With a Deadhead-like following, Slightly Stoopid can only get smarter
By Arrissia Owen
Miles Doughty and Kyle McDonald make a career out of dubby bass, reverb, tight guitars and island-style, feel-good lyrics. They’re living the dream these days, but it was no day at the beach achieving their current level of success.
Slightly Stoopid’s two frontmen grew up across the street from one another in Ocean Beach, a sleepy surf town outside San Diego. By their teenage years, they were soaking up Minor Threat, Sublime, Operation Ivy, Mötley Crüe and Rancid along with Bob Marley and the usual beach town suspects.
The two teens had rock star dreams—like most 16-year-old boys. When they were around 16, McDonald landed his first guitar. Doughty’s axe wasn’t far behind. These days, Doughty and McDonald’s acoustic routine is tight, sharing lead vocals and duties on guitar and bass—routinely swapping their instruments mid-song to the zeal of fans.
The band got its first break thanks to Sublime’s Bradley Nowell, who signed it to his Skunk Records label. Skunk released the band’s first CD, 1996’s Slightly $toopid, which featured guest vocals by Nowell on the song “Prophet,” adding a touch of legitimacy to the green teens.
Soon after, Slightly Stoopid followed Nowell’s business model, releasing Acoustic Roots: Live and Direct on the band’s own label, Stoopid Records. By 2003, the band had rounded out to include permanent members Ryan Moran (drums), Oguer Ocon (percussion) from the B-Side Players and C-Money (trumpet, keyboards) and Dela (sax) from John Brown’s Body.
The group, known for its eclectic, percussion-heavy sound, released Closer to the Sun in 2005, which featured a guest spot from reggae great Barrington Levy, whose career spans more than three decades. Slightly Not Stoned Enough to Eat Breakfast Yet Stoopid (2008) offered a cover of “I Know You Rider,” a blues song in heavy rotation during Grateful Dead shows.
To change things up again, Slightly Stoopid’s in-progress recording boasts a collaboration with another reggae icon, Don Carlos—all keeping with the band’s punk attitude and whimsy.
Slightly Stoopid consistently hustles the festival circuit, adding to its fanbase one venue at a time. Recent stops include Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits and SmokeOut.
They’ve shared stages with Snoop Dogg, The Roots, Sublime, G. Love & Special Sauce, Cypress Hill, Half Pint, Toots and The Maytals and more. Their most zealous fans, a.k.a. Stoopid Heads, have Deadhead-like devotion, state-hopping from show to show.
CULTURE chatted with Doughty to get the scoop on their upcoming 420 show at the Greek Theatre in L.A.
In the 17 years the band’s been together, have you ever regretted the name?
It’s hard to regret a name like Slightly Stoopid. No matter what, someone is going to remember something about us because the name is silly. When I tell people what I do, and then tell them the name of the band, they’re like, “Really?” We were 16-year-old punk rock kids, and it seemed like a cool, crazy punk rock name.
Do you still laugh when you call someone a Stoopid Head?
I think it’s awesome that the name was termed. We see the same people over the years. People form street teams. Others plan trips around the Stoopid tour. Having fans that dedicated is cool. We are some lucky cats.
How important has touring been to your success as a band?
It’s been a staple of the band’s success. The fanbase builds from there. We’ve played in front of five people and 20,000. Through the festivals, we get to play in front of people who aren’t necessarily our fans.
How did you avoid obsessing about getting on a major label as the sign of “making it”?
When we started, it was just about making music and getting on the road and playing for the people. So many kids think, “I need to make a hit single,” and then—boom—and that’s the secret to success.
But fans really respect hard working bands who constantly tour, and we earn respect from other bands by consistently being on the road. Being on a label [isn’t] a guarantee that the album will even come out. We have 100 percent control over everything we do. We don’t make music for businessmen. We are a family unit.
When were you first exposed to reggae music?
We were exposed to it pretty much our whole lives because of growing up in a beach town. We heard it all the time. Everyone is exposed to Bob Marley, but then when we met Brad [Nowell] and those guys, we were introduced to singers like Half Pint and King Yellowman.
Now we’ve been able to play with guys like the Don Carloses where they are not necessarily commercially successful, but they are amazing. We’ve been able to play with some of the bands we listened to back then, like Half Pint, Toots and The Maytals, and others. It’s insane.
How did you meet the members of Sublime?
We met Brad when they were playing a show in Ocean Beach. They asked us to do a show at the Foothill in Long Beach. I think I was probably 16 [years old], Kyle was 15.
