"Heya honeydripper, you heartstopper/You in the market for a broken-hearted pill popper?/You could star in my drunken daytime soap opera,” sings New York-based singer-songwriter and writer Mishka Shubaly to his exhausted and soon-to-be ex-girlfriend as the opening line on ‘Pickup Lines’, the first track on his new album, ‘Coward’s Path’.

‘Coward’s Path’, which has been released on Invisble Hands Music, is a eulogy to alcoholism and drug-taking. Shubaly describes it in the sleeve notes which he has written for it as a “collection of depressing, alcoholic, nihilistic songs,” and it is so bleak that when he first began working on it in 2008 it proved too much for the artist, who had severe alcohol issues at the time. He abandoned it, only returning to it last year - by which time he had been sober for several years.

Yet, for all its mordancy, ‘Coward’s Path’ is often achingly funny. Shubaly, who had self-released previously both an EP ‘Thanks for Letting Me Crash’ and an album ‘How to Make a Bad Situation Worse’, for all his self-bashing, is always able to find hilarity on ‘Coward’s Path’ and in the dark, drunken chaos of his excesses.

He appears on most of the twelve tracks of ‘Coward’s Path’ alone, accompanying himself on his thick, baritone vocals with just a rhythm guitar. 'New Jersey Valentine's Day Orphan Blues', the second track, captures the agony of a romance destructive from the start crushed to rot by alcoholism ("You said with your hatred and my hangovers/That we'd bring the world to its knees/I'd pull my head out of the toilet/Long enough to say that I disagree"). 'Death and Taxes' builds on this further, revealing that they have only remained together out of a fear of loneliness. It matches this with more pithy one liners ("You won't hear from me that you're beautiful/'Cause it's your insecurity that keeps you around/But baby you know you can always count on me/When you need someone to let you down").

'Fuck Self Control' finds him reflecting on the idea of sobriety with horror ("I once had a dream where I finally got sober/I woke up, took a drink and the nightmare was over"). Most harrowing of all is the final song 'Your Plus One at My Funeral' in which he imagines his former girlfriend attending his funeral. Even here he raises black humour as he jealously speculates from beyond the grave about who she might come with ("I know you'll be looking so beautiful/In a long black dress at my funeral/But who's going to be your plus one/Having you hanging on his arm/When I'm lying there so cold?/Who's going to walk you home when I'm rotting down below?").

Mishka Shubaly is now working on a memoir about his alcoholism which will be published next year. In an interview, which is like the album as heartwrenching as it is funny, Pennyblackmusic spoke to him about 'Coward's Path'.

PB: You began making ‘Coward’s Path’ when you were still drinking heavily. How many years have you been sober now?

MS: It has been six years sober since the end of May. I started making ‘Coward’s Path’ in the year before I stopped in 2008, but when I was first working on it I was drinking so much and so hard that, despite it being an album of drinking songs and in praise of oblivion, I couldn’t finish it (Laughs).

Then when I bottomed out and got sober I didn’t know what my relationship was with the material. For years I had this box of master tapes in a corner of my apartment and it felt like it was a box of vipers that I had locked away, that I couldn’t disturb it. If I did, then something bad would happen. I am far enough along in my sobriety now that I am over that.

I watched a clip on Facebook of Robert Downey Jr. the other day and they were asking him about his drug use and he walked out of the interview. My response to that is, “What a fucking baby you are!” I was never out of control as he was. I never got locked up. Being an addict is part of both what he is and I am. The arrogance he displayed by storming out of that interview demonstrates the same type of narcissism and self-centredness that makes someone go off the rails in the way that he did. You can see that that is still very much a part of his personality.

I understand that I am an alcoholic and that I will be that for the rest of my life, and part of understanding that is coming to terms with my own history. To say “Oh, I don’t play those kinds of songs anymore” is bullshit, and once I had realised that is when I started playing them again. The reason I am making good decisions today is that I made a lot of bad decisions before today.

PB: Was all of ‘Coward’s Path’ written when you were still drinking?

MS: There is nothing on that recorded that I wrote when I was sober.

PB: When did you finally start looking at these songs again?

MS: I started getting all these messages about it on Facebook and Twitter, and people saying, “Yo! When is the record coming out?” It got to a point where I was like, “Okay, I need to deal with this shit.” An unfinished record is like a love affair that you got into for two months and then the girl moved away or something like that, and you are like, “Fuck. I wonder what happened to her.”

