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A month or so ago we got to sit down with Shaun Fleming of Diane Coffee to talk about his new record, growing up with Foxygen, and how he got inspired to pursue music in the first place.
VMP: Hey Shaun, so I’ve been listening to some of your old stuff and your new record that’s coming out and also all the work you’ve done with Foxygen and dude, you’ve been up to quite a bit it sounds like huh?
Shaun: *laughs* Haha yeah man, it’s been pretty wild trying to balance between those two things, no doubt.
After reading up on it sounds like you’ve been up to a lot for awhile, I know you did some work for Disney when you were younger, so maybe it’s always been a whirlwind. Did you grow up in Indiana or are you just posted up there for the time being?
No,I grew up actually with Jonathan and Sam in the LA area.
Were you 3 close when you were young?
They’re a few years younger than I am and I remember meeting them in middle school when they were just starting their Foxygen stuff and pumping out these middle school albums one after another and I hadn’t started playing music yet, I had just gotten my first guitar and was learning a little bit to try and impress girls at parties, and I got ahold of one of their records through Theater class and my mind was blown man. Like, immediately I thought to myself, "I really need to get my act together if I want to try and play with them, they’re these crazy savants". So then when they got into High School with me we were doing improv comedy stuff together and we became friends that way and then started playing music together, playing on each other’s projects, and so on.
*Laughs* Wow I’m behind, I had no idea they got started in middle school so I haven’t listened to any of that stuff.
Oh yeah dude, if you ever get a chance to listen to it it’s bonkers man, it’s really wild.
Yeah man I remember when that first Foxygen record came out and, and until like 2 minutes ago, thought that they had literally came out of nowhere.
Oh the Broadway record?
Yeah I just remember all of sudden all of my friends were listening to and talking about Foxygen and I had never heard of them. I had no idea who or what that name or word was referring to.
Yeah man, their earlier stuff and even that record (which was kind of a weird musical) well, actually let me take that back, all of their projects are super unique and different and they’re always experimenting with sounds that people aren’t expecting.
And you started playing with them in high school then?
Yeah in High School but I mean during that time they didn’t ever play live really ever so we were playing in each other’s projects and we’d get together and record weird stuff. No one was playing shows or doing anything directed or anything.
So you put out a solo EP in 2011 right?
*Laughs* Wow, yeah, Rado plays guitar on that actually but I made that after high school and then just had it to hand out to people and stuff and had it for free on Bandcamp but yeah, wow, looking back on that now I’m super embarrassed about it because it’s a lot different from what I’m doing now. So, I guess you could say I “released” it *laughs* maybe more that I handed it out.
*laughs* So tell us more about this Diane Coffee project and how it came about. The more artists I meet the more it seems that everyone has all these different projects going at once which is weird and also makes sense because, I mean, being creative is now your job and you’re creating things at a level that, even with just one project, might be daunting but to be doing it on multiple fronts seems crazy. Are there particular things you’re trying to process or express through Diane Coffee?
So I was in between tours and I had moved into an apartment with Rado in New York, and then he says he's moving to LA for awhile so I was going to be there by myself. I was just going to do what I always do which is just write and record and so I made a batch of songs but wasn’t intending to do anything with them, and I ended up in Bloomington, Indiana where we were going to try and record Star Power in this house they’d rented there. That didn’t end up working and we had a lot of down time and I knew a lot of folks at Secretly Canadian and JagJaguwar so I showed them the songs I made in New York and they liked it a lot and said I should think about putting them out. We talked with Brian over at Western Vinyl and he was really hyped on the project so we decided to put it out.
The name came from, well, so at the time when I was making the record, I was listening to a lot of Diana Ross and also this kid named Nathan Pelkey who was a singer songwriter from LA and had put out this cassette tape of 3 songs. One of them was called Mr. Coffee and that tape blew me away completely. After he made it though, Nathan just disappeared and no one knows what happened to him, so Coffee is an ode to a songwriter who could have had an amazing career and it just never happened.
As far as the solo career side of it, this is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to write songs and front a band. It’s weird like how you were talking about side projects, you can be like Jack White who doesn’t even have a main project he just has a hundred different projects, but for me this is my project. This is everything I’ve been wanting to do forever. I love playing with Foxygen buy I don’t write with them I don’t really record with them, this is my baby.
