If he doesn't have a perfect life, Miles Doughty comes pretty damn close. That must be why Doughty is in such a good mood for this interview – no rock-star angst, condescension or pretentiousness from the Slightly Stoopid guitarist, vocalist and co-founder (along with Kyle McDonald, Doughty’s friend since childhood). Even in the midst of a nationwide heat wave, Doughty was enjoying the weather, since it was “only 92 degrees” in St. Louis on the July day we spoke to him, not long before the second show of the band’s two-month cross-country “2012 Unity Tour” co-headlining with 311.
Doughty, guitarist/singer McDonald and the rest of Stoopid (including standout jam band saxophonist Karl Denson) are touring in support of a new album, Top of the World (Stoopid Records). The LP’s 70-plus minutes of musical eclecticism kick off with the title track, emblematic of the band’s trademark brand of groove-driven reggae. Doughty explained the challenging lyrics in a nutshell: “When you’re on top of the world, everything’s great – but when you’re not, you can see things change real quick for you.”
Fans have been chomping at the bit (and the blunt, joint, and bong) in anticipation of World’s release, especially on places like the Stoopid website’s message forum. It’s the band’s first LP since 2008, and Doughty delineates the creative process: “We got to take our time recording in our own studio in San Diego. We’ve always been such a touring band – we hadn’t released an album in years. We were excited to work with great guest stars, and we’re happy with the flow of the record from song to song – it’s a buildup musically and lyrically.”
One of those guest stars was Fishbone’s Angelo Moore on “Ska Diddy.” Doughty waxed high in his praise for Moore: “I’ve loved Fishbone since I was a kid, and now that we’ve toured with them, we’re friends. He is one of the greatest front men to ever go onstage.”
Another welcome guest was old-school Jamaican reggae vocalist and Black Uhuru member Don Carlos, the perfect vocal choice for the jazz dub of “Marijuana.” Doughty explained how the song was crafted: “Over the last few years, we’ve done live shows with Don Carlos, and he’d been singing that melody and wanted to make it a reality.”
Pot is obviously a major component of Doughty and the band’s creative and personal lives, and he speaks on the subject with eloquent expertise as well as the informed passion of a cannabis activist: “We’ve always been pro-marijuana, and we partake all the time. Just like Don Carlos was saying, ‘It’s the healing of a nation.’
“It needs to be decriminalized,” Doughty adds. “We’re wasting ridiculous amounts of money every year” prosecuting the War on Drugs. He postulates that this systematic incarceration of cannabis consumers is a form of population control by the powers that be, considering that the majority of those imprisoned for weed are young and poor or working-class people, frequently minorities. Doughty also notes how convenient pot prohibition seems to be in enriching the prison-industrial complex in the US.
One final note on the new album: Top of the World closer “Introduction to Organics” is an all-mellow kickback. But after it fades out, keep on listening, as an excerpt from the hardcore burner “Road Rage” takes over – the band’s way of telling their fans that they haven’t forgotten their punk roots. “Rage” will be featured on an upcoming EP, and Doughty vows it’ll satisfy the appetites of all those who wanted punk tracks on World.
Doughty was also enthused about the band’s new San Diego–area “Stoopid Com- pound,” which consists of the aforementioned private multi-track recording studio, as well as a rehearsal space and a lounge/entertainment room where anything goes. Doughty is appreciative: “It’s like a blessing from God, the freedom to record whenever you want. It’s ten minutes from the pad; whenever you feel the vibe, you can go there and lay down tracks.”
Doughty formed Slightly Stoopid with McDonald in 1995 in the Ocean Beach district of San Diego, and he paused to reflect on their unique bond: “It’s pretty insane – Kyle and I have been friends for 33 years. Most people can’t say they’ve been in a relationship or business partnership that long. We call ourselves ‘brothers from other mothers’ because we lived across the street from one another. Being able to make music with Kyle is special because we complement each other, being so different musically – and that’s the attraction of the band.”
Doughty also reminisced about the mid-’90s scene in San Diego that spawned the Stoopid sound: “That time was a party scene; we grew up with punk, ska and skateboarding. Everybody was bumping Sublime, and we listened to Bad Religion, Pennywise and Operation Ivy.”
Sublime, of course, is the seminal punk/ska/reggae band whose late, great singer, Bradley Nowell, paved the way for Slightly Stoopid’s emergence by signing them to his Skunk Records label. Nowell died of a heroin overdose in San Francisco in 1996, and Doughty commented on his mentor’s passing: “The world lost a great lyricist, songwriter and person. The sky was the limit if he had lived.”
Slightly Stoopid had previously covered “I Know You Rider,” a traditional country-blues sing-along most closely associated with the Grateful Dead, and Doughty described how their cover of a cover came full circle: “We played with Bob Weir [at Weir’s new studio at Mount Tamalpais] and did ‘I Know You Rider.’ Doing ‘Rider’ harmonies with him was surreal, and I’m thinking: ‘Holy shit – I’m singing with Bob Weir!’ That’s what’s so awesome about being a musician: sharing the stage [with artists like him]. I never thought in my wildest dreams it’d be like this ... it’s pretty ridiculous!”
Slightly Stoopid plays a lot of festivals. Doughty said the best thing is checking out all the bands they’ve never been able to tour with and sampling the local cuisine. The worst thing about festies? “Not being able to sound-check ... and when the shitter doesn’t work.” Doughty quipped that playing live while stoned is “almost a job requirement, with all the fans throwing their stashes onstage.” The band’s only negative pot experience came when Stoopid was leaving Canada once; Doughty said the border guards found a roach and tore the entire tour bus apart, seizing an ounce that ultimately cost them a $2,000 fine.
Speaking of pot, Doughty hyped his two current favorite strains: “Tokyo OG, which is a different kind of OG Kush – you can never go wrong with the OG Kush. And the other is out of San Diego, called Wet Dream. That’s ‘all-day bud’ – you’re happy all day smoking that. Some pot is ‘knockout bud,’ but what’s cool about Wet Dream is you can surf, make music, work in the yard and just do stuff all day on it.”
Doughty’s unself-conscious sincerity is surely one of the keys to the band’s loyal following. “With Stoopid, what you see is what you get. We’ll always smoke weed,” he vowed. “Until the government and establishment can prove pot’s a negative thing, we know it helps the people who are sick and those who just want to chill.”