Shaun Fleming, a featured voice on Kim Possible (he played her two little brothers), and the drummer for Foxygen, has landed at the party and he’s no back-up instrumentalist/Disney child star. He’s Diane Coffee, a full-fledged artist, with a sophisticated album that is both paying homage to many of the greats of the 60s and 70s, and ushering towards a new approach to bedroom sessions and DIY recording. Stylistically the album soars through 60s psychadelia & avant garde, 70s glam, even 90s garage rock and modernized Gospel Pop. My Friend Fish immediately strikes as a labor of love; the songwriting birthed out of need, the vocals overwrought with rock god emotion, and the production, in its limitations, one of the most exciting, retro, and relevant of the year. It’s a solid debut and a thought-provoking album. If I dared mention the topic of authenticity, I’d say Diane Coffee has captured that elusive quality. It seems likely given the songwriting and recording process.
Bowlegs: Can you tell us a little about how your writing went after your move to New York City?
Shaun Fleming: The album was written quite quickly. Having just moved to NY after an extensive tour with Foxygen, I was still buzzing from all the new music I had been exposed to. I think I wrote a song or two a day for the two weeks I was there. I only had a 3 hour window to track drums in the apartment, so my day was always: Wake up, make coffee and record a drum track that I may have been just dreaming about. Everything was done in that way. When a drum track was finished, I would lay the first bass line that came to mind. I really didn’t know what I was doing until, out of nowhere, a song would start to emerge.
Bowlegs: Obviously the move and the isolation inherent in that would affect your expression, but what about the city and its own loneliness?
SF: Well, as soon as I arrived in NY, I came down with a nasty flu virus. I could have probably moved anywhere and still have felt pretty isolated. I had never lived in a big city until then, but spontaneous moves have always helped to inspire my writing. I don’t think I ever felt comfortable or at home in the city though. I missed the quiet, I missed having a fire, I missed the color green.
Bowlegs: It seems like you went through a physically strenuous yet artistically lush time after your move. Beyond that you had limited resources. Word on the street is you had to improvise and do some DIY instrumentation and recording. How did that process lend itself to the sound you were aiming for?
SF: I actually think my “limited means” allowed for a lot of experimentation resulting in that 60’s/70’s LoFi sound. That was my favorite part about that era of music. There seemed to be an explosion of people asking “What happens when I do that?” I’m sure I wasn’t the first person to detune a guitar and use it as a bass, but that wobbly tone was truly new and exciting to me. I actually recorded all the drums on my iPhone Voice Memo app… It was one of those Serendipitous moments… The album is Digital LoFi.
Bowlegs: Is this one of those instances in which our challenges direct our craft more than our own ambitions (and to unexpectedly great results)?
SF: I believe that a great album is created both by ambition and circumstance. To me, the trials and tribulations of recording are just as important as the songs themselves.
Bowlegs: Speaking of the sound of the album, My Friend Fish listens like a canon of the greats from the 70s and 80s, evoking the Beatles, The Beach Boys, and even Bowie. Is there an influence supreme? What’s the essence of your style?
SF: Gosh, I really don’t think I have a “Supreme” influence. It comes in waves, even changing from day to day. If I had to pick a band I couldn’t live without… Probably The Beatles… But those three are right on the money. Honestly I was pulling from everywhere… old and new.
Bowlegs: The term ‘Gospel Pop’ has been thrown around and I absolutely love it. I feel like Eat Your Love (With Sriracha) fits perfectly in that descriptor. The affected vocals here are awesome, and the electric organ is on point. So, why the sriracha?
SF: Well let me just put it like this… Everything is better with Sriracha, including your love. There are a whole bunch of food references in this record. I was terribly broke after the move, and I survived on almost nothing but hard boiled eggs and chicken in a can… I was lusting after flavor.
Bowlegs: I love the album cover. It seems almost like a reference to Bowie, not to mention the many powerful solo artists who feature their faces close up on their covers (I’m thinking of your contemporary Annie Clark). What’s the idea here, and how did you choose the styling? You look fabulous on it, by the way.
SF: That was all Audim and Ivy, photographer extraordinaires. They really helped actualize the concept we had for the cover. An empty vessel, both masculine and feminine, calling for either myself or Diane to inhabit.
Bowlegs: While we’re on the topic of the album’s image, can you divulge the origins of your new moniker Diane Coffee?
SF: She’s my lady… and quite the lady she is.
Bowlegs: How has becoming Diane Coffee affected your relationship with Foxygen? Would this project have been possible without them?
SF: Foxygen has been extremely supportive and by no means am I done playing with those guys. Everyone in the band has their own solo work, and we all want to help with them in any way we can. I even have a track of mine produced by Rado just because I love what he does, and I really wanted my friend on the album.
Bowlegs: We’ve been talking a lot about the past, about influences and references, because the album itself feels heavily steeped in musical memory. Flipping the switch some, whom do you admire today? Who’s the most original artist you’ve seen lately?
SF: I’ve been into female led groups lately. Astroid Galaxy Tour, St. Vincent, Chairlift, Bleached, Feist. Obviously people like MGMT and Tame Impala. Been listening to this really great guy Salem Al Fakir, a Swedish soul/pop musician and singer of paternal Syrian origin. As far as originality, Infantree’s first EP TreeP really blew my mind.
-Interview by Rick Marcello-