The last time I saw Duncan Sheik is
when he opened for Jewel at Chicago's Metro. I had the opportunity
to speak with him then and form the opinion that he is rather a meek
and shy fellow with poor dietary habits (he reluctantly admitted to
having an Egg McMuffin that day). Kitten did that show with me, and
she liked Duncan too.
This time around I drug Suzie Q. with me to see Duncan open for
Jars of Clay at Chicago's Double Door. During Duncan's sound check I
thought he waved at me. "Naw" I thought to myself "he
couldn't have remembered me." During a pause in the sound check
he jumped off stage, ran over to me, and said with a grin "I'll
have you know I've changed my dietary habits since the last time we
talked." I was impressed that he had remembered me and given up
the McMuffins (I love those little cholesterol bombs). Shortly after
his sound check was over Duncan invited me and Suzie Q. downstairs
to chat. That, and he bummed a cig from Suzie.
This interview with Duncan Sheik left me with a little bit of a
moral dilemma. Normally I really wouldn't like a guy who grew up on
the east coast, went to an Ivy League school, drank red wine that
that didn't come out of a jug, excreta. In my book all these things
would lead me to the conclusion that the person would be a
pretentious snob. Duncan is definitely not a pretentious snob.
Combining that with his great musical talent leads me two draw the
conclusions that I should not be predisposed to judge people I
really don't know well and that this guy deserves to make it big!
Oh well, here's the interview.
S.G.: So, the last time I saw you
it was May (96) and you were touring with Jewel. What's been going
on since then?
D.S.: Well, just the usual kind of
record company hubbub, I guess.
S.G.: More touring, record
company hype, and all that?
D.S.: Yeah, they're, I mean, I can't
complain, they're doing a number on us, its nuts, I'm glad. Happy to
S.G.: Have you had any time off?
D.S.: I really haven't had much time
off at all. That's been kind of the nightmare because I'm exhausted,
can you tell? I'm about to collapse.
S.G.: Well, you look all right to
me. So what kind of media grind have you been going through since
D.S.: Well, basically, it was the
month of May with her and then June, that was kinda press &
publicity month and I played like, Conan O'Brien and did some other
stuff like that and then July and August has been Jars of Clay and
then we're gonna start, actually I'm gonna do some dates with Frente.
S.G.: Oh, they were just in town.
D.S.: Yeah, so I'm gonna do some
dates with them after this tour.
S.G.: Your press kit mentioned
that you grew up with your Gram in New Jersey and got into music
real early in life? Tell me about that…
D.S.: Well, yeah, that's a little
misleading, My mom was like a single mom, pretty much so. My
grandparents were around allot, kinda helping out, Yeah, I was born
in New Jersey and I really grew up in South Carolina.
I got into music when I was little, like 5 pretty much, started
playing guitar around then and I got a 4-track recorder when I was
14. I got my first synthesizer when I was like 12 and I was just
always kinda hibernating by myself recording and I played in some
bands a little tiny bit but I did not really play out much at all.
I was in this band when I was 12 in South Carolina called
"Slightly Off" and that's what they mention in the Bio and
it was like all the bad covers that like, 80's rock-Pat Benatar, Def
S.G.: And that's not your style
obviously, but it was definitely the style of the times.
D.S.: It was the style of the times,
I will give it that, yes. Basically, that kinda put me off Pop music
for a long time so then I got into my kinda Art-Rock Phase, like
pretentious, Prague rock, wank off, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and
Genesis and Yes. Well, I went to Music Camp around that time and I
started getting into this really silly music, you know? Then,
finally, I went away to boarding school, basically like, in 9th and
10th grade, like I was 15 and 16. I started getting back into, I
guess, more Pop stuff, but this time it was like, Tears for Fears,
and The Smiths, and New Order and Depeche Mode and that kinda stuff.
And then I kinda got really into like, David Silvian and like the
late Talk Talk records and stuff like the Blue Nile and stuff like
that, kinda ambient new music.
S.G.: I wanted to share some
e-mail with you. It says "Dear Stu: Just read your Duncan Shiek
review, Bravo, saw Duncan in Detroit with Jars of Clay, however, the
audience was not as polite as they were in Chicago." Did you
have a hard time in Detroit?
D.S.: Actually, Detroit wasn't such
a bad show. True, it has not been as polite. It has something to do
with the fact that we are not a Christian band.
S.G.: Jars of Clay is a Christian
band and you're not, so people were turned off because of that? Oh
well that's just a great Christian attitude, huh?
