I try and interview the most famous people in the world … before theyʼre famous. Obscure people are out there all around you, and some day soon youʼll know exactly who they are. Right now theyʼre pole dancing at your local dive bar, like Lady Gaga did. Theyʼre gigging your local bagel store, like Beck did. Theyʼre digging graves like Rod Stewart, trading sex for cash like Dee Dee Ramone or making you your bottle of perfume like Elvis Costello. In the case of Diane Coffee, theyʼre making albums by themselves right next door to you in their tiny New York ﬂophouses … naked. The reason only a couple of interviews into my career Iʼm starting to realize that Iʼm meeting with the next big thing every time I go out is, well, Diane Coffee has it. You donʼt know it and Iʼm pretty sure Diane Coffee doesnʼt know it either. But I just ﬁgured it out. If you listen to Foxygen, you probably know who Shaun Flemming (aka Diane Coffee) is because heʼs their touring drummer. And he started working for Disney around the same time in life that you were getting your feet wet with long division and when you were probably unaware of the existence and/or the location of the clitoris. He tours with a well-known indy band, so itʼs not as if heʼs the same as the guy punching the clock at your local pizza shop, but still, you probably donʼt know who Diane Coffee is … yet.
Interview by Mitch Wilson / Photos by Nazar Khamis
Shaun Fleming: Dude, I saw the garbage man take a giant sofa. He just put it in the back and a giant claw ate it. It was the coolest thing I’d seen in a while.
Mitch Wilson: I didn’t know that’s where those things went.
Yeah they just have it on the sidewalk there and the couch was bigger than mine. It just started crushing it and pulling it in there. Me and four other people just stopped and watched. We were all fascinated.
In DC, we used to separate recycling from trash and then the guys would come and just throw it all back in the thing. It was kind of sad. But shit man, that’s what goes on with that. Anyways, I’ve been listening to Foxygen for a while now. I think a lot of people have. And since getting this assignment, I started looking into your solo career and stuff, which has been fun. I was unable to figure out who else was in the band.
Well on the record, it’s just me. Live I play with Jared Walker; he plays guitar. Emily Panic is our bass player. Joey Lefitz is our drummer and Steve Okonski is our keyboard player.
So what question do you not want me to ask?
Is our band’s name a Twin Peaks reference? That’s the one. That’s the one that bugs me. Not that I don’t like Twin Peaks; it’s a fantastic show. Diane Coffee has nothing to do with it though.
I didn’t have a Wikipedia until like three days ago. Me and Jared were talking about it in a bar. “We should have someone write our Wikipedia page and just put it out there. We’ll see what everyone actually thinks.”
It’s funny, at the top of the page, it says, “There are some issues with this page.”
The whole thing is one big issue. It’s pretty wild. But I like it; it’s like a Mad Lib.
Macaulay Culkin. Do you look up to him or do you look down to him?
What era are we talking?
I guess the current one.
Hmm. I’m glad he’s doing music. You know? I’ll say that I look at him. I don’t look down on him and I don’t look up to him. But I think he’s got something going. People are listening and checking it out. People are curious. So he’s got that. Not a lot of people get that. Dude, I don’t know. That’s a great question. I don’t even know how to answer that.
You worked at Disney? How old were you when you started doing that?
DC: I guess I started acting at around six. I did a little tv series called Cyber Kidz. My dad was the producer and that’s how I kind of like started my acting career. I don’t remember when I landed my first Disney role. But one led to another and I just kind of fell into that lifestyle. It was a great ride. It was fun. It got me out of class.
Do you know Ryan Gosling or Justin Timberlake?
No. I’d love to know Justin Timberlake. He’s been making some pretty rad stuff lately. Real phat, tight beats, yo. But sure, they seem like pretty cool guys. I think my friend delivered a pizza to Ryan Gosling once.
Are there weird sides to showbiz besides when you’re younger, working in that realm.
Honestly, the voice-over world is really separated. At least it was for me. I’d go there and I wouldn’t be with any other actors in any shows that I was doing. I’d just be in a small little room. They’d have the director on the other side and that would kind of be it. They had an awesome green room with so much pudding and sugar cubes and tea. I’d just grab a pile of the sugar cubes. And I’d have tea. I wouldn’t drink it, but I felt weird about just bringing in all of those sugar cubes. I was like eight. I ate mad sugar cubes. I was also probably too young to see anything weird. The weirdest thing that I saw was the sound engineer had the biggest tongue that I had ever seen in my life. And we would make him do weird things with his tongue (this is clean by the way). We had him take a little Jello packet and just slide his tongue down it and just slurp in the whole thing. Like an elephant’s trunk. That’s the weirdest part of the showbiz for me: tongues.
