Ghost of Vroom
Ghost of Vroom2 ep
Mod y Vi Records
Soul Coughing were one of the very few experimental bands anywhere near the mainstream in the 90s. A group of precocious kids from NYC, emerging out of The Knitting Factory, one of Manhattan’s legendary clubs. They incorporated samples, random noises, and a thick, bass-heavy beat into their music. Frontman Mike Doughty delivered his lines in a monotone, his lyrics playing on words and concepts. In a nod to the times, he described the band’s music as ‘deep slacker jazz.’
Between 1994 and 1998, Soul Coughing released three stunningly brilliant albums before dissolving into acrimony and bitterness and fights over song writing credits and the other fun parts of the music biz. Doughty kind of hit the bottom when the band split in 2000. He was bored with the structure of a band, and then Warner Bros. dropped him, and he was having trouble with painkillers and alcohol. So he rented a car and drove 9,000 miles around North America on a solo, largely acoustic tour. This carried on for three years, I saw him twice in the process, once in New York and once in I can’t remember where, Buffalo? Toronto? Montréal? Ottawa? After his set, he sat at the edge of the stage, and he shot the shit with his fans. He also sold his solo album, Skittish, on a plain CD-R. Warner had rejected the album back in 1996. But, by 2003, he had sold 20,000 copies (mine is in the attic with all my CDs). Superfan Dave Matthews got him a record deal after they ran into each other at Bonnaroo in 2004 and his solo career carried on and over the past two decades, he has put out close to 20 solo albums and eps, some independently, some on indie labels, and some on his major label. And he built up a fanbase, largely comprised of Soul Coughing fans, but new ones too.
All of this is background to Ghost of Vroom, which is a duo with Doughty and long-time co-conspirator, Andrew ‘Scrap’ Livingston. Ghost of Vroom2 is their début ep. The joke is on us, there is no Ghost of Vroom, at least not yet. The band gets its name from the fact that Doughty meant the tracks to be a counterweight or companion to Soul Coughing’s 1994 début album, Ruby Vroom, and to be for a reunion of the band. But that didn’t go as planned. Doughty says that when he reached out to his former band members, but ‘I got back a hot plate of crazy.’ So that didn’t pan out.
Opening track ‘1918’ is kind of obvious. As Doughty narrates the behaviour of those asshats who refuse to believe we’re in the midst of a pandemic, as filtered through the same people who existed during the last major pandemic to grip the world, the misleadingly-named Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Misleading because it had nothing to do with Spain (it is quite likely that the virus came from a US Army camp stateside originally) and because the pandemic lasted from 1918-20, in all reality. Anyway. Over a backbeat that would be familiar to Soul Coughing fans, though in reductionist form, Doughty mostly speak delivers his lyrics, through a distortion.
‘Rona Pllona’ makes use of this wicked little bassline that owes a nod to Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wildside.’ Over that bassline and the slinky drums, Doughty takes the misery of our social media feeds and makes them poetry, referencing everything from the president and his suggestion that we drink bleach to clean ourselves of the virus (‘Throw me in a sanitized SuperGulp cup’) to the shutdown of France. The Rona Pallona, of course, is the Coronavirus: ‘Don’t know if you’re doing it right/Won’t know if you’re doing it right.’
And the ep closes with ‘Chief of Police,’ which opens with the explicitly ghostly howl of one as the beat takes over and Doughty starts to come into focus, his lyrics bouncing over the beat and a strangulated guitar in the background.
Ghost of Vroom2 got its bounce from legendary Beastie Boys’ collaborator, Mario Caldato, Jr., who produced, Doughty credits him with helping he and Livingston fill out their sound. And that’s when it hit me, that sound does sound a bit like the Beastie Boys more instrumental 90s output, but with Doughty’s surrealist sense of humour laid over.