Heavenly Father, forgive Mike Doughty, for he knows not what he says. When asked in a recent phone interview how he would spend an extra $100 in that moment, he replied, “I’d go get this thing called disco fries that they have in New York City.”
That sin would be less egregous if he had called disco fries a New Jersey thing, as diners in the state have widely embraced the dish, but anyone who has done their share of late-night eating in the Capital Region knows that disco fries (our mock-version of poutine that keeps the gravy but substitutes cheese curd for shredded mozzarella or queso-style nacho cheese sauce) have long called this area home. (Matt Baumgartner, founder of Bomber’s Burrito Bar in Albany and Schenectady, applied for the trademark on the “disco fries” name, while Dimitrios Menangias, chef at City Beer Hall in Albany, cited the name as coming from his family’s former restaurant, Broadway Lunch in Schenectady, as the origin of the food name when people would come over from Night Fever, the disco owned by Tony D’Angelo located across the street, would request the “disco fries” to recover from dancing the night away in the 1970s.) Albany is midpoint between the Canadian border and the New Jersey Turnpike; it is logical that the bastardization of poutine would occur here before traveling south.
Anyway, let’s give Doughty a pass on that, since he has been good to us by way of his music. The former Soul Coughing frontman has played many shows in Albany as a solo act over the years and will return on Friday, March 30 at The Linda to play the entire “Irresistible Bliss,” the 1996 Soul Coughing album released and distributed through Slash Records and Warner Brothers. The album included the hit, “Super Bon Bon,” perhaps still the most recognizable of Doughty’s work, and lily-padded between hip-hop, sinuous jazz, grunge-tinged funk and roots music. No song on “Irresistible Bliss” sounds like any other song on the twelve track album, and Doughty will be playing them all in sequence with the aid of his longtime cello accompanist Andrew “Scrap” Livingston.
The willingness to revisit Soul Coughing music might come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Doughty. For years, Doughty staunchly refused to play the music, calling his relationship with the band an, “abusive marriage” in past interviews and implying only negatives when reflecting on the band’s break-up in 1999. The “Of Soul Coughing” suffix that shadows Doughty’s solo career — with 18 studio, live, and compilation albums, including 2016’s “The Heart Watches While the Brain Burns,” collaborations ranging from Rosanne Cash to Dave Matthews, a rock opera, and “The Book of Drugs,” his memoir on time with Soul Coughing and his eventual crawl out of the misery it parlayed, Doughty alone is exponentially more prolific than he was with the band — is like a marital surname kept after the divorce. Those that knew him while he was married to the band still associate him with Soul Coughing and those that have come to know him in the 19 years since the split learn later of the once-union.
“I’m making amends to the audience. I felt bad that they liked this thing,” said Doughty. He will also play songs from his personal catalog, some of which were birthed from the demands of Patreon, the online subscription-based fundraising platform Doughty embraces to keep his career afloat. To wit, Doughty has 758 “patrons” that pay anywhere from $5 to $50 or more per month, receiving special merchandise as reward for the patronage. (Locally, musician Girl Blue has 15 patrons totalling $285 per month and comic artist Jess Fink funds her work from 299 patrons, offering just shy of $1,000 per month.) Doughty records one new song per week to release to his Patreon audience but does not find the churn of on-demand songwriting weakens his overall work. “The rate of productivity is somewhere along those lines in the first place. The more I do, the better it gets,” he said. The directness of the writing, pulling from immediate inspiration (he referenced the latest Nor’Easter snowstorm over his New York City encampment and a visit with an ex-girlfriend as occasions to pull from for a new song) and putting it online just hours later has, “made me a sharper songwriter,” he said.
“The important part is that it’s a serious, creative venture. There is a responsibility to turn it into a full-time job,” he said of his Patreon usage. In the age of music streaming and social media, the money that once came with a record deal is a rarity for musicians, even for industry veterans like Doughty.
“I have a lot more responsibility for less money,” he said, and relies on the relationship he has with his audience to fund and promote his work. There is more reliance on the fan base and his existing networks to spread work of the music. People share within their like-minded cohort, Doughty shares live sessions on Facebook and Instagram with an audience that is already following him. The lack of resources to reach new ears leads to a less diverse audience. In his own words, “It’s a recipe for a bubble.”
Still, Doughty plays on. The night before he arrives in Albany, he performs in Homer, N.Y. for the first time with hopes to pull from the collegetown fans in Ithaca. With his long-running and broad fan base in Albany, there is no doubt his welcome on Friday will be served warm, with a side of disco fries.
Deanna Fox is a freelance journalist. @DeannaNFox www.foxonfood.com
Mike Doughty at The Linda, Albany. Doors at 7 PM, show at 8 PM