Just ahead of the 25th anniversary of Soul Coughing’s album Ruby Vroom, vocalist Mike Doughty had every intention of coordinating a reunion tour with his former band, who received much of their success in the ‘90s. But he didn’t exactly get the response he was hoping for, but he did get exactly what he needed, a new shade of Ruby Vroom, a Ghost of Vroom.
When he was still hoping to reunite Soul Coughing, he had been working on material that was crafted in that same vein, and although he had the freedom to do with it as he pleased, he knew that music needed to have a home within a real band. One he would form with like-minded creative counterparts, bassist Andrew ‘Scrap’ Livingston and drummer Madden Klass, or ‘Lil Pepper’ as they call her, for a new kind of follow up to Ruby Vroom, an EP titled Ghost of Vroom 2.
The EP is a second in a series of Ghost of Vroom projects, though they did not get released in order, due to the pandemic. Ghost of Vroom 1 is their completed full-length but will be release tentatively in 2021. But Doughty could not sit on the EP in the same way. With Doughty’s strong perspectives on the current year he had a lot that he wanted people to hear now.
“My first thought about the pandemic was and is- if you are protecting yourself adequately you will never know if you just merrily missed the virus walking passed your face in Kroger,” Doughty told American Songwriter. “And that’s where the chorus came from. I just find that fascinating that kind of eerie spooky feeling. And I thought it would be fun to put over this buoyant, heavy track, because I love the dissonance between the happy song and weird chorus. Then there’s just so many references embedded in the verses, everything from; the Soderbergh movie Contagion, to the stimulus checks to Homer Simpson, and Cardi B yelling coronavirus, there’s just a richness of references that I stitched together.”
“Rona Pollona,” engineered by Beastie Boys producer, Mario Caldato Jr. is a prime example of the urgency and relevance placed in the EP’s material. Not only does it attach itself to any and all topics having to do with the pandemic and crisis’ of 2020, but it also projects Doughty’s navigation through his influences of hip-hop. The heaviness of the track was emphasized with the mass freedom Doughty gave Caldato in the studio. And while a good number of producers get their place in bossing people around or providing suggestions on chord progressions or instrumentation, Caldato did nothing of the kind. Instead he used every out-of-the-box instrument or sample he had to make a truly unique sound palette on the EP.
“He’s really just a guy that has this laboratory of freaky machines, reverbs, synths, guitar boxes and all this crazy shit and I said ‘you just go nuts and make everything sound weird,’ and he just killed it,” Doughty recalled.
The match with Caldato, Scrap as an upright bass player and Doughty who typically starts a song off with a beat or bass line, was a beyond-perfect union, centered around a solid rhythm section, that elaborated on the hip-hop influences Doughty picked up as a young kid when he had just moved to New York in the late eighties.
“I moved to New York and it was in the middle of explosion of hip-hop, techno and house music” Doughty said. “And It was all over one chord, there might be some incremental change but it’s very trance-like and lets the lyric be this kind of snake that moves over the sea of the groove. And usually, when I work with singer-songwriter producers, at some point they’re like ‘you have to change the chord.’ But I just find a beat and bass line, then I just say stuff until it sounds like a song. Maybe that sounds whacky or whatever but that what I’ve been doing, just saying stuff into a mic and trying to find something that is interesting and engaging.”
The kind of free-form vocal hooks that have been a staple in both Soul Coughing and Ghost of Vroom’s material has shown itself more as a style related to Doughty. And it has given him and his new project a niche to fit in, while also showing some tribute to his beginnings in both previous bands and influences. Doughty, who also released a solo record in 2016, titled The Heart Watches While the Brain Burns, features the same elements as well. With both experiences as a solo artist and bandmember, Doughty is leaning towards focusing on his band these days and it is something he works to propel constantly.
“I get up every day, put up a beat, write a bass line, start singing some nonsense and try to find something that could be a chorus, and it’s all for this,” Doughty said. “Ghost of Vroom is where I’m living now.”
Ghost of Vroom 2 is available now, via Mod y Vi Records and you can get a copy here along with their 180 gram vinyl edition, which features a bonus instrumental track. Be sure to follow them and Doughty here for more info on their full-length coming 2021.