Interviews : Questions & Answers, gingerly condensed and free of coughing fits.


Mike Doughty Is Looking Back and Moving On. Neat Trick.

And the award for Rock Musician Least Likely to Become a Nostalgia Act goes to…Mike Doughty. The former Soul Coughing frontman doesn’t play Soul Coughing songs. Ever. His new memoir, “The Book of Drugs,” is a literary middle finger to the artist’s salad days. It puts the mental in unsentimental. It screams goodbye to all that — the band, the junk, the tunes, the willful inscrutability. To that last point, Doughty spent 2009 answering audience members’ off-the-wall questions between songs, and has just released a double-live album of recordings from the tour called “The Question Jar Show.” Doughty, 41, answered yet more questions via email.

Q: What’s the relationship between drugs and art as it has played out in your life?

A: I bought the spiel about the romantic connection between drugs and art, for sure. In practice, though, I used drugs to shut down self-loathing, so I could finish songs.

Q: What happened to your songwriting when you got clean?

A: I’m better than I was. The songs have more depth, there’s more of my heart truly in them. I’m able to access a darker part of myself — ironically. I’m working for the music, not trying to justify an inflated, grandiose sense of self — which was fundamentally just trying to feel OK about my existence.

Q: You’ve said that when you were unable to write songs you wrote prayers. Are you a man of faith or were you desperate?

A: People roll their eyes at the spiritual-not-religious spiel, but it’s very true. I was indeed desperate. But I did have a real fire to connect with something larger and deeper, to get out of my self-centeredness. The tragedy of Narcissus wasn’t that he was so into his own looks — it was that he was unable to stop looking at his reflection, and missed out on everything in the universe. I heard a cardinal say, “To have faith is to have crises of faith.” Which is incredible to hear from a guy whose entire life has been about his faith.


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As Her Mother Descends Into Dementia, Jonatha Brooke Puts Her Career On Hold.

Jonatha Brooke is a singer, a songwriter, and a caretaker. For the past couple of years her music career has taken a backseat to caring for her mother, a poet who is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Brooke has been writing about it with signature candor in the journal on her website. We spoke on the phone recently during a lull in the action.

Q:  I know things are kind of crazy right now. Is this still a good time to talk?

A:  This is actually good timing, because we just finished up this morning’s poop drama with mom.

Q:  Poop drama? That’s a good place to start.

A:  I am a poop expert. I could write a thesis on poop management for the elderly.

Q:  Give me a snapshot of the situation. Where is your mom living?

A:  Mom lives on three and I live on seven. A year ago August I moved her from her supposedly independent living facility in Boston to an apartment that happened to be open in my building, She was at this very lovely Christian Science manor called The Benevolent Association, but she was not independent or really living. I mean, it was a mess, and she was falling, and everyone was in denial about the reality of her physical needs. So I kind of rode in and told everyone to fuck off and said, “I’m taking it from here.”


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Juliana Hatfield Says Goodbye To The Stage, Hello To Art School

Here’s a conundrum: what do you do when the thing you love makes you sick? Juliana Hatfield has been trying to answer that question for a long time. In 2008 she put out a hopefully-titled album, How To Walk Away. At 44, she’s finally making her move. We met for tea recently at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, where Hatfield is enrolled in an intensive studio art program, to talk about closing the book on performing and starting a new chapter as a painter.

Q: How’s school going?

A: It’s going great. I’m not really ready to show my stuff to people. I feel like I’m just here at school trying to develop my skills and ideas. One of the faculty used the premature birth analogy. He said, “Don’t push your work out prematurely.” I don’t want to do that.

Q: How long is the program?

A: Just a year. It’s a post-baccalaureate certificate program. But a lot of people see it as pre-MFA training.

Q: Are you looking at it that way?

A: Well, I wasn’t. I really just wanted to learn and have a more intensive art school experience and just develop, but I think I’m going to apply to a couple of MFA programs, although I don’t know if that would be practical for me.

Q: That brings up the question of plans.

A: If I could afford to, I would just paint for the foreseeable future. It’s the way I saw music before. I only wanted to do that. Now I want to paint. That is probably going to sound so pretentious coming from someone who’s been a musician. It’s weird, no one even knows I’m doing this school. None of my quote unquote fans knows that I’m in school.  I haven’t really told anyone.

