Don't put Soul Coughing in a box

March 13, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Nobody likes being labeled, particularly when none of the labels available really fit. But, as M. Doughty of Soul Coughing admits, there are advantages to being categorized.

"You don't necessarily have to choose a category musically, but business-wise, you absolutely, positively have to choose one," he says. "And we were very upfront to everybody -- 'OK, we're an alternative rock band whether you like it or not.' So that's the box that they've thrown us in, radio-wise and marketing-wise."

Granted, the group doesn't bear much resemblance to the typical post-Nirvana alternarock act. There's no guitar grunge in Soul Coughing's sound and no flannel in the band's wardrobe. Instead, Soul Coughing relies on unconventional instrumentation (guitar, sampler, acoustic bass and drums) to create music that touches on styles ranging from hip-hop to indie rock to drum 'n' bass.

That's a lot of territory to file under "alternative," but, as Doughty points out, it's a pretty ambiguous term as it is. "The Prodigy are in there, and Spearhead are in that box as well," he says, and then laughs. "It would be totally cliched to talk for the millionth time about how meaningless the term 'alternative' is, but it's pretty scarily accepted as a totally useless term."

Besides, as much as Soul Coughing may draw from hip-hop, Doughty definitely knows where to draw the line. "I mean, I never had any illusions that if I work really hard, I can become black. You know?" he says, laughing. "It was like, 'OK, we're starting this from hip-hop, and getting to whatever we can get to.' I don't think we're a hip-hop band at all. We're very clearly white and suburban, and I think that soul music is about finding some really true part of yourself. Not about fronting like I'm from Queens.

"Basically, we do what we can do. It's not like we ever sat down and said, 'Let's analyze vibes and stuff off [the Tribe Called Quest album] "The Low End Theory" and see how we can do that exactly.' "

Maybe that's why the Soul Coughing sound has continued to evolve. Lately, Doughty says, the band has been adding rhythms drawn from drum 'n' bass to its musical mix. "It's Yuval Gabay, our drummer," he says, by way of explaining how the group got to the drum 'n' bass sound. "He can do that. He understands that playing drums ... is a lot more about tuning the drums, and about the melody you get from the drums, rather than the beat, jTC the rhythm. And these days we're going toward jungle, because Yuval can actually play that stuff."

Being able to play drum 'n' bass breakbeats live is a rare talent, too. "I haven't heard anybody else that can," says Doughty. "We had these guys from the Bristol Full Cycle Crew out with us on the West Coast, and they would just sit around at soundcheck, being like, 'Yuval, do that again. Do that again.' " He laughs. "They would just stare at him, completely amazed that he could do the stuff."

Doughty doesn't know how, exactly, this new rhythmic wrinkle will affect the sound of Soul Coughing, but he expects that it will have a major impact on the group's music. "I think it's true that there's a rhythmic innovation before there's any kind of genre innovation, and I think that now it's all about drum 'n' bass," he says. "It makes me sad how dead New York is, and how alive

London is right now."

Soul Coughing

When: Tonight, 8 p.m.

Where: Bohager's

Tickets: $12

Call: (410) 481-7328 for tickets, (410) 563-7220, Ext. 14, for information

Sundail: To hear excerpts from Soul Coughing's new release, "Irresistible Bliss," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the code 6119. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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