Congrats man on finding your way there, it's exciting that all of this is finally coming to fruition. So, tell us a little about how Shaun Fleming got to be Shaun Fleming. Were there any specific people or books or albums that had a hand in shaping you into who you are today?
*Laughs* Man that’s like a heavy life question man wow. I mean there’s so much, I mean I could say that there are moments that have heavily directed how I ended up. My grandfather lived in Minnesota and he really liked Jazz and he really liked the clarinet so that was the first instrument I ever picked up and I was really bad at it, like last chair bad, but it was the first musical thing I can remember.
My dad loves to play drums and that’s where I got my rhythm, and he’s solely responsible for me being able to pick up on melodies but, damn, yeah that’s a heavy question.
*Laughs* Here let me condense it down a little bit. So Torres has talked at times about her background growing up as a Southern Baptist and how her experiences there shaped a lot of her music on her new record so, and it doesn’t have to be religious or anything, that’s more what I was trying to get at.
Oh yeah ok, something that always stands out to me is when I was in highschool I had a music teacher whose name was Mr. Mosley, big jolly fellow who was weirdly also such an asshole but he really knew how to get me to produce. I remember going into his class and he blackmailed me into joining choir because he was my math teacher as well and he said he was going to fail me if I didn’t join choir.
Yeah he was just out of his mind and an amazing teacher. So I go into his class and I don’t know anything musically and the very first thing that happens in class is he pulls out this piece by a guy named Eric Whittaker and when I heard everyone singing together it was incredible and I was completely overwhelmed. I teared up, I mean I had never heard anything like that before, and I didn’t know the human voice could completely wrap around you like that. And that’s why I layer vocals so much, I think it’s such a powerful thing.
Yeah, it seems like everybody has had moments like that whether it’s listening to a song on the radio or live or on a CD or record or cassette. I don’t know what it is, it’s some kind of "Je ne sais quoi" moment, some kind of hushed holiness that happens with music when you feel like all the hair on your body is standing up you know?
Yes! Exactly, it was definitely an ah ha moment, I mean I had no idea what I wanted in life and then that moment “Oh I just want to do this” and all of a sudden I had direction and knew where I had to get to do that and it was so fun.
Ok, last question, who are a few of the artists you were really into growing up and a few folks you’re listening to now that everyone should listen to.
Oh sure ok, Nathan Pelkey is one for sure if it’s even possible to find his cassette or music anywhere I haven’t heard or seen anything about it since then. My first favorite artist was Mark Cohn, you remember the "Walking in Memphis" song?
Oh WOW. Holy shit I haven’t heard that song in a hundred years.
Yeah man totally, I think I’ve seen him like 10 times but that was the kind of music I was exposed to. Donovan was a huge moment, that changed the kind of music I was listening to for sure. Um, let’s see, James Taylor.
Oh yeah man, I think at one point it may have been illegal to play anything other than James Taylor at my parents’ house.
*Laughs* Yeah and Paul Simon, Neil Young, all of those guys. Also David Wilcox, who’s this singer songwriter and then you know the Beatles but I don’t really remember listening to them all that much until Middle School. That’s when I started listening to classic rock and stuff like that. It all changed a lot though for sure. Limewire happened so I started learning all about classic rock. I remember thinking Jimmy Page was Jimi Hendrix and I thought for like a year that Jimi Hendrix was the lead guitarist for Led Zeppelin and I still remember having this terrible terrible nightmare conversation with some kids about that and I kept sticking with it like Jimi Hendrix is the fucking lead guitarist. I was horrendously wrong.
*Laughs* Yeah man we’ve all been there, I remember when I first found out about MSTRKRFT I used to spell their name out when I was telling people about them so we’ve all been there.
*Laughs* Yeah man, totally. People I’m into right now: Alex Cameron, this album he put out called "Jumping the Shark" I think it is but that stuff is so good. It’s a lot of, you know, electronic drums and it sounds like the karaoke version of Bruce Springsteen but it’s so so good. Caroline from Chairlift I’m super into right now and I just streamed that Tame Impala record which is so wild. It’s like they’re going to be a statement rock band going forward.
Tyler is the co-founder of Vinyl Me, Please. He lives in Denver and listens to The National a lot more than you do.
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