A Night With Ms. Diane: An Exclusive Interview with Shaun Fleming

Written by Executive Editor on March 4th, 2014

Given the amount of new music produced daily, it is rare to find an album that is prolific–that shines amongst a sea of lukewarm new releases. Diane Coffee creates a lust to hear more. The band’s debut album, My Friend Fish, pops open with a startling organ glissando: like a child running its fingers recklessly up a keyboard. The virgin listener doesn’t know how long the screech will last until a voice cues the band with a soft “1-2-3” towards a soothing Carole King-like comfy tempo, a background for a teeny-bop girl to sing her heart out.

Behind that voice is 26 year-old Shaun Fleming, playing underneath the moniker Diane Coffee. Fleming grew up in Agoura Hills, California but moved to New York last Fall, only to be welcomed by an empty apartment filled with no friends and the flu. Isolation served as inspiration and Diane Coffee was birthed. Fleming is on the rise, and it is best to watch out for Diane Coffee. Their debut album speaks for itself, and there’s no more need for Fleming’s fame as Foxygen’s drummer or even his childhood acting gigs on Kim Possible and Lilo and Stitch.

WSPN found time to interview Shaun Fleming in between sound check and an Izumi dinner prior to Diane Coffee’s performance at Skidmore College last Saturday, February 22nd. Skidmore Entertainment Committee funded the concert, and native band Los Elk opened. For those who didn’t attend- you missed out. The band comprised of Jared Walker (guitar), Emily Panic (bass), Steve Okonsi, (keyboard), and Joey Lefitz, (drums,) created a foreground for Fleming’s theatrical excitement. The band’s energy was palpable, generating a collective awe. They brightened up the funky black light lighting that is Falstaff’s. We talked about everything from high school music inspiration to soup, enjoy:

WSPN: Obviously you’re the drummer of Foxygen. Do you consider yourself primarily a drummer?

Shaun Fleming: No not at all. Actually now maybe. Actually no. It’s 50/50: I never considered myself a drummer until I was asked to play drums for Foxygen. I knew how to play and I used to live next to Sam [France] and [Jon] Rado, and doing random things. But they got a show and asked “Hey can you play drums for us, I know you know how to play.” I know how to play a beat. That show became another show, and that show became a small little tour, and that became the first big tour. And then it became “Hey do you want to be the drummer for Foxygen.

You mentioned in a previous interview that you start off writing with a drum beat.

Since I had been playing drums for so long and hadn’t been fronting any band or trying to put together a band I was in that drum mindset. I had only a few hours to play the drums in the little apartment in New York, so I did it when I could. I wasn’t trying to write a record.  I was just doing what I always had done. I was in between tours, just moved to New York don’t know anyone there; I thought I might as well record a few tracks. So it was me just playing the first beat that came to mind, playing the first bass line that came to mind, and then making a song out of that.

The record was inspired by a sort of isolation. There must of have been a drastic change from an acute amount of music performance on a tour to being in a New York apartment by yourself.

I think I’ve always done better writing by myself. I think because there is no distraction and writing is something that has always scared me, it’s always been something I’ve been afraid of. If there is nothing else to do and I don’t know anyone, I’m actually going to write.

The record is all from scratch. It really has a feeling of a start and an end.

It’s because it was all in that one moment. Not a song from here and there. So I’ve been writing since.

I may be misinterpreting the album, but there’s a sense of maturation. On “Green” you say, “I finally understand what it takes to be a man” It seems like you are getting  a jist of how adult thing work.

I guess that’s part of it, growing up, emotionally and being through enough relationships. And especially relationships that have fallen apart because of touring. And this sort of lifestyle. There’s a lot of stuff I’m talking about from the past. I don’t want to say I know how women work now.

[Jon Rado chimes in and  laughs, “of course you do”]

I know what to do.

There is a lot of youthfulness shown in your music videos.

I feel like since high school my world has been all about music, and not knowing exactly where I fit into it. I don’t want to say that I haven’t grown up because I have, but there is something that is still connected. There are milestones, releasing a record deal and it becoming my job – but it still feels like I’m doing the same things since high school so I’m still in a mind set of trying to figure things out.

Are there things in high school that shaped your music style and interests that you gravitate towards?

Yeah I had this one music teacher, Mr. Mosely or just “Mose” and Joey Lefitz, the drummer, went to the same school, and that’s how we got together in New York. But Mr. Mosely was the biggest influence. Both Mr. Mosely who was intense about musicality. He knows music inside and out, and runs his high school band as if the members are paid musicians

[Joey Lefitz chimes in: “he’s paying them with fucking letter grades”]

Some students bribed him with his weak spot for German chocolate cake. He taught a choral class in which I first really heard the colors of the human voice so now I’m into adding a lot of harmonies.