The comedian Doug Stanhope, who is a good friend of mine, used a couple of songs from it on his podcast, and the podcast had been gaining steam and gaining steam, and more and more people were listening to it and so hearing my music. I was getting more and more messages from people who wanted to buy it. I, therefore, decided to put it out. I thought that it was going to be a small thing, that I would put it out on Bandcamp or whatever and that maybe two hundred people would buy it and then I could get on with the rest of my life. Apparently that record had different plans for me (Laughs).

PB: What did you have to do to finish it? How much reconstruction of it you have to do?

MS: A lot. I had recorded it originally on a reel-to-reel track eight track in a condemned building in Long Island City in New York State. We had two working outlets and no heat and one light bulb, and I was drinking a lot. It was a fun time but not a particularly productive one (Laughs).

I threw all the master tapes in my van and drove to Virginia to see my friend Eric Nickerson. He is an incredibly gifted composer, musician and arranger, and he and I have been bickering about music for twenty years. We went through it song by song, and I said, “This is my vision for that song, and that is my vision for this song,” and then I just gave him a free reign and I said, “Send me your rough draft.” On a lot of the songs what had been preserved was just my vocal and guitar parts. In some places we went back and we took the guitar part down and either redid it or replaced it. On my previous record I had been a total control freak and micro-managed everything but this time on this record I was like, “Fuck it! I don’t have time or money or patience for that. Let’s just make a fast, dirty, charming record and put it out quietly and be done with it.”

PB: When did it become this much bigger record?

MS: Eric started sending the mixes back to me, and I was like, “Holy shit. This really sounds amazing. I need to make sure that this reaches as many people as possible.” He put so much work into it and he brought new life to the songs. I will always be eternally grateful to him for that.

Then I was talking to Charles Kennedy at Invisible Hands Music who has been a friend of mine for a long time over lunch, and I said to him, “My record is done. Maybe you would like to put it out,” and he said, “Maybe we will.” I was like, “Wow, you’re kidding obviously. Why don’t I send you a copy of it?” and that is how we figured it out that he was going to put out the record. It was that easy.

PB: You have called it ‘Coward’s Path’, yet you are very frank and harsh on it about yourself. Why did you give it that title?

MS: I guess that maybe I made brave choices when I was making the record in addressing the stuff that was going on in my life, but before then and when I was still drinking I made a lot of cowardly decisions too. At every turn there was the right thing to do and the easy thing to do, and I always just took the easy option.

I won’t say that being a drunk is an easy life because it is certainly not. When you are faced with dealing with issues with your family or having a frank conversation with a friend or a girlfriend that you don’t really want to have, if you just evade that conversation by just getting drunk and saying “Fuck it. I am not going to deal with it,” that is an absolutely cowardly thing to do, and since I stopped drinking I have had all those difficult conversations. I still have some of them on a daily basis, but having made those difficult decisions my life overall has got much easier. That is why I chose the ‘Coward’s Path’ title.

PB: You say on the sleeve notes to the record that you finally came to your senses. What was the turning point that stopped things for you?

MS: It is funny. In my early sobriety I couldn’t actually figure out what the actual point was. In sobriety narrative you hear that a guy crashed his car and that was his wake up call. Nothing like that happened for me. It was just an aggravation of small, horrible things.

Years later though I was listening back to the last song on the album, ‘Your Plus One at My Funeral’ and I realised that the moment I had to stop drinking was preserved in that. I say, “I have seen the underwater garden and let me tell you/I am not afraid to die/As much as I am afraid/To feel like dying every day for the rest of my life.” I wrote that song obviously on a pretty dark day, and I realised that I had got to a point in my life that that was less frightening than life. I was less afraid of dying than continuing to live like I did, and that was fucking terrifying (Laughs). I think that was the point when I decided, “I need to change not just a little bit, but I need to change everything.”

PB: How much were you actually drinking?

MS: It was erratic. I recognised that I had a drinking problem when I was seventeen but I kept drinking for fifteen more years, so it was something that I was always doing battle with. I would try to keep it together and make it a day, two days, three days and then it would be like, “I am going to have a beer,” and then that would be a six pack and then a bottle of whisky and then three days later I would wake up from that, and it would be like, “Fuck!. What happened?” I went on these epic benders, and before I stopped I wasn’t just drinking. I was also turning around some pretty hardcore painkillers. It was a pretty aggressive cocktail of medications.

