Diane Coffee returns to Iowa City

With elements of glam, funk, and pop-rock, Diane Coffee has infused a variety of unique concepts to create an exciting new indie band.

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Diane Coffee returns to Iowa City

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Austin J. Yerington, Arts Reporter

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With the appearance of David Bowie and the energy of Mick Jagger, Diane Coffee brought that little something extra when they took the stage in Iowa City for the first time in three years on Sept. 5.

Shaun Fleming has had an illustrious career, using their voice to bring characters from Kim Possible and The Lion King 1 ½ to life. Fleming’s solo project, Diane Coffee, brought them to Iowa City Sept. 5 to perform at the Mill. 

Fleming has released three albums and an NPR Tiny Desk Concert since adopting the stage name Diane Coffee; a high-energy, colorful, and gender-neutral performer. The name stems from Fleming’s love for Diana Ross and Nathan Pelkey’s song, Mr. Coffee. However; the theatrical presence of this persona originates from Fleming’s collaboration with Indiana artist Melinda Danielson.

“I’m always a little Diane Coffee,” Fleming said. “It’s less an alter ego, but a magnified version of myself.”

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With a sound that loosely defines itself as a cross between psychedelic Motown and digital glam, songs Diane Coffee produces are the embodiment of eclecticism. Growing up a shy kid, Fleming tracks their taste for performance to high school, where improv theater changed their life forever.

“I realized being on stage is great; I loved the vulnerability and the improvisation of a lot of stuff,” Fleming said. “From that I joined everything. I kind of had my hands in everything that had performance in it from then.” 

Diane Coffee’s wide-ranging blend of sounds is partly cited to Fleming’s past band, Foxygen, which rose to fame earlier this decade. 

“Being on the road with Foxygen, those guys are audiophiles and music geeks with the deepest knowledge of all sorts of music,” Fleming said. “So being in that world, I got really inspired.”

Touring with Foxygen not only helped build Fleming’s musical career, but also got them to collaborate with different artists, such as EL-P and Killer Mike, members of the duo Run The Jewels.

“We were always playing the same festivals, and then he hit me up and said he likes the way I do my layered harmonies,” Fleming said.

Related: SASAMI shakes the Mill to its core with dream-pop

Fleming went to the duo’s studio in upstate New York and in two days created the track “Crown” for Run the Jewels 2.

“I didn’t know it was Run The Jewels 2, I just thought it was a project he was doing,” Fleming said. “I can’t even tell you how cool Killer Mike and El-P are as a people, super mellow, focused, and the most grounded.”

The term “glam” occurs a lot when describing Diane Coffee, and it is something that Fleming has embraced since the beginning, although they said they have never been the biggest fan of putting labels on things. Fleming started the project in 2014. 

“I think people toss that word around a lot,” Fleming said. “But I think as soon as you have something theatrical, people are like ‘Whoa, glam,’ but I’m so not about genres.”

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This idea of glam, or “digital glam,” as it is referred to when speaking about Diane Coffee’s new album, Internet Arms, is the theme for the whole record. 

Internet Arms … is the first record where I went into it with a concept behind it,” Fleming said. “I built this box to write in. Everything had to fall into ‘digital glam.’ ”

Fleming drew upon theatrics and digital sounds such as synthesizers to create this album.

“Originally, I wanted to make a pop album [but then] there’s this subplot about mankind being sucked into this digital world by mother computers,” Fleming said. “This is the album I imagined Diane Coffee would create in this new digital landscape.” 

This use of “glam” has helped Fleming not just discover gender more intricately, but also use gender archetypes in song-writing. The use of extravagant costumes and makeup may cause some to compare what Diane Coffee does with drag, but Fleming doesn’t see that connection at all. 

“To me, eyeshadow and eyeliner is not drag, that is just glam,” Fleming said. “I’ve always played with this feminine aspect of me, this was just a venue for exploring that live.” 

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