Mike Doughty isn’t dead—he’s become a ghost. Enter Ghost of Vroom, the veteran singer-songwriter’s new band with bassist and longtime collaborator Scrap Livingston, who have arrived with their debut EP Ghost of Vroom 2. Possessing a sense of urgency streaked through every one of Doughty’s lyrics, as well as a dynamic, genre-blending approach to songcraft and dense lyrical imagery, Ghost of Vroom 2 is a formidable introduction to the latest era in the former Soul Coughing frontman’s fascinating career.
Since the release of Doughty’s last solo album, The Heart Watches While the Brain Burns in 2016, the Memphis-residing musician built an audience through the Patreon platform—writing a song a week, give or take, that’s resulted in over 250 new songs created over a four-year span. “It’s made me a better songwriter, just through the practice of it,” he proclaims. “It’s been exhilarating working at this pace, and it’s been invaluable practice, too.”
Some of those song sketches released through Patreon served as the backbone for Ghost of Vroom 2, but the project itself came about after Doughty dove deep into the breakbeats sound of the ’80s and ’90s that he so admired during that time.”I got really into it and realized that it reminded me of my work in Soul Coughing,” he explains. “I was amazed to find out that this is what I was compelled by. I try to follow my bliss as an artist, because I work better that way.”
Originally, Doughty aimed to reunite Soul Coughing to return to the band’s innovative style, but after a failed attempt at bringing them back together, he instead decided to create something new—albeit also lovingly tied to the past: Ghost of Vroom is a reference to a once-planned companion piece to Soul Coughing’s 1994 classic Ruby Vroom, the title itself inspired by Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey and Garvey’s Ghost releases. “It’s this ghostly version of Soul Coughing—this step that was never taken,” Doughty states. “That idea stepped out of my consciousness and said, ‘This is where you’re at.'”
Despite these callbacks to the past, Ghost of Vroom 2 is entirely in-the-moment when it comes to its genesis and subject matter. “Crazy shit happened in the world, and I just started writing about it,” Doughty explains. “I was like, ‘I need to get this out immediately.'” Along with Livingston, legendary Beastie Boys collaborator Mario Caldato worked with the band to achieve their beat-driven, hip-hop-influenced sound: “I was quaking in my shoes working with that guy, because I’m such a fan. He’s incredible at this sound we were making—the best in the business.”
Equally influenced by rap, jazz, and Doughty’s love of sampling, an unmistakable sense of eclecticism runs through Ghost of Vroom 2—right from the shuddering backbeat and siren-like vocal samples that kick open “1918.” “I’d been getting into rapping, and I was like, ‘I bet I’d be good at this if I worked hard at it,'” he remembers while discussing the song’s genesis. “It was the early days of the pandemic, and I’d found this sample that I wrote some verses over, and then I just started changing, ‘1-9-1-8 all over again.’ It’s very dense with references, which I’m always psyched about. I’m going for something that someone’s going to listen to for the twentieth time and say, ‘Did he just mention that?'”
“I love getting into a trance while rapping,” Doughty continues while discussing the vocal style he embraced on Ghost of Vroom 2. “It’s like taking a jazz solo, but much more methodical and tied to the rhythm.” He describes the eerie grooves of “Rona Pollona” as “topical from beginning to end—one-liners about the pandemic. At first, I was like, ‘I can’t put this out.’ But then I wrote the bassline, and it just kind of happened.”
And the undeniably groovy closer “Chief of Police” was borne out of a challenge that Doughty set for himself: “The question was, ‘How do I make a funky song about grieving?’,” he recalls. “And the opportunity arose. That’s the thing about art—you have to listen to the weird shit in your mind, trust it, and get into the moment.” And Ghost of Vroom 2 is all about embracing the first thought and following it to its greatest zenith—a testament to Doughty’s restless creativity that’s resulted in a collection of songs that are endlessly replayable.