Soul Coughing were a 1990s alternative rock band with a unique sound described as 'deep slacker jazz' by the band's leader Mike Doughty. The band achieved moderate success on alternative radio and in college campuses in the United States. Soul Coughing released three CDs before they announced their break-up in 2000. A fourth album was released in 2002 which contained some of their more popular songs as well as rare singles and B-sides.
Mike Doughty was a doorman at The Knitting Factory, a jazz club in New York, when he formed Soul Coughing in 1992. He met the three members of his band as they performed at or visited the club. Mark De Gli Antoni was the sampler and keyboard player, Sebastian Steinberg was the bass player and Yuval Gabay was the drummer. Doughty was the lead vocalist and song-writer. His songs borrowed heavily from his stream-of-consciousness slam poetry.
Fossilize apostle and I comb it with a rake
You can't escape
You pull out the brake
And it booms as cool as
Sugar free jazz
– 'Sugar Free Jazz' (Ruby Vroom, 1994)
Soul Coughing are known for their sometimes nonsensical lyrics. One song on the band's first album was accompanied by Doughty's ex-girlfriend, Rachel Benbow Murdy. She made up a song on the spot and sang into an answering machine from a payphone in New York's Sheridan Square. Doughty later recorded a song about New York with Murdy's improvised song in the background.
Varick Street and I drove south
With my hands on the wheel and your taste in my mouth,
Jesus to my left, the Holland Tunnel on my right
Angels shine down from the traffic light
– 'Janine' (Ruby Vroom, 1994)
Many of Soul Coughing's songs refer to landmarks in and around New York and other cities in the United States. One of their more well-known songs, 'Screenwriter's Blues', describes Los Angeles as a polluted city that attracts 'teenagers with automatic weapons and boundless love'; people who seek to 'see my own name on a screen, five feet long and luminous', and claims that 'we are all in some way or another going to Reseda someday to die'.
Albums and Songs
Ruby Vroom was the band's first album, released in 1994. It was followed by Irresistible Bliss in 1996 and El Oso in 1998. The last album, Lust in Phaze, was released in 2002 after the band broke up. Lust in Phaze included the previously unreleased songs 'Buddha Rhubarb Butter' and 'Unmarked Helicopters'.
'Unmarked Helicopters' was written specifically for an episode of the television show The X-Files. Another song, '16 Horses', was released on the soundtrack for The X-Files Movie: Songs in the Key of X. Soul Coughing also recorded a song for the movie Spawn with Roni Size, the strangely named 'A Plane Scraped its Belly on a Sooty Yellow Moon'.
Although not well-known outside certain cult circles, Soul Coughing's songs have been featured on several well-known television shows, including Malcolm in the Middle and Third Watch.
Life After Soul Coughing
Mike Doughty went on to have a reasonably successful solo career, releasing the album Golden Delicious on 19 February, 2008. The other bandmembers have moved on to work on other projects. The bassist Sebastian Steinberg has performed with kd lang and Neil Finn, and Mark De Gli Antoni has performed scores for several films.