Q: You had a great line about the band’s aesthetic: terminal uniqueness. Are you a different musician now than you were 15, 20 years ago? How has your aesthetic changed?
A: I think that, as you get older, everything gets closer and closer to country music. On a deep and essential level. I’ve always loved the artful deployment of noise, and the kind of boom-bap!-boom-boom-bap! that is the essence of my songs’ rhythm is that of the hip-hop music I heard when moving to New York as a teenager, in 1989.
Q: Has your approach to the craft changed, the way you actually make stuff?
A: It’s a more engrossed state. It takes up a lot more of my consciousness. because I don’t have to manage the balance of high-but-not-too-high. Also, a strange aspect of Soul Coughing was that my bandmates were really bizarrely ungenerous with their knowledge — I think they didn’t want me to become knowledgeable enough to not need them. Now, when I work with other instrumentalists, or engineers, I can ask questions, I learn stuff. That creates continual change.
Q: A lot of people believe pop music is a young man’s game. What has your experience been like? What have you gained and lost over time?
A: I do think that, if I were 25, I’d have a better shot at a hit single. The songs I’m making are closer to pop than Soul Coughing was — most unfortunately and, for me, tragically — and I do believe that, had I been able to work at this level in the ’90s — which means, a) no Soul Coughing, b) sobriety–I would’ve knocked out some radio songs.
Q: Did you actually get dropped for going bald?
A: That’s what he told my lawyer. Devastating.
Q: Ageism is rampant in our culture, especially in entertainment. Have you experienced it, overtly or in subtle ways?
A: Yeah, but that’s on us — the aging. First of all, we’re doing our youngers a tremendous disservice if we can’t show them that life can be amazing past youth. We disown ourselves. Even concealing one’s age on Facebook is a means of negating the vitality of our days. What’s fascinating to me is that older people might be into older artists, might hear themselves in the songs of contemporaries, but there really isn’t a pipeline to get the music to them. I’m unsure why nobody’s been able to figure out how to make money off this. I think that, often, older people who are passionate about music will eschew older artists out of a fear of our own age. That I’m-down-with-the-kids shtick, corny and tragic as it is, is kinda real. There are likely amazing, obscure artists in their 40s and 50s — people we haven’t listened to yet — that we’re not accessing because of our fear. I think that the Beasties and Metallica made the best albums of their careers in the past couple years. This is just my opinion, of course, but I really do mean the best albums of their careers.
Q: How does your commercial relevance, your sense of value in the marketplace, impact your artistic identity?
A: More so than it should, but I realize it’s ridiculous. The guy with $2 billion envies the guy with $5 billion. In general, I’ve been successful mostly with stuff that’s not been too micromanagedly calculated. Letting the music be what it wants to be is almost always the best strategy for me.
Q: What were your goals when you started out, and what are they now?
A: It used to be: to be validated, to matter, to be proven worthwhile. Now, it’s to keep making vital work, to keep a meaningful, uncanny connection to listeners, and to keep eating food and wearing clothing.
Q: You used to go by M and now you’re Mike. Not to read too much into the idea of losing and then reclaiming a name, but is there psychological symbolism attached to it?
A: Oh, it’s just the terminal-uniqueness thing again, I think. But there is a seed of humility in that decision. And humility wasn’t an ethical choice I made, it was predicated on a need to survive, and to be happy.
Q: What’s on your to do list?
A: I gotta change my guitar strings before I head to the show (I’m in Nashville). And espresso wouldn’t be a terrible idea.