After we played a set, Brad and Miguel [Happoldt, who was a member of Sublime for a short time and became the band’s producer and manager later] grabbed us and said we should make a record together.
We were so stoked. We grew up listening to them. That was a crazy opportunity.
What has been some of the best career advice you’ve received from a fellow musician who you look up to?
Brad was smart. He had his own label, too. We keep our label independent. We control our own destiny. We just took his advice and went with it.
Was there a moment you and Kyle knew you had made it as musicians?
I don’t know if we recognized the moment or not. You spend so long grinding it out. We went 11 years, just barely getting by, earning enough money to put in the gas tank and get to the next town. The first time [was] when I came home from tour and didn’t lose money. We could pay rent, and I was like, “Oh my God. We can do this.”
It’s been a while since your last album came out. How is the new album shaping up?
It has no name yet. We are still in the studio. We are going to try to finish up by the end of April.
How did the collaboration with Ivan and Ian Neville come about?
Our managers John and Matt set that up. It’s been a great relationship ever since. The Nevilles are incredible musicians. They add the extra flavors on top of the music. Whatever we are doing, they put the butter on top.
How has your collaboration with Don Carlos worked out?
Our working relationship with him is new, but it’s like we’ve known him for 10 years. We have had perma-grin ever since. We grew up listening to him.
It’s just like watching a master. His vocals are insane. It’s weird being in the same room with him sometimes, but he is such a humble cat. He likes the vibe we bring to the music. So many reggae bands sound the same. He likes that we bring more fire to it.
What have you learned from other musicians?
You can see that it’s a lot of hard work. It’s not easy to play in front of people and put your heart and soul out there for everyone to see. That is why I have so much respect for musicians, whether they play the kind of music I like or not.
It’s not an easy life. You sacrifice a lot and live out of a suitcase. And you don’t have much of a home life. But like I said, to be around everyone we are around is a blessing. The whole ride has been great.
It sounds like you’re balancing your home life now.
I have a beautiful 2-year-old daughter and a beautiful wife. I can’t complain. I get to play music, and we don’t have to be on the road 200 days a year anymore. I am able to take time out to coach wrestling at the high school I went to.
You coach wrestling?
Yes. Growing up, I wrestled. All my brothers and sisters wrestled, and my dad was and is a coach. We coach wrestling at competing high schools.
Do the kids know you tour in a band?
The kids know. They also know when we are there we are there to work. I have a lot of good kids.
Do any of the kids ever ask you what Snoop Dogg is like?
They ask; I just keep the answers short.
So, what’s he like?
Good answer, coach. Why was it important to the band to have an outdoor show on April 20?
We try to every year. Last year we were in Austin, Texas. This show is going to be sick. We picked that venue. We don’t play a lot in L.A., but we thought the Greek would be especially good with Bad Brains and Barrington Levy on the bill.
Did you guys make a conscious decision early on to be upfront about smoking marijuana? Ever get any backlash about that?
I don’t think it’s harmed our career. Some people probably talk shit. But for us, it’s just our view. There are enough people who agree with us. It’s still a free country right? Even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.
Does the band do anything to ensure that fans partaking at a show aren’t hassled?
Yes, we kind of let the venue know. Sometimes management can be overbearing, and we just deal with it. But our attitude is generally, “Don’t book the band if you don’t want this. Know what to expect.”
What are your views on legalization?
My views kind of changed a bit after the last vote. I was all for legalization, but then I realized . . . well, first of all, when it was on the ballot, the big tobacco companies started buying up land in Northern California, thinking it was going to pass and they would immediately start harvesting. [The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which was rumored to have trademarks on certain strain names, denied this in a 2010 article in The Guardian.]
When it was on the ballot I was all for it. Then I was actually kind of relieved it didn’t pass. It would kind of ruin the culture of it and take away everything special about it. I don’t want to be buying packs of spliffs at 7-Eleven.
MORE OUNCES TO THE BOUNCE
From the beginning, Sublime—specifically frontman and singer Bradley Nowell—played a major influence on the career and success of Slightly Stoopid. Band founder/guitarist/co-vocalist Miles Doughty explains about the career advice he got:
“The best advice we got was from Brad. He taught us the importance of being out on the road. He said that the way to make it is get in your van and tour all the time. We took that advice and from there we packed our bags and went. Brad was smart. He had his own label, too. We keep our label independent. We control our own destiny. We just took his advice and went with it.”