Interview: Diane Coffee
By Mandi Kimes
If you’re still mourning the untimely passing of David Bowie, may I recommend you direct your attention to an artist I deemed the “modern day Bowie”? Diane Coffee, comprised of Shaun Fleming, draws inspiration from Motown to rock n’ roll to R&B to musical theatre to create music that makes you wonder if you’re listening to a compilation instead of just one artist. Fleming, originally an credible actor, dabbled in music as a drummer with high school classmates Jonathon Rado and Sam France in their band Foxygen. Between touring with Foxygen, Fleming recorded and released My Friend Fish in 2012, collaborated with Run the Jewels for their song “Crown” in 2014, and released Everybody’s a Good Dog last year.
Regarded as one of the most innovative and experimentally creative artists on the scene today, Diane Coffee’s live show is definitely one to witness; I mean just watch the NPR Tiny Desk performance from last November. I had the chance to speak with Shaun Fleming while en route to Ohio from Chicago just a few weeks ago regarding their upcoming performance. Diane Coffee will be performing at Valley Bar on Sunday, February 28th with local favorites and equally as innovative Boss Frog and creatively clever locals Diners.
Click here for show information.
MK: When listening to your songs, I hear so many influences (David Bowie, ELP, Beatles). Who inspires you to create music?
SF: What inspires me are a lot of different artists and art and travel. I think so many inspirations are carved into the album that it jumps around a lot and pulls from a lot of different things. I have trouble focusing when I’m writing. I wouldn’t say there’s one type of music that I listen to. I pull from all kinds of different sources: a lot of Motown like Sam Cooke and Stevie Wonder; but also David Bowie and Supertramp or Meatloaf; and then new people like St. Vincent and Bon Iver. It’s all across the board.
MK: Even though sonically it sounds the opposite, you recorded My Friend Fish in just two weeks with limited supplies. Was there a need for the album to be finished quickly?
SF: I actually wasn’t trying to write on album. I was writing songs in my spare time between tours with Foxygen. I was able to write a lot and record very quickly. Looking back at the stuff I had it was well together. Those songs eventually got into Western Vinyl’s hands and they wanted to release it.
MK: My absolute favorite song of yours is probably one of your lesser produced songs - “Tale of a Dead Dog.” Can you explain the songwriting behind that song?
SF: It’s the same with all my songs; it came quickly. I had that melody stuck in my head for a while, between two chords. I remember seeing on my drive into New York a dog who had been hit by a car and I had that image stuck in my mind. And everything else pedaled around those two things. That was one of the last songs to be recorded because I sat on it for awhile and couldn’t get it out. Most of the songs we laid down drums and a beat and then some sort of bass and guitar and melody, but with that one I had a melody and played with some ideas and did some “sessions” to lay that one down.
Well, there are so many great lush harmonies in this song. I’m assuming you sang all of them yourself?
I did. I feel inspired from choral music; that’s the music I was first exposed to in a live setting. I attribute a lot of my music business drive to my choral teacher. That’s reflected a lot in general.
MK: Your live act is energetic and theatrical, which stems from your background in acting. Between performing music and acting, where does your balance lie?
SF: My passion is music, but I think performance in general - if I had to choose between writing and performing music, I’d lean towards performance. The energy in each room is a stage. I’m a performer or an entertainer, not necessarily a musician or actor. Whether it’s the theatrical stuff on stage or music or weird gallery art pieces; that’s what I love to do. I love bringing some sort of joy to the people. But as far as the balance, I would also much rather play music. 70/30
MK: What are you currently listening to?
SF: One album I’ve been dialed into lately is Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell. But, I’ve also been listening to DeBarge.