Singer for the Band Diane Coffee Finds a Spark in Indiana
Before kicking off a national tour with January shows in Bloomington and Indianapolis, Shaun Fleming invited IM into his picturesque studio/barn for a look back on why he resettled in the state.
Green grass, crackling fire pits, and open front doors are all parts of Bloomington summers that locals might take for granted. But for big-city transplant Shaun Fleming, they helped spark an album, Everybody’s a Good Dog, and brought a much brighter sound to his “Motown glam” band, Diane Coffee, which is launching a national tour in Indiana with a January 21 show at the Bluebird in Bloomington and a January 28 date at the Hi-Fi in Indianapolis.
Moving from L.A. to New York and then to Bloomington seems to be in reverse order from the more-typical route to pursuing musical ambition. But it has worked for Fleming. The multi-instrumentalist first visited Bloomington in 2013, when the group Foxygen came to demo songs for the album … And Star Power. Bloomington is home to Foxygen’s record label, Jagjaguwar, and Fleming, the band’s touring drummer at the time, just stopped in to help out. Fleming lived in New York but was starting to feel suffocated by the city and was looking for a place to stretch out. As soon as he found out that there was an opportunity for him to move to Bloomington permanently, he jumped.
“I’m growing some pretty heavy roots here right now,” says Fleming, who has been in Bloomington for close to three years. “This is the longest I’ve ever lived in a place that has negative-degree weather.”
The 28-year-old had a solo release in 2011 and has since cut two albums with Diane Coffee. Before settling in Indiana, he toured around the world with Foxygen, lived in a cabin building didgeridoos, and moved all over the United States. His earliest taste of stardom came when he was 6, as a voice actor for Disney. His most famous roles were Tim and Jim Possible on the cartoon Kim Possible, and he worked fairly regularly until high school, when he found his true passion for making music.
It started with blackmail.
His high-school math teacher in Agoura, California, John Mosley, was also the choir coach, a man Fleming describes as a “beautiful and terrifying man.” He told Fleming if he didn’t join the choir, he would fail math. The next year, Fleming signed up and fell in love with the sounds of harmony.
“It really does still show in the way that I write, using a lot of vocal layering,” Fleming says. “That really showed me how beautiful music was.”
After joining the choir, Fleming and his friends formed a cover band to perform in the high-school talent show. It was the first time he had ever performed live—and they won. The principal gave them a chance to play a full set in front of the whole school, so they learned an hour and a half of music and performed for their screaming classmates.
“That was this crazy moment when it was like, ‘This is what I want to do. I will just go on and play, and people will go crazy,’” he says.
Fleming has been writing and recording music ever since, first with the guys from Foxygen, who went to the same high school, and he became the band’s touring drummer, even though he had never really played the instrument.
“They knew I could play a beat, so I had to learn how to play as I went with them,” says Fleming. “It’s cool, because now drums are like my favorite thing to play.”
At the end of that tour, Fleming found himself living in a tiny apartment in New York. Not only was he broke in a new city in the middle of winter, he got the flu and was stuck inside for weeks. To deal with the boredom, he started writing the music for what would become the first Diane Coffee album.
My Friend Fish was recorded with whatever equipment Fleming could get his hands on. He recorded the drums with his iPhone’s memo app and a broken laptop mic. The low fidelity adds a mellow darkness that reflects how he was feeling at the time.
Fleming wrote Diane Coffee’s second album, Everybody’s a Good Dog (Western Vinyl), during one of his recent summers in Indiana. “Bloomington is a super-happy place, so I was in a super-happy mood while writing,” he says. The result was a more upbeat record with vocal layering and lushness, a sound he describes as “Motown glam.” On stage, he’s a high-energy performer, and the band members all wear ’70s leisure suits.
Fleming still gets grief over his band’s name, Diane Coffee, which is a reference to both Diana Ross and the song “Mr. Coffee” by Nathan Pelkey. He maintains that it’s no worse than “The Beatles” or other band names.
“Names are just stupid in general,” he says. “Pick any name you want and just make good music.”
January 28, 9 p.m., $10. The Hi-Fi, 1043 Virginia Ave., Indianapolis, 317-493-1209, hifiindy.com