The Mike Doughty Interview: Yes, No, Yes, And Also Yes
BR: Oh, it’s a great piece of work. Hey, there are two instruments you play on the album that I wanted to ask you about. Ffirst there’s the rhythm shaker that you’re playing on a number of the songs …
MD: (laughs) Ah – Duloxetine. It’s a capsule form of Cymbalta, the anti-depressant. Actually, I’m editing a video that we shot in the studio of me shaking this little tiny caplet in front of the mic to get that sound.
BR: (laughs) It sounds great.
MD: Yeah. I’d just opened up the bottle to pop a pill in the morning – they’re prescribed – and I thought, “You know – this is a good shaker sound.” (laughter) It was perfect: just a little tiny thing held up to the microphone.
BR: And then what’s the stringed instrument you play on “Telegenic Exes #1”?
MD: Oh – the zhong ruan. That’s the closest I can pronounce it for you; it’s in Mandarin. It’s a total language thing where there are actual notes in the word that I’m unable to reproduce. But, anyway, it’s a tenor lute. I went to Shanghai a bunch of years ago and I just picked it up – I just stumbled across this instrument store. It’s the kind of thing that any stringed instrument player is going to fumble around on.
BR: Open tuning?
MD: Yeah. I don’t even remember … gosh almighty … I think I tuned it to an open G on that song, but I don’t remember what the traditional tuning is for it.
BR: I’m guessing you’re not touring with that.
MD: No. (laughter) Actually, it’s a pretty cheaply-made instrument. I left it in the studio with Pat Dillett and his little place in Koreatown, Manhattan – everyone that records there picks it up and messes around with it. Maybe it’ll show up on another record. (laughs)
BR: And then what are you playing on “Telegenic Exes #2” – the Martin?
BR: That’s a great closer. It just had to be at the end of the album, didn’t it?
MD: (laughs) That’s something I’ve done time and time again – which I refer to semi-tongue-in-cheekly as the “Paul Westerberg gambit” – put a real melancholy ballad at the end like that.
BR: Do you get involved with the sequencing of the album tracks in general?
MD: I certainly do, but in actual fact I’m really not – and never have been – an album guy. I tend to be sort of song-oriented; single-oriented. The iPodification of music has been perfect for me: just put stuff on “shuffle.”
There’s actually maybe five albums that I like as albums: The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest, Led Zeppelin IV, Funky Kingston, The Stone Roses … and maybe My Aim Is True. And that’s it. (laughs) Those are the only albums that I’ll go to and listen to the whole album.
I’ve always thought of the song as sort of the painting, you know? And that is the unit of measurement. The great masterpieces of the art form are songs.
BR: You mentioned Pat Dillett; it seems like the two of you have a great working relationship.
MD: Oh, Pat is really an incredible guy to work with: super-smart. He’s a very deft producer – not just sonically, but compositionally, as well – and he’s a real collaborator. Some guys are like, “My instrument is the studio” but Pat’s not like that; he certainly has a lot of amazing technique and things sound great, but he’s really about being with the artist and making something happen.
BR: Cool. The connection between the two of you comes through in the tunes, for sure.
MD: Thank you.
BR: Hey – feel like talking about the book?
MD: (laughs) Absolutely.
BR: Early on, you talk about anti-drug campaigns that you remember from your childhood – one in particular that was about meth. And your point is, no matter what the tagline was, what they were really saying was, “Don’t take this, you’ll love it.” You offer an alternative message, which, if you don’t mind, I’d like to quote here for the readers.
BR: You write, “Here’s a message that I prefer: If you try meth, it’ll feel amazing. You’ve been in emotional pain for a long time, and you don’t know it; you won’t know it until the drug makes the pain go away. You’ll feel like you’ve solved the essential problem of being alive. But sometimes this leads to an unthinkably gruesome humiliation. Be aware of that.
“We, the adults in authority who are concerned about you, want you to know that other ways to deal with emotional pain certainly won’t provide the sudden cure that a noseful of drugs will. They take more time, more effort, and you may be extremely discouraged along the way. But they may be worth it, especially considering that drugs can be a form of suicide.”
Mike, that’s one of the most honest messages that I’ve ever heard anyone pass along. I would read that to my grandkids when the time comes.
MD: Thank you – I appreciate that.
The reason people say stay away from drugs is because you will love them. Drugs are super-great. I am a fan of drugs; I have nothing against drugs; and when I look at me being an addict, it wasn’t the drugs – it was me. There’s something wrong in me that makes it so that if I take anything, I’m going to go off the deep end, no matter what, without even thinking about it.
You know, most people can smoke weed and they’re fine. But there are weed addicts out there; people who can’t get their shit together because they have to get stoned – all day, every day. And that’s the minority of pot smokers – but it’s real.
What a strange message: “Don’t do this – it will trap you.” When it doesn’t explain why it’ll trap you: which is because it’ll feel … amazing. (laughter) That’s a very odd blind spot in our culture.
I had no idea growing up that drugs were great. So I tried them and I said, “Wait a minute – these are great and I’ve been lied to all this time.” They did amazing things for me. I wouldn’t trade the first couple of years of doing drugs for anything. But it’s the last years – the horrible part – that were bad.
BR: I have to tell you – and I love Lou Reed – but Lou Reed doing a “Rock Against Drugs” commercial isn’t quite the same.
MD: You know, I read an interview with him where he said he was really conflicted about doing that – and I totally understand why. The guy has written so much incredible honest work about drug use that to super-simplify it by “Just say no”, you know …
BR: It feels like nobody’s really talking about what’s what.
MD: That’s right. There’s a number of things we’ve got to do: we’ve got to legalize weed so that people can talk about it honestly; we have to empty the jails of non-violent criminals who were busted for drugs; we have to end this racist drug war; and we have to look our kids in the face and say, “This is what they are. This is what they do. You will like them. I had a great time – here are the dangers.”