Up until June of this year, Shaun Fleming was probably best known as the drummer in Foxygen, providing the backbeat for Jonathan Rado and Sam France to act out their often fractious, brittle relationship in public.
The band’s tension-filled shows, whether for show and publicity or otherwise, probably arrived at their natural conclusion during SXSW where France had something of an on-stage meltdown, confronted a fan and the band subsequently cancelled a series of tours. Then came a Tumblr post from France’s partner and Foxygen touring member Elizabeth Fey in which she called out Rado for allegedly forcing France to remove a solo album from the internet before releasing one of his own, and went on to accuse Rado and Fleming of forming an alliance to oust her from the band, and further suggesting Fleming should take a look at his own behaviour.
Now, 26-year-old Fleming’s not the first musician to have spent his time on dick moves (ALLEGEDLY!), but he’s also managed – during Foxygen’s downtime – to drag himself away from such behaviour to record and release an album under the Twin Peaks-referencing name of Diane Coffee. His debut album, My Friend Fish is the product of a flu-ridden two-week apartment confinement with just guitar and drums as company and although it mines the same period of the 60s as Foxygen’s drab and disappointing debut (not to mention Rado’s own misfiring solo effort) there’s something a lot more fun and energetic to the songs Fleming channelled during his illness. This is a mix of garage rock, organ-drenched psych rock and bluesy folk enhanced by the drummer’s pleasingly throaty holler, and probably puts paid to any worry that anyone would really miss his day band if we were never to hear from them again.
Fleming has described My Friend Fish and its recording as “a mess” but as soon as the opener ‘Hymn’ comes in with its heady Hammond hum and tambourine splashes, like Spiritualized on happy drugs, you’d be hard pressed to find any mess. There’s an early reference to his illness, and perhaps a soup-as-a-metaphor-for-caring moment as Fleming sings “I think that you’re cool / yeah I’d catch a cold with you / It just seems like the right thing to do / Lord knows I can’t drink all this soup by myself…”, something that’s repeated again later in the twinkling closer “Green” as he sings “I think I finally understand / What it takes to be your man / I’ll bring you soup and I’ll hold your hand / I will never leave you baby…” over a backing that could pass for a Holland-Dozier-Holland ballad.
“Never Lonely” stomps along on bass and tin-pot drumming and that swirling organ again, and “Eat Your Love” takes Donovan-esque psychedelia and adds a bit of funk, saucy yelps and lo-fi production, but it’s not all garage rock and bluesy psych, though, as the CSN styling of “Tale Of a Dead Dog” prove; all countrified melodies and watery harmonies that remind this writer of Kingsbury Manx it’s one of the best moments and provides a lighter contrast against the slightly ridiculous “Monster Mash” moments like “WWWoman” and “New Years”. The lush “When It’s Know” is another tender moment when Fleming slows it down with gently unwinding guitar chords, and an impassioned vocal backed with pitch-bent choir harmonies to show that underneath the showman and front (front that could only come from someone who was a child actor and provided voices for the Kim Possible series) there’s maybe a tender heart beating somewhere.
Whether My Friend Fish and the Diane Coffee moniker is a long-term project might hinge on the future of Foxygen; if Fleming’s got any sense he should forget that lot and focus on his solo work. This record is a lot of fun and show great song writing promise…and why waste time sitting behind a drumkit while tedious drama unfolds downstage?