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“I swear to god it’s mostly herbal [stuff],” Mike Doughty says, as he empties a bottle of pills into his palm. He picks up a single pill and shakes it, listening for the faint “sh-sh” noise it emits. “It’s really an effective percussion method,” he says, and he’s not kidding. Doughty uses this technique on his latest album, The Flip is Another Honey, released in November. “There’s videos on my Youtube channel where I show you how to do it in detail.”
The Flip is Another Honey, the fourteenth album of Doughty’s extensive solo career, consists entirely of covers, including two songs by Cheap Trick and two by John Denver. Doughty played one of the Denver covers, “Take Me Home Country Road” when he stopped by the WERS studio. His low, even voice crooned along to lyrics about longing for the comfort of home in West Virginia. The words “have patience,” written in German, grace one of Doughty’s forearms, and they jump as his muscles constrict with his strumming.
Doughty also played two songs of his own. The first was “Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well,” from his 2005 album Haughty Melodic. The second was “Na Na Nothing,” from 2011′s Yes and Also Yes. Both tracks showcase Doughty’s rough, authentic voice and impressive songwriting abilities. “Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well” speaks of a journey through lonely days of misfortune, and the ultimate emergence of a hopeful outlook. “Oh all the days/That I have run/I sought to lose that cloud that’s blacking out the sun/My train will come/Some one day soon/And when it comes I’ll ride it bound from night to noon,” Doughty sings. Even armed with only his voice and acoustic guitar, Doughty is able to deliver music that is simultaneously mellow and urgent, catchy and complex.
Doughty presents himself as the kind of guy who tells it like it is. This is evident from the first line of “Na Na Nothing,” where he sings, “Well your man won’t dance, but I will.” Doughty began playing music when he was twelve years old because, as he puts it, “it was easier to get music than drugs.” Like music, however, drugs eventually became a huge part of Doughty’s life, leading to the break up of his band Soul Coughing in 2000.
Luckily, Doughty eventually kicked the habit. He released a memoir detailing his drug days this past year, titled The Book of Drugs. “It’s one of those books about a musician that does a ton of drugs and then stops,” he says. Though Doughty says he’s no Melville, he’s happy with the way the book turned out and enjoyed the change of writing a book instead of writing songs. “It was really different. Writing prose you kind of flow from point A to point Z, as opposed writing a song, where you plug things in brick by brick as you come up with them,” he says, peering over his thick-framed black glasses.
These days, Doughty doesn’t place too much stock in planning for the future. “I just want to keep writing, keep trudging through,” he says. “I’m still trying to find something as an artist. I just wake up every day trying to stumble into something interesting.”
Though it doesn’t always happen, Doughty says, sometimes it does. And those are the days that make it all worth it.