Over the past year and a half, Mike Doughty has put out three very different records and a memoir. The records include “Yes and Also Yes,” a new set of Doughty originals; “The Flip Is Another Honey,” which is an album of greatly re-imagined covers of songs by the likes of John Denver, Randy Newman, the Stone Roses and Cheap Trick; and “The Question Jar Show,” a live duo album with an intriguing Q&A component. The memoir, aptly titled “The Book of Drugs,” captured Doughty’s awkward years tiptoeing toward a music career in New York’s vibrant underground, with all the drugs (naturally), sex and band fighting one might expect.
Those who romanticize his short-lived band Soul Coughing may wish to take a pass, as Doughty is blunt and dismissive of that band’s time slouching through the East Village. He’s startlingly frank in the book, recalling the jealousy he felt at the success of the late singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley: “I wanted him brought down,” Doughty writes.
With all his recent doings, Doughty will likely have a full merch table when he comes to town this weekend.
Q: Your book suggests pretty incredible recall if you consider the drug intake.
A: (Laughs.) Yeah, I guess I just remembered the good stories. People are always surprised when I remember some detail from 30 years ago. But it’s also not simply my own stories but ones I hear from other people.
Q:You sort of get at the elusive quality of memory. Do you think we view the past as malleable?
A: Oh, yeah, it’s totally unreliable how we remember it. The thing I always notice is when there’s some line in a movie that I think is awesome. And I’ll remember every bit of the phrasing, the tone of it. I’ll see the movie again and it’s absolutely different than what I’ve been repeating to myself. Somebody once told me things you think about less often are more likely to be true. When you repeat them in your mind, you alter them a little bit with every mental repetition.
Q: You don’t try to make yourself look better with your thoughts on other people. The Jeff Buckley passages were curt but honest.
A: I found it ... well, thank you. I find it odd that people are startled by that. But of course musicians, like anybody else, get jealous of one another. That’s the way of artists. But people seem genuinely shocked to hear that somebody might envy somebody else’s success. I guess I was surprised that they were surprised.
Q: The book captures the idea that bands are not always a natural state of being.
A: No, bands are marriages. And Soul Coughing was an abusive marriage.
Q: I think you’ve said there are maybe a half dozen Soul Coughing songs you like. Is that really the case?
A: Yes. My band mates were driven by spite more than anything else, and that included musical decisions. It got to a point where it was a psychotic situation in the rehearsal room. I’d sing a line to the bass player, and he’d play something different. What makes me angriest is my inability to leave when it was clearly horrible. In terms of forgiveness, I don’t know what that means, but whatever is going on in my brain is not really about those guys. I wouldn’t say I’m angry at them. I would say my memory is unforgiving.
Q: You’ve now released far more music solo than when you were in the band. And you’ve found a pretty dedicated following. Another musician told me people never forgive a performer for leaving a band. Do you think that’s the case?
A: I don’t know, but I am ... I have worked my (butt) off to be in this situation. And I’m so grateful for the audience that comes and listens to the songs, especially the new songs. They’re not showing up on the off chance that I’m going to play “Circles.” So that’s a great situation.
Q: Did you know immediately that you wanted to take a more acoustic, stripped-down direction? It seems a full turn from the band but one you’re quite comfortable with.
A: It was definitely a break. And I was unsure about it at first. People expect you to serve their memories. And they can get very angry when you’re unable to turn them into their 22-year-old selves again. It’s a paradigm, like “Skrillex’s bluegrass album.” If Skrillex made the most amazing bluegrass album ever made, would the bluegrass people for whom it’s best suited listen? Would the Skrillex fans understand? Why can’t you just make an album. Just be a dude making art and listening to what the music wants to be and just serving it. I’m lucky for the audience I have because you just play, and there’s that feeling of communion. Everybody feeling the song. I sound like a hippie, but you feel that connection with everybody. That’s the joy and beauty of it. Stuff like applause and compliments, people do that for their own sake.
Q: After three albums and a book, are you resting awhile? Or is another one in the works?
A: I would love to take some more time before the next album. I’d love to do something a little weirder. I’d love to do something to reclaim what I wrote for Soul Coughing. I don’t know what, and I’m not interested in reconvening with those guys. But I’m mulling over ideas to do something special to reconnect to the songs I was proud of. To liberate them from the arrangements that messed them up, in my opinion. ... But mostly, I want to just write music. I like to write music and go places and play music, occasionally, or go to the post office for something.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk; Tickets: $20-$22; 713-528-5999 or www.mcgonigels.com