Are you still playing with Foxygen?
Yeah I just went out and recorded stuff for the new record. We’re gearing up for this upcoming year. I’m so excited. It’s going to be crazy. I think it’s kind of a really special thing that they have going. They can communicate without speaking to one another. That’s a really cool vibe to bring into the studio. I’ll play with them until I die. They’re the coolest dudes I know.
Were you in Mineanapolis when Sam broke his leg?
Yeah. That was a crazy tour man. It started out with some of the best shows we’d ever played. It felt that way anyway. There was all the chaos online. All of the bloggers turned against Foxygen for a minute for whatever. We played the first night and it was so good. Then we played the next night and it was better than the night before! And then we played the third night and it was spectacular! Amazing! We were in such a groove! But man I remember when he fell; he just stood up on a monitor like he’s done a thousand times before. And it just tipped and he went over. He’s jumped off the stage before—not insanely high ones—but if it’s small and he wants to go to communicate with the audience, he’ll do it. So he’s down and I don’t see him getting up. And it’s in the song Blue Mountain and I’m jamming. I’m thinking, Is he just laying down? Is he running into the crowd? Then I see that a kid in the front row has the mike. It fell into his hand. Everyone in the front row was looking over the railing. They’re just going, “Oh no!” The kid with the mike, all he can say all timidly is “Gggg ggg go ff ffoxygen! Uhhh.” The song didn’t even end, it just stops. And I see Rado run over and he just goes white. It was the scariest thing.
The first thing that ran through my mind was that he broke his neck and he’s dead. It was one of the worst moments of my life. The high was so high and immediately it was the lowest low. And it was an incredible sensation.
What was the blogger thing?
It was just bad vibes and we’re really trying to get away from it. Let’s just skip that one.
Now you have an answer for, which question do you not want to answer? So if you got shot into space …
… never to return, what five personal effects would you bring with you in your space suit?
Are we talking about Gravity where I’ve got like 20 minutes to just hang out? ’Cause that’s going to affect the decision.
You’ve got a space ship and you’re launched off into space.
An acoustic guitar for sure, a record player and Abby Road—just because I’ve recently listened to it and I’ve fallen back in love with that record. Damn. If it’s a big-ass spaceship, I might bring a deck and try some space skating. I’d bring the dreamcatcher. I bring that thing everywhere. I don’t know if it works, but I have great dreams. If we’re serious and I’m not ever going to return, I’d bring all of the drugs and psychedelics and take off in a blaze of glory.
There are four common dimensions: length, width, depth and time. Care to name a few more?
Oh god. I’d say emotion. That can definitely be a dimension. This is the deepest question I’ve ever been asked. Seriously. I’d say emotion but I feel like that’s just as dimensional if not more dimensional as all four of those.
Do you believe in god?
I love this. You can put this down: this is my favorite interview of all time. I was so not prepared and that is great. I’ve said this before too that I love the idea of god. I think it’s great. I love the idea that there is kind of all-mighty being and maybe he gives us free will, maybe he doesn’t? I don’t know the logistics. I just know that he’s the creator and if you’re good, he takes care of you and if you’re bad, then good luck. But I just don’t know how I feel about it. I feel like a lot of the things that I struggle with day to day could be eased if I did, because I do think of myself as a good person. And I feel like if I did have that, I wouldn’t stress as much. I just really don’t know where I stand.
I think that’s an interesting response. Do you think that there’s a psychedelic rock revival?
I hate the term psychedelic rock because it’s thrown around so much these days. No really has any idea what they’re talking about, really. I mean, let me ask you this: what is psychedelic music—not even rock?
I mean I guess you’d go the route of naming bands that have the sound.
Exactly. It’s like bands that came out while everyone was on psychedelics. Like 1969, if a band came out between ’65 and ’72, it’s psychedelic, if it’s rock almost. I feel like psychedelic rock is labeled as when bands use fazor and reverb. That’s pretty much it. Genres in general I just hate. But psychedelic rock is just a way of saying that it sounds produced like these bands from this era. And I’d rather you ask if there’s a classic rock revival. It’s just sort of this weird term. I don’t know. I don’t know if Diane Coffee is psychedelic at all. I do think there is a resurgence of that sound, absolutely.
