The Evolving Sound of Diane Coffee
Diane Coffee, the creative persona characterized by musician and performer Shaun Fleming, is releasing a third album, titled Internet Arms on April 19. Following Fleming’s performance in Jesus Christ Superstar, the solo artist has channeled his theatrical side and finessed it into his latest masterpiece. Incorporating themes of a society tethered to the online world while disconnected from the authentic version, Coffee elucidates the writing process, plans for touring, and conversations he hopes the album’s tone rouses from listeners.
So, you have a new album coming out next month! What was it like to write that?
Well, this is definitely my most conceptual album that I’ve ever written which was pretty fun. I kind of went into it already having certain themes that I wanted to speak about and definitely went into it with a certain sound that I wanted to put forward while looking back on the last two records which were a little more eccentric and sporadic.
Would you say the inspiration for this album came partially from your performance as King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar? What would you say helped to most to define this body of work from that experience?
Well, actually I don’t know if I would say that this record was inspired by that performance. I think, if anything, I’ve been wanting to kind of create a theatrical performance on stage with all my live shows and doing this— actually doing a theatrical performance put me in the mindset of kind of creating an album that was more of a concept record which is sort of a stepping stone to what I would like to do at some point, which is to write a musical. But, you know I think just having themes that play out throughout the whole record— that was something that I took from that. You know, I’d say it still falls in line with what I had been doing with my live shows. This is the first time that brought what I’ve been doing with the live shows thus far into the recording process.
How does performing in something Jesus Christ Superstar differentiate from performing at your concerts and touring?
Well, there’s a better budget there which is one. I always strive to bring a lot of theatrical performance elements to my live show. It’s something that I’ve always strived for and with each tour I’ve tried to develop alongside with my wife, Melinda, who’s sort of my creative director— Diane’s Coffee’s creative director. We tend to come up with certain themes and costume and set design based around one idea and then that whole tour would be based around that. It’s something that we’ve been developing for several years now and as I’m growing, not only as a recording artist, I think we’re also growing as performance artists. So, I’d like to just keep that going— get bigger and bigger and better as we continue to develop.
Do you already have costume ideas for this tour?
Yeah, we do. We’re still trying to figure out the best way that we’re going to do these tours. I’m not sure what we’ll be able to pull off or what we’re able to afford but we definitely have things that we want to do. We’re going to see how well that pans out.
What are you most looking forward to with this tour coming up?
We toured the last record for like two years so I’m most looking forward to playing some new material, you know giving that to the fans and kind of coming up with a new show. That’s something I’ve really been looking forward to. I also have pretty much a whole new band that’s going to be backing me and they’re fantastic and I can’t wait to start playing and gelling with those guys every night.
The album kind of delves into the complex and addictive nature of technology and how we become so disconnected from reality. What types of questions are you trying to answer or topics are you trying to cover within the message of this album?
Well, you know, it’s stuff like why are we so drawn to this sort of isolation that is— it’s kind of weird. With social media it’s like a combination of both isolation and social interaction and why is that so appealing? Are we going to lose touch with what makes us innately human— the ways that we perceive ourselves and how we project ourselves. There are also a few tracks on here as well like “Not Ready To Go” is less about the digital, although you could say the toxic relationship that we’re talking about can be about our technology. There are also topics about how it’s hard to make it in the world these days, hard to make it in America these days.
What are your personal opinions of social media? Are you addicted to it as much as other people are?
I’d say yeah, I’m completely addicted to it but I think partially that comes with the territory of the career I’m in. I guess you could say that about a lot of people these days. If you’re not on social media do you even exist in the world these days? If you’re asking whether I’d love to get away from it— yeah, of course I would but I don’t know if you can be an upcoming artist who doesn’t have any social media presence.
Would you say you’re more addicted to creating content versus consuming it?
I’d say no, I’m definitely addicted to consuming content and I’m forced to create content. In a way, I’m also forced to consume content as well just because we have to keep up with what’s happening, what’s trending, what’s going on with the world. Everything moves really fast and if you take a step back you’re going to be totally out of the loop of what’s going on. I’m still of that age where half my life was without social media or even before the internet was that great of a thing. I see a lot of these kids that are coming up and it’s so a part of who they are it doesn’t seem to take much out of them as it does for someone like me.
