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Interview: Shaun Fleming (Diane Coffee)
Posted January 26, 2016 by Seth Johnson

In addition to playing drums with Los Angeles-based band Foxygen, Shaun Fleming writes and records glittery psych-funk under the theatric alter ego Diane Coffee. Prior to his band’s upcoming Indianapolis appearance at The Hi-Fi, Seth Johnson caught up with the recent Bloomington transplant for an in-depth phone interview.

Seth Johnson: Hey Shaun. Are you still free to talk for a little while?

Shaun Fleming: Yeah man. I’m actually about to cook a 15 lb. turkey, and I’m just preparing my spice blend. So now’s a perfect time.

SJ: Rad. Well first of all, can you tell me what all went into your decision to move from New York to Bloomington?

SF: I first visited Bloomington with Foxygen during some early …And Star Power demo sessions. Rado [read a NUVO interview Seth did with Jonathan Rado a while back here] had rented out a house, so we were here for a while. As that was going, we had some technical issues with some of the recording gear, and I had a lot of free time. So I spent that two weeks just hanging out in Bloomington, and I really got to know it and love it.

I already knew a lot of the people here because of Jagjaguwar, Dead Oceans and Secretly Canadian. My good friend Tim Smiley [Bloomington-based sound engineer and co-producer of Diane Coffee’s latest record Everybody’s a Good Dog] lives here too, and we work really well together. I met my current partner here. She had a place opening up, and I wasn’t happy with living in New York. It just really wasn’t for me. So I just sort of made the flighty decision, packed up and moved.  But, I mean, Bloomington felt a lot like my hometown [Agoura Hills, California], so that was an easy transition. I just needed something completely different than New York because I was starting to feel suffocated.

SJ: Tell me a little bit more about your relationship with Tim Smiley. It seems like you guys are pretty close.

SF: We did an early Foxyen tour with Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Tim was doing sound for them. This was early Foxygen, and if you know anything about early Foxygen you know that we were pretty loud and hard to manage. It was very chaotic, and it really freaked out a lot of sound guys. So our tour manager Dave would run over to Tim because the house sound guys that we were working with would just panic. He’d be like, “Tim! You know all the songs. Will you please go over and just help the sound guy out?” So that started my relationship with Tim via Foxygen.

Then after Unknown Mortal Orchestra, we [Foxygen] had him come on because he already knew all the songs and we’d been hanging out with him a lot. Me and Tim like to go out and have a good time, and that’s sort of how we first connected. So with me moving to Bloomington, it just made it [our friendship] even stronger. While touring with Tim in Foxygen, we connected pretty hard. And now, I’m proud to say that he’s one of my best friends.

SJ: Once you decided to move to Bloomington, how did everything work out in terms of finding your new band?

SF: Bloomington is like a sea of talent, man. It’s so crazy. There are just so many players here. And actually, I can thank Tim. He knew all of these guys and grew up with a lot of them. I had met a lot of them from just being in Bloomington and hearing about them and maybe seeing them play in other projects. And when we were doing the record, all the guys from the first Diane Coffee band came down from New York and played on the record. And then, I also wanted a lot of other people in Bloomington and some of these other friends that I had made to play on the record, so we called them up. So as soon as I realized that I was staying here and wanted to create a band here, I just started asking Tim who he knew, and then showing them the project and working and playing with them. Then, it just sort of worked out. Like, I kind of held mini auditions, and that’s just sort of it. It just worked out like that.

SJ: You mentioned there being a sea of talent in Bloomington. That being said, what excites you about what’s currently happening there musically? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?

SF: Like I said, it kind of feels like home. Everyone plays on everyone’s projects. Everyone’s very supportive. And because it is sort of a small town, everyone wants to go out and see everyone’s shows. And, the Bloomington music community just feels like family. Like, there are a lot of different studios around here, and people are borrowing each other’s equipment and everything’s moving back and forth. Everyone’s rooting for everyone. There is a label element to here too, so you always have a lot of great acts that are coming through, which is really cool. I mean, IU is one of the top music schools in the country, so you have a lot of great people coming out of that who will maybe stay in Bloomington or will be coming back and forth. Indiana is sort of like the crossroads of the Midwest. It’s just a short stint to Louisville or Minneapolis or New York. You can just get to those places in a day, so that makes for a really great touring scene. Like, people are just doing these weekend jaunts.

