Mike Doughty takes a bite out of the MinneApple with "Golden Delicious"by Chris Roberts, Minnesota Public Radio
Singer songwriter Mike Doughty may be from New York, but when he performs in Minneapolis, it's like a homecoming. The love affair between Doughty and local audiences dates back to his days as frontman for the critically revered experimental hip hop group Soul Coughing.
Today, Minneapolis is not only where Doughty's music is appreciated; it's where it's made, under the guidance of a notable Minnesota musician.
Minneapolis, Minn. — There's nothing mysterious about the affection Twin Citians have for Mike Doughty's music, at least not to Doughty. Local airplay built his audience.
"There used to be a radio station called Rev 105, and they played Soul Coughing records as if they were big hit records," he said.
That was back in the mid-90s, and since then the bond between Doughty, now a solo artist, and his Minnesota fans has only deepened.
That Doughty has been recording his music here isn't as surprising as who turned the knobs in the studio. Grammy winning songwriter Dan Wilson produced Doughty's previous record, 2005's "Haughty Melodic," and his new release "Golden Delicious," in the cozy confines of his Minneapolis home.
Stylistically, it's kind of an odd pairing. Doughty's tunes carry hip-hop beats and spoken word sensibilities, while as a solo performer Wilson croons deceptively simple songs from the heart. What brought them together was the instant rapport they had going back to when they first met.
Wilson was with his band Semisonic at a Washington ,D.C., music festival in the late nineties. They ran into Doughty just before Soul Coughing's set. Semisonic bass player John Munson had a pronounced mustache at the time, which, according to Wilson, apparently sparked Doughty.
"To our amazement Mike did a very long rap during one of his songs about John's mustache, in front of 40-thousand people," Wilson said. "It was just a little surreal, well it was extremely surreal, and it was great."
A few years later a mutual friend suggested Doughty and Wilson get together and collaborate, and eventually it happened. Even as their partnership got more serious, Doughty said Wilson kept things mellow.
"He was just a great hang more so than anything else," Doughty said. "We just had a lot to talk about other than records."
In the studio, Doughty says Wilson became a very astute sounding board.
"He just always had really interesting ideas about where to change the chord and I think he was really interested in my ideas about where not to change the chord," he said. "So it was just like this fascinating, Beatles versus James Brown origins you know?"
Doughty's new record, "Golden Delicious," is infused with the work of local musicians. Wilson brought in longtime bandmate John Munson to play bass, and spoken word artist Mankwe Ndosi sings back-up. Doughty's droning monotone voice is always prominent in the mix. Wilson says that voice is Doughty's greatest strength, part regular joe, part mad poet.
"It makes him very down to earth and very relatable as a guy, and then also just a trippy sloganeering hip hop influenced artist," he said. "I think it's a really great combination."
Doughty likes to shut his mind off when he works, and, as he puts it, let the songs write themselves. Some of the song titles reflect their spontaneous nature. There's "27 Jennifers," "I wrote a Song About Your Car," AND "I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep on Dancing."
Wilson says Doughty wanted to move away from the confessional tone of his last record and create more of a groove. He says the 37-year-old New Yorker has a unique way of using words percussively and turning phrases into sounds, such as in the song "Put it Down."
"I think in that song by the time he's finished with the choruses, all those wonderful kind of stream of consciousness lines in the chorus, it just turns into sound," he said. "And I think that was something he was really trying to push for."
Doughty is set to hit the road now in support of Golden Delicious. After that he's not sure what his next project will be or whether Wilson will be at the production helm. Whatever happens, Doughty won't lose touch with Wilson.
"I hope I can at least keep writing with Dan and hanging out with Dan," he said. "We've been talking about collaborating on some stuff when there's no deadline, there's no goal, just being completely free form about it which sounds really exciting."
Next time Doughty's in town they may have time to grab some coffee, but that's about it. Doughty arrives for a two night stand at First Avenue on March 22nd.
- All Things Considered, 02/26/2008, 6:20 p.m.