D.S.: Well, you know, that being
said, Jars are great, they are totally cool guys and they've been
S.G.: Have they been trying to
convert you to Christianity?
D.S.: No, no, they're, no, they know
S.G.: That's cool. They respect
D.S.: Yeah they do, yeah.
S.G.: What can you tell me about
the time you spent with Lisa Lobe at Brown University?
D.S.: I was her lead guitarist .
S.G.: How long were you guys
D.S.: About a year, a little over a
year we played together. It was really fun. We went down to New York
and played some shows after Boston and played obviously some shows
in Providence and so this was fun, you know, the thing is I did not
want to be so much a guitarist, so I got out of it.
Well, its actually a small footnote. She actually recently called
me and we have yet to have a conversation but we traded phone
messages back and forth.
All that time I was in the studio recording my own stuff, but I
was just playing out with her because I was super self-conscious. I
suppose I still am vocally, like very self conscious, so it took me
a long time. It took like three years of training with an opera
singer, like a coach, before I could really get up in front of
people and do it.
S.G.: So you didn't leave Lisa
out of vanity, rather out of a sense of wanting to do your own
D.S.: Well, that's why I, yeah, it
was a sense of doing my own thing. It was quite the opposite of
vanity that kept me from, it was definitely insecurity that kept me
from doing it for so long, you know, I never played out in college
as Duncan Shiek.
S.G.: Care to share your best or
worst industry moments?
D.S.: Well, let's see, (laughs) the
worst industry moment was basically the fact that for two years I
was signed to this record deal and nothing happened. Like, I got
signed to this label. It was really kinda in an inappropriate place
for me to be, so I just spent two years, like in business limbo,
living in LA and not knowing whether I was going to make a record or
not, but supposedly signed to this label. So, finally, when Atlantic
bought me off of that initial record label it was really cool. Like
Val was the President of Atlantic, Ron Shaprio the GM, Tim Sommer my
A&R person, they all came in my living room, and like saw me
play an acoustic show, at my house.
S.G.: This was in LA?
D.S.: This was in LA and that's
pretty much when I got signed. It was cool. It was nice.
S.G.: Now that your signed with a
major label and you have a CD out, are you getting on all the A-list
D.S.: I was on a few of them before.
I had some kind of slightly jet-set friends in College so, yeah,
it's, in fact, I think I'm going to less parties then I did when I
was in College. Maybe that will change, we'll see.
S.G.: Has the exposure now gotten
you a little more recognition with some people that probably would
have snubbed you a couple of years back?
D.S.: Maybe, but, you know, it's
really not at that point yet. I think you have to sell a ton of
records to get that thing that we think of as "Name
Recognition." You know, maybe five thousand people in the world
own my record right now, so its just not.....
S.G.: Being on the road has got
to be long and boring. What do you read or what do you listen to?
D.S.: I actually just read a really
interesting book about the IRA, which was quite good.
S.G.: Remember the name or the
D.S.: Um, his name is Kevin
Tulis(?). He's like an English-Irishman who wrote the book and it
was quite good. I read allot of you know, Irvine Welsh, you know,
Trainspotting guy. I read all of his books, they're really fun. I'm
reading a Julian Barnes book of short stories right now. It's kinda
neat. I like English authors.
S.G.: Do you buy them in soft or
D.S.: Kinda half and half.
S.G.: When you put the headphones
on, what are you listening to?
D.S.: Believe it or not, allot of
like, drum and bass music.
S.G.: For example?
D.S.: Like, Jungle stuff like- Metal
Heads, Goldy, Jerky you know that kinda stuff.
S.G.: That surprises me. I
wouldn't have imagined that.
D.S.: Yeah, for some reason I'm just
really into that.
S.G.: It's your alter ego, huh?
D.S.: Maybe, yeah, it maybe a little
hint as to where things could be going in the future.
S.G.: There's a little insight.
Have you changed your show since May?
D.S.: Well, the show is pretty much
the same thing because we haven't had any time to go into rehearsal
to go in and change it, its just been like constant stuff, the
show's pretty much the same. Hopefully I may possibly go out on the
road with Everything but the Girl, in which case we're gonna try to
change some things up and make it slightly more... groovy, I guess
you could say.
S.G.: So you're gonna funk up
D.S.: Maybe, yeah, a little yeah,
maybe even some drum sequences even.
S.G.: Do dare, do dare.
