to a city near you. The former Soul Coughing front man is touring with sidekick Andrew “Scrap” Livingston on cello. The two provide sarcastic answers to questions from the crowd. They also play tracks from Doughty’s new album, Stellar Motel. Produced by DJ Good Goose, the album pairs Doughty with guests such as rappers MC Frontalot, Miss Eaves, Big Dipper and Jay Boogie and Kim from the Japanese band Uhnellys, country singer Laura Lee Bishop, Brooklyn saxophone-and-drums band Moon Hooch, and the female rap trio Hand Job Academy.
Do you remember the first Question Jar Show?
It was a minute ago. It was four or five years ago. With the first one, I thought I had to answer absolutely every question with total honesty. Now, there are some questions that I skimp on a bit. I give answers but I’m a little elusive.
What was the inspiration for it?
There’s a lot of talking on stage and talking with the crowd. After a month on the road what you’re saying solidifies and you’ll look up and realize you’re saying the same goddamn thing every night. It’s a way of mixing it up and making it be different every night.
Have any of them gone terribly awry?
They have not. The worst thing is that can happen is that the whole crowd asks serious questions that are unapproachable from a surreal or funny level.
Even with drunk assholes?
Yeah. The thing about it is that it’s all in a jar. You write it out and there’s only so much back and forth you can do when the questions are written down. We tend to shut down drunk assholes. If they want to write something down, I’m all for it.
And it might not be legible.
There you go. A consistent problem, major or minor. Every night there are legibility issues.
Talk about your approach on Stellar Motel. What were you going for sonically?
Good Goose is a hip-hop producer. There was that. That was the base of it. He’s pretty broad and spread out in his tastes. I met him because he had these super nerdy questions about Haughty Melodic that had to do with tuning and compressors and how many tracks were on a certain song. It was stuff that I was unable to answer because it was years ago. But that was his mindset. The fact that Haughty Melodic was his favorite record of mine combined with fact that he knew so much about hip-hop is what brought me in.
You’ve always been into hip-hop.
Oh yeah. From about the time I came to New York when I was 18 years old. Something was really starting to happen in hip-hop in general and that’s the point when I signed on full-time.
Even Soul Coughing had a hip-hop element to it.
Yeah. Back then the album that was the template was The Low-end Theory by A Tribe Called Quest. I wanted to be that record.
There are quite a few guests on the album. Did you have any criteria for selecting who would appear?
Just that I love them. Just that I’m incredibly engaged by their voices or instrument or their style. Most of them I met through Goose. A lot of them, like Big Dipper, are from the queer underground scene in New York. They’re all connected in that regard.
How did “Oh My God Yeah Fuck It” take shape?
I originally did it for a house producer. I did the chant and he wanted a vocal. I put that on a voice memo and sent to him and he didn’t even respond. He was so not into it. I thought it was good and when we were putting the record together, I dusted it off. It was really poorly recorded. I don’t think I gave him a good sense of how it was supposed to sound.
Did anything in particular inspire the lyrics?
Nope. They just jumped in my brain. That’s the actual answer.
And what about “Let’s Go to the Motherfucking Movies?”
That is also a rejected chorus for a Travie McCoy song. He wrote me and said he wanted to do a song together. I said, “ Sure.” That’s what I sent him and I didn’t hear back.
It is starting to sound like this type of thing happens often.
No. There are just two solid instances of that on this album. The house guy, I was up on his business. Travie McCoy wrote me so it was a bit more of a bummer.
It’s possible these people just don’t know what they’re in for.
Yeah. It’s probable.
Those synthesizer sounds in “Let Me Lie” are great.
That’s just Goose. Some of the stuff he did on the spot. He’s a kid. He’ll be up until five in the morning tinkering with music. I’m up at 7:30 in the morning with a cup of coffee writing lyrics. I would get a fresh download every morning with a song. I play a synthesizer in part of it. I have this little machine for $120 that makes Atari songs. There’s a little bit of that in that song.
Do you freestyle on the songs?
At first they were freestyled as nonsense syllables. I would hone them into actual words in the English language the next day.
Is it hard to remember the lyrics?
Yes, it really is. There’s a study process involved.
Who’s rapping in “Pretty Wild”?
That’s Hand Job Academy. Clara Bizna$$ is my girlfriend and I know them from around the way, so to speak.
Do you still go back to Soul Coughing?
Lately, I’ve been putting two or three in a set. The set is 21 or 22 songs. The biggest chunk is from Haughty Melodic and the rest is spread evenly.
I know you don’t talk to those guys but it sounds like you’ve come to terms with it. In the past, you have said you weren’t happy with the way things ended.
I wasn’t happy with the way things started.
The shows I saw were great. It seemed like you guys were always having fun.
Is that right?
Upcoming Show Dates
Providence, RI — Columbus Theatre
Portland, ME — One Longfellow Square
Burlington, VT — Higher Ground
Rochester, NY — Water Street Music Hall
Cleveland, OH — Music Box Supper Club
Columbus, OH — Rumba Cafe
Ann Arbor, MI — The Ark
Chicago, IL — City Winery
Milwaukee, WI — Shank Hall
Minneapolis, MN — Dakota Jazz Club
Pittsburgh, PA — Club Cafe
Washington, DC — Jammin’ Java
Philadelphia, PA Tin Angel
Boston, MA — Johnny D’s
New York, NY — City Winery
Woodstock, NY — Bearsville Theatre