Shaun Fleming is the creative force behind Diane Coffee. The ever-changing band is based out of Bloomington, Indiana, but Fleming has lived on both coasts and worked with a range of artists — both sonic and visual — to create his complex sound.
What started as an almost neo-soul project with his 2013 debut album, “My Friend Fish,” has morphed into glam rock with 2015’s “Everybody’s a Good Dog” and has now settled on synth-heavy anthems with his latest release, “Internet Arms.” ‘The constantly shifting world of technology is a heavy new influence on “Internet Arms,” but the one constant that keeps it sounding like a Diane Coffee album is Fleming’s emphasis on the performance. Whether it’s keeping songs interesting in the studio or adapting them for a live show, Fleming is captivating and predictably unpredictable.
Fleming chatted with opbmusic’s Matthew Casebeer while on a brief break from his current tour and they discussed a wide range of topics, including the origin of Diane Coffee, his involvement with Foxygen, and the importance of making the live show something to remember.
Diane Coffee plays Doug Fir Lounge June 7. Claire George and Pool Boys open the show.
On how Fleming went from Foxygen drummer to Diane Coffee frontman:
“I was writing songs before I even hooked up with the Foxygen guys. We all went to the same school, and [Jonathan] Rado would play on my project and I’d go sit in on Foxygen stuff. When Foxygen started playing more shows, they needed a drummer and they knew I knew how to play a beat — like, one beat — so I went on the road for a brief minute, and then one show became two and two became a tour and then I was just sort of the drummer for Foxygen.
“I was writing the whole time, but Diane Coffee really came to a head when I moved out to New York to live with Rado. He had some time off and went back to L.A., so I had the place to myself. I didn’t know anyone, and I got really sick and didn’t leave the apartment. I was just writing and recording demos, and I wrote and recorded that first record in about two weeks. It was just demos for fun because I didn’t have anything else to do, and then it got into the hands of Western Vinyl and we put it out as the first Diane Coffee record.”
On the origin of the name Diane Coffee:
“It’s an amalgamation of two artists I was listening to heavily at the time. One was Diana Ross, and the other was this guy named Nathan Pelkey. He had a song called ‘Mr. Coffee’ that I still think is one of the most brilliant tracks I’ve ever heard. He sort of was a singer-songwriter that never was. He’s got a really crazy backstory, but I think he only has these two songs that are really in existence and are only circulated between friends. He never put anything out officially.”
On the drastic sonic change from “My Friend Fish” to “Internet Arms”:
“I’m always wanting to try something different. I feel like if I continue to do the same thing, not only will I get bored but potentially the audience will get bored.
“I like to think that it still sounds like a Diane Coffee record — it’s not so far gone that you can’t tell what it is. With ‘Internet Arms’ there was a lot of talk about our entanglement with technology, so that was a big influence … versus the last record being more about love songs and glam and day-to-day life.
“I look a lot towards my creative partner, Melinda Danielson, who does a lot of the artwork, and she’s sort of responsible for the story arc of this new record. We try to do a theme for each tour, and she has put together pretty much every live show’s storyline that we’ve gone through. She did the artwork for the covers, and she’s done almost all the videos. She was one of the first people to hear the ‘My Friend Fish’ record.”
[Melinda Danielson’s Twitter/Instagram handle: @natureswhether]
On the “Peel EP” that came out in 2018:
“It was the first attempt of me writing what now is ‘Internet Arms.’ Right after ‘Everybody’s a Good Dog’ I started the process of writing what would be the 3rd LP, and I had a bunch of songs I wrote — those [from the ‘Peel EP’] being two of them. Then I came upon the theme I wanted to do for this new record, this dystopian/future/internet theme.
“At that time I also did the ‘Jesus Christ Superstar‘ show in Chicago, so there was a long period of not writing and doing this other project and changing the theme and direction of the album. We decided to put out those two songs because I still liked them, but they sounded a little too much like the last record.”
On how his involvement with Jesus Christ Superstar came about:
“I performed in Chicago with St. Paul & The Broken Bones and the casting director came out to see that show. He got in contact with my manager was like ‘we have this show that’s coming up and we’re looking for people, and I think he’d be incredible at playing the role of Herod. Would he be interested in auditioning?’
“Of course, I thought that’d be really fun. I hadn’t done anything with the theater in a very long time. So I flew to New York to audition with the directors, then I found out I got the part.”
On his live performance philosophy:
“The new record is really thick as far as production goes, but it’s been the same with every record I’ve put out - we just try to comp it the best we can and it kinda becomes something different when you play it live. I sometimes have a problem with letting things be slow. It [could be] such a pretty, relaxing song on the record, but I [play it] live it I go ‘we gotta pick it up! Pick up the pace!’ Hopefully not to the detriment of the song, but it’s always pretty fun for me.
“If I wanted to see a band play stationary and make the songs sound exactly like the record, I’ll just put the record on. I want to see a show, I want to see a production. So that’s what I try and give the audience. Especially with this band there is a lot of interaction between us on stage, which is great.
“I always perform the way the song needs me to perform. But I also think it changes it up just enough where it never feels stale. It’s going back to the performance element where I really like doing things that are fun and interesting and unique and bring a little more of the theater to the music.”