What is funny for me about this record coming out in the UK and doing these interviews with British interviewers was that my last bender was in London. The Freshkills, my band of the time, was in London, and I hadn’t realised before I got there that you could drink on the street there, and I did and I was basically shit-faced the entire tour. When we were coming home on the plane I was like, “That’s it. I am fucking done. My whole life I have just been craving a drink and thank you England for finally giving me enough.”

PB: Several of the songs on ‘Coward’s Path’ such as ‘Pickup Lines’, ‘New Jersey Valentine’s Day Orphan Blues' and ‘Your Plus One at My Funeral’ are addressed to an ex-girlfriend. Was that one girlfriend or several ex-girlfriends mixed together?

MS: It was one girlfriend. Her name is Alison, and I had lunch with her about a week ago for about the first time in ten years. It was really difficult, and it was absolutely necessary, and I owed her a long, elegiac apology, and I sort of started that process at lunch. She is married. She has got a kid. They have a family and I have no desire to disturb that. I had my chance.

It has been a challenging time for me, I am in the process now of finishing a memoir that is due out next year, so I am really doing serious archaeology of going through my life and my history with Alison and my family, and there is some serious dark shit in there (Laughs).

PB: You’ve already published several books in digital form, and you’re a bestselling author on Kindle. Is this full-length memoir a reworking of something that you have already published? Does it incorporate elements of other books or is it entirely new writing?

MS: I am trying to make it as much new writing as possible. It basically follows the story arc of another of my books ‘The Long Run’, which is basically about being a shithead drunk for nineteen years and then finally coming to my senses and getting sober. In ‘The Long Run’ that story is told in twenty pages, while this new memoir, which will be coming out in book form, it is more like 220 pages. It is at least 90% new material, and there is a lot of stuff that wasn’t covered in that story and which I haven’t covered in my writing before.

I haven’t really written about my relationship with my father, and that takes up a lot of space in the memoir. I also write a lot about my perception versus reality, and the process of getting sober and evaluating my life. In it I try to work out how things really worked out in reality, not just how I have perceived them.

When I first got sober, I went around and apologised to all of my friends for the horrible way that I had treated them and then thanked them for still being my friend. Then almost to a man everybody looked at me and gave me a funny look and said, “It’s fine. I am happy that you are sober and that you are getting your shit together but you always came through as a friend. If you said that you would be there at nine ‘o’ clock, you were there at nine ‘o’ clock. It was bizarre because you were shit-faced but you always came through. You were always only a danger to yourself. You were never belligerent. You weren’t starting fights. The worst thing that you did was black out on the street or something like that.” Then all of my friends were like, “There is nothing for me to forgive. You only sinned against yourself. You never did anything bad to me.”

During my entire drinking career, I had hated myself because I had been such a burden on my friends and I had treated them so terribly. I couldn’t believe that anyone would be friends with me, and I was stunned to find out when I stopped drinking that I had understood it completely wrong. You base your whole life around this assumption that you are a bad person and a shitty friend, and you let that information affect everything that you do, and it sort of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The process of going through and trying to work this out for the memoir has been illuminating. It has really made me evaluate everything about my life.

PB: How easy is it balancing your career as that of an author with that as a musician?

MS: It is weird because the two are very different, and so much of my writing career is about recovery and sorting out the shit in my life and trying to move forward. The music is about “Fuck it. Let’s get hammered,” and it is hard to integrate those two disparate things into one life.

I am always going to feel for that person who was drinking too much and making stupid mistakes, and I don’t need to be drinking to be loyal to that. It is challenging sometimes when I am in a bar and somebody goes, “Oh, man, I love that song. Let’s do shots together,” and then I have to tell them, “No, I have retired (laughs)". I never feel tempted, and it just reaffirms that I made the right decision

Hopefully the book will bridge the gap between my writing and my music career, and will bring them together in one whole.

PB: Are you writing songs right now?

MS: Yeah, I am starting to write songs again now after a long break and since before I got sober. It is interesting because all my songs up to this point have been autobiographical, horrible true stories about my life (laughs). I am never going to write a song about how today my story hit number one. I don’t think that we need songs like that. In my opinion we need songs to comfort us when we feel down. I won’t be writing triumphant songs of overcoming. Fortunately, though, I know enough people who are in trouble and I know enough ways to be in trouble that I don’t think that it is going to be difficult for me to continue writing songs about alienation (laughs).

PB: Thank you.

'Coward's Path' will be released on July 24th through Invisible Hands Music.

Related Links:


Commenting On: Interview - Mishka Shubaly

ie London, England

tick box before submitting comment

First Previous Next Last