I’ve only lived in a couple places: L.A., Austin, New York. I was so discouraged by the music scene in L.A., just because it’s so expansive. Everyone’s sort of like, “Oh yeah. You play the Whiskey, you play the Roxy.” And, there are all those pay-to-play places, and it just doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know. It feels really intense and like a waste of time and money. And in New York, to get a practice space, it’s an insane amount of money. Also, dealing with equipment and not having a car is really tough. This is like the first place where it’s like, “To play music and to just hang out and to write and to be involved with the scene is so easy, but completely set up for it,” and it’s great.

SJ: Tell me about how your first practices with the Bloomington Diane Coffee lineup went. Did you feel comfortable with those guys right off the bat?

SF: Well, I knew a few of them. And, it was great because I gave them all the records and demos of any of the new stuff. I gave it to those guys, and I said, “Yeah. Let’s all get together and try a rehearsal.” I really did try and take it upon myself to set them up so that they could really know their stuff and learn it at home. And damn man, they were so professional. They just came and already knew all the stuff. We had to gel and stuff like that. But at the first rehearsal, I remember thinking, “This is really, really cool.”

I’ve had the privilege of playing with a lot of very talented musicians. But for me, the best part was just hanging out with these guys for a couple days for the first time. It was just like, “Damn man. These are just the nicest, coolest, funniest dudes.” That first tour, too, was just so incredibly fun, and there were positive vibes every single night. Everyone’s just watching out for each other. Everyone’s taking turns driving and such. It was great, and that’s what I look for. Musicianship is second to people that I’m really cool to hang with.

SJ: You mentioned how the tour with of Montreal went well, but what were some things that you especially liked about how the tour went?

SF: Man, my favorite part about that tour was how close we got to of Montreal. It just felt like such a huge family. I’m still texting and talking to a lot of those guys because it seriously feels like we’ve made a bond for life. They are so much like us, and that was my favorite part. I mean, they’re just as goofy and wonky as we are, and they want theatrics the same way that we do. And, we grew up listening to their stuff. What was fun for me as well was that was the very first big tour for Foxygen, and it felt like a homecoming. Getting to see Kevin and Clayton and Davey. It was funny because a lot the lineup kind of went back to the lineup with that very first Foxygen tour. So it was funny because all these guys that hadn’t been playing with them since I did with Foxygen came back. So again, it was just like, “Oh, whoa cool! Crazy timing.” But yeah, it was like our first big tour, so that was super fun. It was like two-and-a-half months. And with the of Montreal guys, there were like no breaks. Dude, just night after night. They were doing a bus, so they could just travel through the night. So we were doing these long, early drives every day just to try and keep up with them because they could do that. But at the end of it, it was like, “If we could do that, then we can do anything.”

SJ: Can you tell me what’s on the horizon for Diane Coffee, not only with touring but with future material too?

SF: Well, I’m starting to write again and work on some new stuff. I’ve been really working on trying to keep building upon the live show and to make it bigger and bigger and bigger. This is going to be our very first headlining tour. We’re doing a lot of songs this time, so that’s nice. I’ve never been able to play this many songs in a single set, so that’ll be really fun. But yeah, I’m kind of really focusing on stage show stuff, that financially, if allowed, I’d like to be able to pull off a little bit later in the year. That’s always the hardest part. I have these huge ideas, but it’s always financially tough to make them happen. Ya know, finding a way to work around or finding a friend that will maybe bite the bullet or something like that. But yeah, that’s kind of it. Just starting to write again, trying to build some really unique and fun stage shows, and just playing as much as possible. I’d love to try and get on some festivals this summer, and possibly make it to Europe. It’s still really early in the year. So I have a lot of hopes and dreams and ambitions, but we’ll see how it all pans out.

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