Q: Why not?

A: I’m doing it for me. I always felt that I had potential but I put it on the back burner when I started doing music full-time. Now I’m trying to see if I can develop the skills that I have.


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Scott Miller

Scott Miller Has Drawers Full Of Songs. Somebody Give Him A Deadline.

Behold the cult band, that scintillating species of rock group whose breadth of popularity is inversely proportional to the depth of its fans’ devotion. Scott Miller is behind two of them: 1980s college radio darlings Game Theory and the next decade’s lush, loopy Loud Family. He’s an eccentric, cerebral power popster, deeply loved but not by enough people, according to Miller’s calculations, to justify his musical existence. At 51, he is not at all sure he will make another album. Miller is, however, releasing a second edition of his book, “Music: What Happened?,” a collection of reviews of his favorite songs grouped like mixtapes from each of the last 50-plus years. He called from San Mateo, California, where he lives with his wife and two daughters and works as a computer programmer.

Q: I have to say I feel weirdly close to you even though I don’t know you because I’m a critic who’s writing music and you’re a musician who writes criticism. What made you want to write about music?

A: It all started with a band, and it’s just a tiny little band, but it has its followers and they have this fan site and I was doing a question and answer thing. No matter what kind of a question people emailed, about physics or world politics or whatever, I tried to answer it.

Q: That’s the Ask Scott column at the

A: Ask Scott, exactly. I did that for a while and I started thinking that what I really want to do is try to collect all my favorite songs from over the years, because it’s suddenly easy with iTunes, and instead of Ask Scott I would write about a year and pick my favorite songs and write about those. It’s like a little justification of my choices. And so it became one of those a week. It wasn’t really a decision to become a music writer, but I certainly had strong urges to write about music, I think.

Q: I’m struck by what you said about justifying your choices. There’s something self-validating about putting your feelings about music into words.

A: I couldn’t agree with you more. There is a self-validation dimension to that.


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Frank Black

Frank Black’s World Is Loud, Chaotic, and Extreme. He’s Also In The Pixies.

There’s a guy named Charles Thompson. He formed a band with Kim Deal, Joey Santiago, and David Lovering called the Pixies and christened himself Black Francis. After the band broke up he inverted his fake name and became Frank Black. He had a band called the Catholics. The Pixies reunited but the guy stayed Frank Black. He released an album called Frank Black Francis and some others as Frank Black and still others as Black Francis. He made a record with his friend Reid Paley. They are Paley & Francis. Recently the Pixies spent a week in a rehearsal room in Cambridge, MA, where a guy named Charles met me for coffee and a conversation.

Q: You moved back to Massachusetts from Oregon with your wife and kids a few months ago. How come?

A: I think we were bored with Oregon. It’s isolated, it’s a long way from anywhere, we were disappointed with the schools there, and my wife’s kind of East Coasty, even though she’s from Kansas City. She’s Jewish. She’s not timid. And she’s real strong and smart and funny. She uses Yiddish all the time. Even when she can’t think of a Yiddish word she makes up Yiddish-sounding words.

Q: Are you an honorary Jew now?

A: I like to think so.

Q: So, why Western Massachusetts?

A: We’d been talking about moving for some years and I suddenly got this inspiration to go to Western Mass. I’d gone to school there, and there’s this school my kids go to called the Waldorf School. We were looking at Waldorf schools in France because I really wanted to move there, and the older kids speak pretty good French because they were going to an immersion school. But then I was talking with my grandma. I’ve got this game with her, she’s like 93 or something, and she’s says, so when are you moving back? This has been going on for 20 years. She’s on Cape Cod. After this last time I said, I should look at Waldorf in Massachusetts, and one turned up near Northampton.

Q: Are you happy to be back?

A: So far, so good. We totally love Amherst and Northampton. I think we’re actually going to move to the middle, to Hadley, right next to the school.

Q: Wait a minute. Didn’t you just buy a house in Northampton?

A: Yeah. We’re already moving. It’s a little more in the country. They want to have chickens and grow flowers and stuff. We got rid of TV, there’s no computers, no electronics. It’s old school. And the kids haven’t said peep about it.


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