Can you describe the writing process for My Friend Fish? It sounds like you had lots of people collaborating? Or was that just you?
Mostly just me. When I was sure that it was going to be released, I had Rado come in. I like all of my friends to have a little piece of it. When I was writing, I didn’t think I was making an album. I was just writing like I always do. And I showed it to someone and they told me that I should put it out. I was living with Rado in Manhattan so I was like, “Rado, play some crazy organ sounds on this and then you can be a part of Diane Coffee.” The writing process for me was waking up and making some hard-boiled eggs and some coffee and just laying down the first drum beat that I had in my mind. Then I’d spend the rest of the day making a sound around that. I’d lay down just a random bassline. And then I’d come up with a guitar line over the bass. And then create the melody and lyrics last. That’s kind of when I really discovered Red Bull too.
Brian Eno or David Bowie?
Umm Bowie for me. I was just playing Bowie before you walked in. I know it’s not the question, but my go-to karaoke jam is like any Bowie tune. I will rage the hell out of any of them. And Tom Jones all the way. I’ve got Tom Jones tatted on my arm as he’s the king of our generation. And by our generation I mean my mom’s.
The dude has had more glitter panties thrown at him than anyone in history.
I wanna do an album naked. I’m sure someone’s done a naked album, yeah? I will say this, for My Friend Fish, I was pretty much naked the whole time in Rado’s house. He was in LA and I was all alone and completely naked for it—except when I went out to get more chicken in a can or something.
I brought you a cassette tape from my band, Savants.
Dude! A cassette tape? There’s no cassette tape player. So hard to find. There was this Foxygen Halloween show at the Music Hall in Williamsburg and I was walking around and realized that someone had taped a cassette tape to my back and all it said was Alaska Part 3 of 3. And then Sam said that he recorded some of the original Star Power demos that he did in Olympia on a box full of these tapes called the Alaska Tapes. It stands to reason that someone got a hold of one of 30 of these cassette tapes and duct taped that to my back. I’ve been carrying it around forever. I don’t know what the fuck’s on it. It’s in the van. But just having your cassette, I’m going to want to get a player.
I guess my last question is what’s next for you?
A lot of people have been asking me if this is a one-off record, but I’ve got a whole Diane Coffee career just bubbling up inside of me. I want the next album to be just wonderful and fantastic. And I want the next shows to be fantastically fun and interactive. I really want to bring some showmanship and charisma to the stage. And the guys that I play with are fantastic.
We got some tracks down and we had to translate it into performance. What are the challenges there for you?
It’s strange. I feel like I nit-pick when it comes to getting the live show to sound bigger or better than the record. If it were up to me, I’d have a couple of string players and two other synth players and it would be much too massive but maybe it’ll get there at some point. I’d have an eight-person band and I could get off from guitar and go be more of a front man—just escape and only worry about singing. That would be fun. But I think the biggest challenge for me is just accepting when something sounds awesome and not pushing it more. ’Cause I could really fall into the nit-picking mode and tear the thing to pieces. At some point, no one is going to notice the sort of things that I’ll notice. When it’s live and in a big room, it just translates differently. Honestly these guys have it locked down now.
Where do you rehearse these songs?
Well I’m in Bloomington, Indiana right now. JagJaguwar, Foxygen’s label is based out of there. It’s everything New York isn’t. I hate cities in general. I have a house out there for far cheaper than it was for me to pay for that small room in Manhattan. But it’s kind of a hip oasis with the record label and a lot of cool bands will come through and play shows there. It’s a cool random spot in the middle of the country. I like a lot of the people there. But as far as rehearsing, I’ll write the track and I’ll send it to them. I’ll say, “Learn this.” They’re really great about that. I’ll come back and everyone knows all the parts and little nuances. Before tour, we pretty much only have like one rehearsal for like two hours. Every time we tour, I drive up to New York cause this is where I keep my van. And then we do the rehearsals and then drive to the venues. It is limiting; I would like to do a lot more LA shows. I love playing out there. My mom and dad are out in LA and a lot of friends I grew up with. I think the hardest thing is trying to find when the Foxygen breaks and Diane can start. It’s been nice, because they’ve been writing the next record so there’s been a lot of free time. This next year is going to be non-stop. I like doing both. It seems very possible to do both and do them well. Not lack in one and not do enough in one.
Shaun’s roommate walks in here and asks, “Anything anyone wants from Long Island? Any heroin or bagels? You’d get really constipated if you put those two together. You have to choose.”