On "Everybody's a Good Dog," Shaun Fleming's self-curated, mp3-based history on rock 'n roll is abundantly obvious.
There’s no Diane Coffee in Diane Coffee. Diane Coffee is Shaun Fleming, but it’s not his alter ego. It wasn’t a band for its debut album, 2013’s My Friend Fish. For that album, Fleming played everything, but he brought in friends and other musicians to join him for the recently released Everybody’s a Good Dog, but they’re not necessarily part of Diane Coffee. The members of the touring band that will play The Howlin’ Wolf Wednesday opening for Of Montreal are currently part of Diane Coffee, but that doesn’t mean they will be in the future.
Diane Coffee is Fleming’s musical project, and the name is a salute to a singer/songwriter he admired—Nathan Pelkey. Pelkey’s song Mr. Coffee” gave him half of his project’s name, and “Diane” was deliberate choice. In 2013, he told Paste’s Stephanie Fang:
I wanted Mr. Coffee to have a female name for a couple reasons: I had been thinking a lot about the masculine and feminine sides of all the socio-archetypes and I think at around 17, when I started writing music and started performing, I think one of the big aspects of the performance the showmanship is inherently [that it brings out] my more feminine side. I think I really dug deep into that for all the songwriting and I kind of have been exploring that with Diane Coffee and kind of allowing myself to unite both masculine and feminine to create the whole.
None of the gender play is obvious on Everybody’s a Good Dog. The album does share a musical theatricality with Foxygen, with whom Fleming played drums when the band was last in New Orleans September 2014. You can hear a shared affection for the hip-shaking rock ’n’ roll of The Rolling Stones, and both bands make their influences abundantly clear. On Everybody’s a Good Dog, Fleming’s affection for The Beach Boys’ psychedelic period, Motown, British glam rock, and ’70s pop is transparent. Rather than internalize those influences, Fleming appropriates all of them, much the way Foxygen did on last year’s … And Star Power. Everybody’s a Good Dog isn’t afflicted with ADD the same way … And Star Power was, though. Whereas Foxygen could pivot into two or three different genres in the space of a four-minute song, Fleming commits to a set of sounds and makes them the through-line for the song instead of a series of destinations.
“I didn’t go into this album looking to make a blue-eyed soul record or a psychedelic pop record,” Fleming says. “Those sounds show up in my music because that’s what I was raised on. Those are the melodies and styles that come to mind when I’m producing or writing.”
Based on his musical reference points, you’d think the 28 year-old Fleming is twice his age. High school? Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin time, but during his middle school and high school years he also got into folk and particularly Donovan. He also heard Motown and country during this time because “I was listening to music my dad had lying around,” he says. “The first vinyl LP I ever had was The Mothers of Invention’s Just Another Band from L.A., and that was an insane first record to throw on. I’d never heard anything like that.”
Fleming doesn’t think his high school romance with Pink Floyd and Zeppelin is a coincidence. “Zeppelin and Floyd are perfect for kids in high school,” he says. “It fits really well with them and all the angsty kids, and I think it will forever.”
On the other hand, Fleming came of age during the height of Napster, so the pastiche nature of his sound has logical roots. “We were all of a sudden subjected to an infinite amount of music at a click of a button.” He availed himself of that possibility and heard a broad swath of music that crossed eras and genres, all at the same time. He didn’t hear T. Rex as part of a moment that also included David Bowie, Slade, Gary Glitter, The Sweet, and perhaps The New York Dolls in America. He heard T. Rex next to Philly soul and California country rock and New York punk, and whatever else he could find to download that week. Because of that, his musical interests were broad then and they remain broad now.
Fleming lived with Foxygen’s Sam France and Jonathan Rado in Los Angeles where he grew up, and he became their drummer at their request, not because it was an instrument he was particularly proficient on. Diane Coffee’s albums are first and foremost expressions of where he has lived since Fleming left L.A. He cut My Friend Fish in New York playing all the parts, which mirrored the way he felt isolated. He moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where he was in a better, more social headspace when he cut Everybody’s a Good Dog. Fleming tried to make a “family record,” with members of the touring band as well as friends. For Fleming, the process reflects a happier, more social Fleming.
“I did the solo thing and that was really fun,” he says, and he recorded Everybody’s a Good Dog first with Fleming playing all the parts before he brought in the others to play.
“There’s something really special about working with others. When I got other players on there, they brought their own styles and did lots of things that I couldn’t do.”
When Diane Coffee plays Wednesday, Fleming’s mobility will be limited, but not as much as you might think. Recently while running across the stage, he accidentally kicked a cable box onstage with enough force that he fractured a bone in the top of his foot. For a while, he walked with a cane to help his recovery, but he doesn’t use it onstage, nor does he sit. He tries not to run onstage right now, but enthusiasm gets the better of Fleming at times. “I was jumping off of amps at the beginning of the tour,” he says. “I’m not doing that anymore.”