S.G.: Where are you calling home
these days and when you get a little vacation what are you gonna do?
D.S.: Well, New York City, um, I
have no vacations. I don't. I'm not gonna get a vacation. I do go to
Europe in September and um, in like two and a half weeks I have to
go to England, France Spain, Italy, Denmark and Germany, so, its
just gonna be like craziness until Christmas time I think - I don't
even know if I'm gonna be at home at all. I've been in New York
about three days since I've moved back.
S.G.: So, your apartment is
probably pretty clean, huh?
D.S.: Actually, I'm kinda homeless
right now so, like a homeless person.
S.G.: So, what, is all your stuff
in a storage locker somewhere?
D.S.: Yeah, it's like at my dad's in
New Jersey and some of my friend's house and all over the place
S.G.: Here are some questions the
E-Ave. staff came up for you.
S.G.: Would you call yourself a
cat or a dog person?
D.S.: A dog person.
S.G.: What don't you like about
cats and what do you like about dogs?
D.S.: Well, I think dogs are just a
little bit more human. Cats have their own, like, kinda mystical
independence that I find very cold.
S.G.: All right, the last time I
talked to you, we talked about junk food. Care to comment about ice
D.S.: I just had an espresso milk
shake today, before sound check for what it's worth.
S.G.: What do you remember about
your first car?
D.S.: It was a hand-me-down from my
mom. And it was an Audi 5000 so I thought I was really very
sophisticated, thought I was pretty cool. It was a total piece of
junk though and it broke down all the time so....
S.G.: So you probably didn't look
that cool with your hood up on the side of the road?
D.S.: No, No. And my roommates all
trashed the car, you know whatever, one of those things.
S.G.: Driving around cruising for
D.S.: Something like that, going
down to New York city and just driving way too fast and slammed it
into the ground.
S.G.: Would you say your a pub,
club or a bar person?
D.S.: Have been definitely more of a
club person in the past. I mean when I was going to Brown, we would
go down to New York every weekend pretty much and go out to the
clubs. Like in New York we would go to Morrissey when that was big,
you know Nell's way back in the 80's, MK and all those kinds of
S.G.: I'm not familiar with that.
What kind of music is that?
D.S.: Pretty much, dance music and
like, you know, we were all like little kids just trying to chase
after models and stuff, we were just bad. Not very successfully, I
S.G.: OK, what's your drink of
D.S.: I drink red wine, too much red
S.G.: Any particular type?
D.S.: I'm really into a couple of
things, because we made the record in France, I got really into
Sonser instead of French Wine and then like Coutenvy is really good,
whatever. Good cabernet is fine with me.
S.G.: OK… Obviously you smoke,
cuz you bummed a cigarette off of my friend Sue…
D.S.: But not too much, I smoke
really only a couple of cigarettes a day, if that, its rare. After a
show, I tend to need a cigarette but I try to limit it to that.
S.G.: Darts, Fooseball, Pool or
D.S.: A bit of pool, a bit of
fooseball, that's about it. Not too much, cuz when we were recording
they had a fooseball table and a pool table so we spent allot of
S.G.: This may be a hard question
to answer because you're self proclaimed homelessness, but what is
your bathroom like?
D.S.: Yeah, it's yeah, non-existent.
S.G.: Seen any good movies
D.S.: Um, one of the last movies I
saw was Lone Star, the John Sayles movie. He's actually a really
incredible film maker. I really like his stuff. And I've been trying
to go see Trainspotting for the past three weeks and I have yet to
have a free night to go. Trainspotting? It should be in Chicago
S.G.: Probably Music Box or Fine
D.S.: Yeah, (pause) I saw Fargo,
that was pretty funny. It was a good movie. What else did I see? I
did see Independence Day. Whatever. I saw it on a big screen in LA
so it was kinda exciting.
S.G.: Finish the following
sentence: I never leave home without....?
S.G.: Chanting? So that comes
from your Buddhist faith?
D.S.: Pretty much, yeah.
S.G.: Is it OK to lie to someone
you love in order to avoid hurting her feelings?
D.S.: (Small laugh) I plead the
fifth on that one, because its gonna get me in trouble. Ha-Ha.
S.G.: I can't let you off with
that. Do you want to share a story Did you get into some trouble or
D.S.: I... I'll tell you what, ...
OK.. I'll kinda turn it around. There are times when I'm happier to
be lied to. Yeah, certain things I just don't want to know.
