New York can be a tough town for a drummer, especially one who can’t afford a studio. California native Shaun Fleming, a touring member of Foxygen who releases retro-pop solo as Diane Coffee, learned as much when he began recording demos in the living room of his tiny Nolita apartment. Afraid of noise complaints — or, you know, being rude — he could never spend more than twenty minutes working out a beat. So in 2014, he left Spring Street behind for the open expanse of Indiana.
Fleming often sings in an urgent whine, but he’s speaking from Bloomington, his current place of residence, in a gentle voice with quiet enthusiasm. Two years after the move, he’s got a new house, a new partner, and a wide-eyed new album that expresses the enthusiasm he feels for both. “I’d never really found a place like home,” he says. “This felt like where I’d really want to grow some roots.”
His latest record, Everybody’s a Good Dog, released last September, may have been 2015’s best argument for leaving the city. While its lyrics explore the possibilities of Fleming’s new life, the dreamy, distorted music makes the journey seem like a joy, not a chore. There’s a lot of Motown, some T. Rex–style glam, and, on the track “Tams Up,” a team of female backup singers trilling “shooby doo-wop.”
That retro vibe was mostly unintentional, Fleming says. “I didn’t go out trying to write songs that sound like Sixties or psychedelic or Motown.” But he couldn’t help it. “I think the stuff I grew up listening to is so deeply ingrained in my thought process that I just write music that sounds retro.”
Before indie rock, Fleming was a voice actor for Disney, providing dialogue for Kim Possible‘s Jim Possible and the “lost boys” in direct-to-video animated feature The Lion King 1.5. When his career there stalled, he discovered a new passion, classic rock, with the help of his “spirit guide” — his dad. The pair turned illegal Limewire downloads into a father-son activity.
“All around me were kids with Led Zeppelin shirts and Pink Floyd shirts, so I’d ask my dad” — he affects the adorable accent of a California stoner-to-be — ” ‘Who wrote the “Stairway to Heaven” song?’ And he’d say” — cool, excited dad-voice — ” ‘Let me get on here and show you some stuff.’ ”
As Diane Coffee, Fleming makes this music his own by adding that old-school r&b and creating a stage show with all the glam of musical theater. His two worlds, acting and music, came together when his old bandmates turned him on to David Bowie. “They’d be like, ‘We should cover “Changes,” ‘ ” he remembers. “Then that would be the only Bowie song that I’d know for a couple years, but it was so huge that it made me want to act big and bold.”
At 4Knots, Fleming’s Bowie-esque show will take New Yorkers to the new world he’s found in Bloomington, then blast toward the stars for a journey that ends with the band crash-landing on some strange planet. “We’re sailors!” he says, describing a theme of both his tour and his life. “We’re journeyers, we’re seekers. We’re riding the cosmos!”