We also started this coverband in high school called “Harem Scarem” which was just a lot of Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd.

Besides the cover band, who were your other high school musical interests?

I grew up listening to very smooth not even heavy rock. Before I met the guys in high school that would listen to Floyd, I would listen to Mark Cohen and my dad was into acoustic easy listening folk. So that was definitely something I pull from. Sometimes I’m writing these songs and step back because it sounds too cheesy and really stupid. I have kind of a bizarre taste but I’m choosing to go down this path. The variety says something about the amount of different music I listen to.

You can really hear the brevity of your style on  “WWWoman” [note: I stuttered on the name]

Cool story about the title and the three “W’s.” It was called “Woman” originally, but Rado produced that song and it’s rad. It really has that tape and distortion sound.

It’s gross.

Yeah, it’s gross. The song is about my brother’s ex girlfriend who cheated on him with his best friend. It was this whole episode that was going on for so long . So Rado sent it back with three “W’s” because it’s six “U’”s like an evil woman – the six horns. So I don’t know if it actually was the six horns or it was Rado just going “Wuh-Wuh-Woooman”  but that’s how I saw it.

And that song’s wickedness is balanced with the next song on the album, “The Tale of the Dead Dog.”

The dead dog was actually something that I saw when I just started driving a 16 or 17. It [the dog] is used to talk about everything is fleeting. You think of your dog as a person and they will never go, but they do relatively quickly – and it will take you by surprise. And you can say that about a lot of things: jobs love – you hope that things are permanent, but everything eventually whether it’s a hundred or a thousand years – everything cycles over.

You’re not in your music videos.

In “Green,” I was in it at the very end, I happened to be there [New York] for the last day of shooting. I’m not in them mostly because I live in Indiana – and I’m broke. So, all of the money goes towards videos, but we don’t have to talk about my financial status. If I want to be in a video, it has to be in Indiana or based around a tour.

Do you find it hard to communicate with your band mates because of the geographical distance?

No. I check in a lot. Jared and I talk about random stuff, gear- the future. I’ll send them material and they’ll learn it. And hopefully before a performance we can rehearse it and try to make it work. We tried one tonight [during sound check] that didn’t really work.

It sounded good.

Did it?

Yeah it reminded me of “Space Oddity.” Since you use a similar lyric of “You really made the grade.”

I wanted it to be a Bowie reference. It’s been funny – I’ve been compared to a lot of 60’s artists, especially Bowie. I like that stuff, but I didn’t think I was writing a glam record at all, I think I’ve definitely embraced the glam rock style, but not necessarily because of what has been said. Just because it has always been my idea of rock and roll: “flamboyant lead person!” But I think I’m pretty reserved outside of performing, pretty laid back, but I like being really big as “Diane.” I think a lot of people say “it’s a 60’s band and psychedelic.”

I don’t even know what psychedelic means.

I think people will say it’s psychedelic rock if it has a phaser or reverb.

How does it feel to have others diagnose your music and put it into a category?

It’s totally weird. It’s not that intense- yet, I’m chugging away – hopefully trying to make a name for myself. People will break down songs of others and have all of these theories of what it means but it isn’t as important to you as it is to them [a critic] to understand them. Everything [on the record] is so eclectic: it’s a clash of styles [so] it’s hard to constrain it to one genre. Rock is cool for me because that’s what has been said already about me, so I’ll just go with that – for now.

It feels like a 1950’s prom.

I was definitely listening to mo-town mostly. Like Sam Cooke, Marvin, Diana Ross Gaye, St. Vincent,

St. Vincent is killing it.

I know she’s been coming out with stuff, but I want to wait to sit down with the record. She is one of the artists I’d kill to collaborate with. But, I really like the Cardigans. They are fucking awesome.

Thank you so much for your time. To leave off, you mention soup a couple of times on the record.

When I moved to New York and I was completely broke. All I had to eat was like- Chicken in a can. Hard Boiled eggs. I was sick, I had the flu and all I wanted was soup. I didn’t like soup but since that I’ve really been liking soup.


Written/Interview By Rebecca Zosia Stern

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5 Comments so far ↓

  1. b-rad says:

    if he was a soup what kind of soup would be be? this is important.

  2. Ken Stern says:

    I like this band a lot. DJ wisdom connected me with this music. I do agree that this band will rise in the charts and reach millions of people. Great interview!

  3. Elidieth stern says:

    Great article!!!!

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