S.G.: Well, you're in this
industry now, I'm sure you've come across some lawyers in your time,
I don't know if your positive or negative on that but, do you know
any good lawyer jokes?
D.S.: (big laugh) Well, I did, wait
a minute, it's not going to come to me. My lawyer is really great
actually. My lawyer is the guy who has stuck with me for like four
years and never gotten paid yet, so I have to give him allot, so I
won't say anything bad about lawyers.
S.G.: No jokes about lawyers,
D.S.: I have a good Michael Jackson
S.G.: OK share it with us.
D.S.: OK. Why is Michael Jackson the
epitome of the American Dream?
S.G.: Why is Michael Jackson the
epitome of the American Dream?
D.S.: Because he was born a poor
black boy in Gary and he ended up a rich white woman in Santa
(big laughs from everyone)
S.G.: Who and what was the best
advice that you got?
D.S.: Hmm, well, you know, kinda
like the musical people in my life have, it depends on what level
you're talking about. Are you talking about music or life in
S.G.: Maybe just life in general,
what stands out in your mind, every now and then when your just
sitting alone not worried about music and reflecting on something?
D.S.: Yeah, I think probably the
best advice I've ever gotten is that, you know, nothing in this life
is set in stone, everything and anything is possible. We live in
this world of totentiality so, whatever you determine to do within
yourself is totally within the realm of possibility so, you have to
just always, whatever. I don't want to say believe in yourself
because it's such a cliché but you have to always, just like you
know, understand that anything can happen, anything can be your
reality. Whatever you choose it to be and you have total control
S.G.: What helped you draw that
D.S.: That's really kinda Buddhist
S.G.: (pause).....I read the book
of Buddha so, It's really kinda like reading the King James bible to
me. I really need the Cliff Notes for both.
D.S.: Well it depends on what you
read. I mean the Buddhist writings are like so, there's so many of
them and their so dense and it's so vast and it's also so
S.G.: That's what I need help on.
D.S.: I mean, if one is to read the
Lotus Sutra, let's say, just like the Buddhist, kinda highest
teaching, it just sounds like he's telling this wild fable, in a
sense but really it all has these kinds of metaphorical and symbolic
meanings that you need to kinda pull out those interpretations.
S.G.: Who helped you come to a
better understanding of your religion?
D.S.: Allot of people. My mother's
cousin is the person who really introduced me to Buddhism and so
she's always been, has helped me understand what I'm doing within
that realm and there's a total network of people who are really
great, where we all have discussions and talk about it and try to
understand it better so, its a whole group of people really.
S.G.: Were there any books ...
that were helpful?
D.S.: Well, the books that have been
helpful really are the writings of this guy, Disoqui Kata(?) who is
kinda like the Head of the Soko Doctrine nationally. He's really
kinda, I'm trying to think of a good, western equivalent to what he
does. He's kinda like a Buddhist statesman something like the Dalai
Lama, in a way, but he's from Japan. He doesn't wear orange, he's
like a regular guy who wears a suit who goes around, talks to
professors and politicians and different people and tries to help
them to understand what's going on in the Buddhist community and
stuff like that. So, his writings have been very influential for me
S.G.: One last religious question
here, and I'm not sure how you're gonna answer this one. God?…
Male? Female? Don't know? Don't care? Who?
D.S.: I mean we could argue
semantics all day about what God is. From the standpoint of
Buddhism, there isn't a God in the sense of a being, per say, that
controls things. There is a law that operates within all phenomenon
in the universe, so I'd say that God is kinda like the law of the
universe, the ultimate ground of being that causes all phenomenon to
exist. It's like a rhythm, rather than a person.
S.G.: What time do you go on
D.S.: About nine.
S.G.: I'll let you go do your
pre-show thing. Thank you for your time.
D.S.: Yeah, thank you so much. I'm
sorry I didn't mean to talk about Buddhism so much, that wasn't my
intention its just that's what all the questions were.
S.G.: That's cool, thank you for
coming, I appreciate it. One more thing-the guys in your band, I
want their names for the article.
D.S.: OK, yeah it's Milo DeCruz on
bass, Michael Chaves playing guitar, Chaves with an "S"
and Toby Ralph on drums.
S.G.: And who put these guys
together for you?
D.S.: Milo and I played together for
awhile and Michael is an old friend from LA who just joined up with
us and Toby is a drummer that we just met through friends of friends
in New York.
S.G.: Great, thanks a lot......