Soul Coughing, whose experimental mix of art-rock, poetry and hip-hop is like a
weird sprint through the post-everything rock '90s, have been in perpetual
motion since releasing their second album, Irresistible Bliss, in 1996.
It's not just the amount of touring that a band does when promoting a new
recording. The quartet, which originated in the downtown New York scene, is
now literally stretched from coast to coast.
Drummer Yuval Gabay is still living in Manhattan, N.Y., but singer M. Doughty
and bass player Sebastian Steinberg are currently based in Florida while
keyboardist Mark de Gli Antoni recently relocated to San Francisco. To further
complicate matters, studio sessions for the band's upcoming album, El
Oso, have been held in Los Angeles.
But de Gli Antoni said he believes that Soul Coughing's most significant movement has
been a shift in their signature sound, as heard on the new album, to be released
Aug. 25. The band's lyrics are getting more abstract, and its music is starting
to embrace the minimalism of the drum-&-bass genre.
"I think Doughty's lyrics are more like the ones on the first record," de Gli Antoni
said, referring to the band's funky, impressionistic 1994 debut, Ruby
Vroom. "The words are back to [being] less personal. The second record
was, lyrically, all these personal stories. And this time, [Doughty's] back to a bit
more detached wordplay and more repetition."
El Oso, recorded at the Sunset Sound Factory in Los Angeles, is also
somewhat darker than the band's two previous offerings, according to de Gli
Antoni. Soul Coughing's idiosyncratic style is normally a meld of Doughty's
stream-of-consciousness, spoken-word lyrics, delivered in a pseudo-rap
fashion, with the jazzy, hip-hop backing of de Gli Antoni's keyboards, Gabay's
syncopated beats and Steinberg's rumbling notes on stand-up bass.
For El Oso, the musical elements of previous albums were manipulated
to fit a moodier, more minor-key sound, de Gli Antoni said.
"It's not oppressive, but it's definitely dark and sort-of more drum-&-bass
sounding," said de Gli Antoni, 35. He went on to suggest that new songs such
as "Miss the Girl," "Rollin' " and "Monster Man" were influenced by Gabay's
immersion in drum & bass, the popular British techno spin-off that favors speedy
beats and minimal lyrics.
But the band is bringing its own unique twist to the sound, he added. "It's not a
world that's that far away from us," de Gli Antoni said. "But the main difference is
[that] drum & bass has an MC and we have a poet."
Multiple sessions for the album began with a five-week stint last October, picked
up again in January for five weeks and will conclude with a week of mixing in
May. Dropping in during the October sessions for the 14-track album was
rapper Casual from the Oakland-based Hieroglyphics rap crew. He added
vocals to a pair of tunes, "212" and "Needle to the Bar," which will likely be
released as bonus tracks in Japan.
"Doughty contacted me and we hooked it up," said Casual, a.k.a. Jon Owens.
The rapper, who said he was "slightly" familiar with the band before joining
them in the studio, was inspired by their "really dope" playing abilities. "I laid
down a freestyle jam for them, and it just turned out real cool," Casual recalled.
"I've never worked with a band like that before. They're cool because they're
sort-of rocky and funky, and they have their own style."
A likely candidate for the album's first single is the song "$300," which features
the only sample on the record -- a lift from comedian Chris Rock's comedy
album Roll With the New. "Doughty took this bit where [Rock] says, 'This
is the worst joke I ever heard,' and then he says something backwards after it,"
de Gli Antoni said. "So, Doughty unbackwards the bit, and what Rock says
becomes the final chorus [of the song]."
Also scheduled for inclusion on the album are the songs "Maybe I'll Come
Down," "Misinformed," "Circles," "Saint Louise" and "Pensacola."
While preparing for the album's release, the band will be busy road-testing the
new material on an upcoming string of college dates, as well as going through
submissions to their "Design Our Single" contest. "We basically thought it would
be cool to offer a single as a promotional item to our college fans, since the
album won't be out until the fall," de Gli Antoni said. The single, packaged with
artwork from the winning submission, is slated to feature two new songs, as well
as two live versions of earlier Soul Coughing tunes.
All entrants get a free copy of the single, and the winner will receive an
autographed, framed copy of the single and two tickets to a show by the band.
Entries can be submitted to the Soul Coughing website
(www.soulcoughing.com) through May 15.