Would you say you’re trying to get your audience to reconnect with themselves or is it more a string of stories relating to your own life?
No, that’s a thing I want to definitely let people know is this album is not an anti-technology record. I’m just posing some of these questions, posing some of these ideas. I think everything is still new, we’re not really talking about what the long-term effects of this sort of thing is going to be. There’s so much good that comes out of all of this new technology and I just don’t know if we know enough about what all the negative aspects of this will be. So yeah, I want to make sure that my audience connects but I just want them to have a conversation.
How do you think people are going to react to the sound of the album altogether?
Most definitely different from my previous records, and I’m hoping that they enjoy it. There seems to be some good reception to the first single. I have kind of been put into this box of, ‘Oh, he’s 70’s throwback’ or something like that and for as long I’ve been writing I’ve been changing my style all the time. I want people to understand that Diane Coffee is not just one thing, it’s fluid, it’s changing, and I’d like to make the music that is exciting to me in that moment. This is what was really propelling me at that time.
How do you feel about the electro-glam pop genre that your music is considered as? Would you describe it as such or in a different way?
I think the psychedelic-Motown was definitely the vibe of the first record. Soul/glam pop was definitely “Everybody's a Good Dog” and this one I think is more digital-glam. I think that fits pretty well, but yeah, I think with this record people are going to start to understand that this is an ever-evolving project— like a travelling circus.
How would you describe the growth in your writing and production over your discography?
Well, the first record was sort of a series of demos. The second record was very exciting because I was able to record in a studio and have an engineer so that was nice and new and exciting. With this record, I’m pushing myself. I went into this project wanting to do a modern pop record, like a very clean, very new current pop music sound— pop production. I never really have done anything like that before so what this turned out is my attempt at making a pop record. I don’t know if it necessarily sounds like a pop record but this was my first take at it. I think this is my strongest lyrical record so far. I’ve always been pretty frightened of my lyrics. I’ve never really felt to confident in that department but this one, I’m very happy with and very satisfied with and I’m hoping that the audience agrees.
Your single “Not Ready To Go” really tells a relatable story of struggle with leaving toxic relationships or quitting old habits. Was there any personal inspiration behind the music video or the writing in general?
Well I mean, yeah. I feel like everyone has had a moment kind of like that. It’s as Freud called it “a repetition compulsion.” It’s that feeling where you know that something is bad for you but you feel so comfortable in it that you allow it to just happen, you keep going back to it. I’ve had a few relationships that have been sort of like that, where you find comfortability in the current state of things. This derives from that and it can be about a relationship with anything. It can be a parent. It can be a lover. It can be your cellphone. It’s pretty open-ended like that.
How would you describe the overall being of Diane Coffee as a musical persona?
I’ve always thought of Diane Coffee as— who Diane Coffee is, is the energy of the performer. You take a kid who is pretty quiet and pretty reserved, doesn’t really say much, and then you get him into a concert element, surrounded by other people and that energy of the show and all of a sudden this kid’s screaming at the top of his lungs, jumping around, dancing— it’s that sort of energy. Diane Coffee is the physical embodiment of that energy.
What is the general message you are trying to send to your listeners with this album?
This is a conversational album. This album is asking different questions to the listener and I want people to take away that Diane Coffee is an ever-evolving sound. I’d like people to be listening to some of this stuff about technology and understand the disconnected relationships that we have with the perceived self and the projected self and start to question these things and understand why it is that we are so attached to these sorts of things.
When you’re writing new songs, do you have to be in a certain state of mind, or is there anything that influences your creative flow?
Yeah, actually I need heavy isolation. It’s pretty hard for me to write on the road. Some people are really great at it but I need a quiet place, quiet room. I’ve been lucky, in Bloomington, to have a studio that I have access to and I can go in pretty late at night. For me it’s always melody first and then at the very last minute I’ll write the lyrics. Usually I let the sound and melody dictate what the song is going to be about. That’s been my process so far. But with this one, I felt a lot more at ease with writing the lyrics than I have with the other two.
You mentioned that you want to write a musical at some point. Do you see that happening in the near future or do you plan on continuing as Diane Coffee for a while before that?
Well, it still could be a Diane Coffee project but I’m not really sure. My whole focus right now is on this record so we’ll see.
Photographed by Alexa Viscius