Exclusive: Diane Coffee Video Premiere
The former “Kim Possible” star explores dystopian pop on “Like A Child Does.”
32-year-old Shaun Fleming’s career, spanning niche Disney stardom and, more recently, indie acclaim as both a solo artist and a drummer for Foxygen, is bookended by internet culture. Based in Bloomington, Indiana, the former child actor, who goes by the stage name Diane Coffee, embarked on his forthcoming album Internet Arms after coming across the “deepfakes” phenomenon online, in which real people’s faces are spliced with make-believe, often damning scenarios. While Fleming’s current artistic community in Bloomington bares little resemblance to his Hollywood roots, the album’s AI-driven inspo was oddly portended by Fleming’s early acting credits, which ranged from Kim Possible, as tween-hacker twins Tim and Jim, to a never-aired show called Cyberkidz.
As Diane Coffee, Fleming balances a ’70s-inspired sound with an internet-bred, gender-nudging aesthetic. And while the new track, “Like a Child Does,” may hark back to Fleming’s inner “cyberkid,” the sound is as raw and authentic as ever.
V Hey, Shaun. How’s the album coming? Is it done?
Shaun Fleming Yeah, it’s been done for a while. And man, it’s going to be great to finally get all of these tunes out. It’s been hard sitting on and not being able to talk about them. It was probably about six months of writing and recording and then you have to wait another six months to for them to press the vinyl.
V Pressing vinyl? What do you mean by that?
SF There’s only so many pressing plants these days so it takes time to get the records pressed
V Cool. Is that particular to your process? Having a vinyl component?
SF In the last couple years vinyl has actually out-sold CDs. Vinyl is definitely having a comeback. It’s something that I have always done and artists [in my circle] often do. A lot of artists immediately throw their stuff online, which I think is [also] amazing and cool, but I personally really like a tangible object. I like playing records and being able to flip over the actual vinyl, side A and side B.
V Can you talk a bit about the concept and how you came upon it?
SF There are definitely multiple songs that are tied, thematically and musically, to my questioning of modern society’s tangled relationship with modern tech. I wanted to create more of a current pop record, as the last couple of records that I have done have been more based in the 70s era of music. And I don’t really have any knowledge of current pop production or anything like that, so this is like what happens when I try to create a super current pop record [laughs]. So that is the sound. But yeah, it was inspired by… Have you heard of like those “deepfakes”?
V Nope I don’t think so!
SF If you want to just go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, just Google deep fakes. It’s essentially a technique of human image synthesis based on artificial intelligence. You take someone’s videos and pictures that they have posted online, and you dump it into this algorithm and it pretty much makes these really high-end face swaps. It can [create] audio to sound just like the person. So you are seeing it spring up in a lot of sketchy, dark web [corners]. They can have political ramifications, too, if someone wants to create “fake news.” I thought that was fascinating and terrifying, so there is sort of a sub-plot to this record where the world has been taken over by AI. Classic terminator vibes, It’s like what a Diane Coffee record would sound like if I was creating it in a digital landscape.
V Going back to your roots, how did you get into acting?
SF I grew up in Agoura Hills, outside L.A., and my parents weren’t in the film industry but my dad randomly got tied into co-producing on this kids show, which, in hindsight, is actually right in line with this new album. It was called Cyberkidz—with a Z. These kids win this video game and they get sent this virtual reality called Cyber Land. I tell my dad the reason it didn’t take off is because the world wasn’t ready to accept technology [laughs].
V Are you generally pro or skeptical of technology? Or just of modernity in general given your previous ’70s influences?
SF I really want people to understand this is not an anti-tech, anti-social media album, this is still sci-fi; this is still entertainment. I think that technology is an amazing thing and by no means am I trying to say otherwise, I just think it is something we should be talking about and I don’t know if we are talking about it enough. I think feeling nostalgic for certain eras, or the way analog tape, is great, but I am also a big fan of current modern pop digital sounds. I love Robyn and Perfume Genius, Selena Gomez… “Bad Liar” was fire, man. We wanted the album to feel like our interpretation of the digital landscape that the world has been sucked into: a city-scape that is more like a motherboard. I am hoping that comes through with this record.