This is one of Duncan Sheik's first major interviews, and one of the
be published o nthe Internet, very shortly afte the initial brahouha of
Barely Breathing- a charming and enjoyable cenversational-style piece. At
this stage an exhausted Duncan- who had already spent years touring to attain
success and now faced yet another year of it- was still shy and
introspective, as opposed to media-savvy and articulate. Kudos to Stu, for
drawing some interestin answers out of a very complez young man, who was
still finding his feet with 'overnight' fame. These days of course, nearly
four years later, it's a very different story...
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 dragged Suzie Q. with me to see Duncan open for Jars
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 of the stage, ran over to me, and said
with a grin "Ill have you know I've changed my dietary habits since the last
time we talked." I was impressed that he remembered me and given up the
McMuffins (I love those little cholesteral bombs). Shortly after his cound
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 didn't come out of a
jug, etc. In my book all these things would lead me to the conclusion that
the person would be a pretentious snob. Duncan is definately not a
pretentious snob. Combining that with his great musical talent leads me to
draw two 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
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,
it's nuts, I'm glad. Happy to have them...
S.G.: Have you had any time off?
D.S.: I really haven't had much time off at all. That's been kind
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
been going through since Jewel?
D.S.: Well, basically, it was the month of May with her and them
was kinda press and 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 afte this tour.
S.G.: Your press kit mentioned that you gre 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 a lot, kinda helping out. Yeah, I
was born on 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 bit but I did not really
play out much at all.
I was in this bamd when I was 12 in South Carolina called "Slightly
that's what they mention in the Bio and it was like all the bad cover that
like, 80's rock- Pat Benetar, Def Leppard...
S.G.: And that's not your style obviously, but it was definately
of the times.
D.S.: It was the style of the times, I will give it that, yes.
that kinda out 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 bcak 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 Sylvian
and like the late TalkTalk 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:
your Duncan Sheik 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
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
off because of that? Oh well, that just a great Christian attitude, huh?
D.S.: Well, you know, that being said, Jars are great, they are
guys and they've been really supportive.
S.G.: Have they been trying to convert you to Christianity?
D.S.: No, no, they're, no, they know better.
S.G.: That's cool. They respect you.
D.S.: Yeah they do, yeah.
S.G.: What can you tell me about the time you spent with Lisa
Loeb at Brown
D.S.: I was her lead guitarist.
S.G.: How long were you guys together?
D.S.: About a year, a little over a year we played together. It
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, it's actually a small footnote. She actually recently called me
have yet to have a conversation but we trade messages back and forth.
All that time I was in the studio recording my own stuff, but I was
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 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
wanting to do your own thing?
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 definately insecurity
that kept me from doing it for so long, you know, I never played out in
college as Duncan Sheik.
S.G.: Care to share your best or worst industry moments?
D.S.: Well, let's see, (laughs) the worst industry moment was
fact that for two years I wassigned 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
Atalntic, Ron Shapiro the GM, Tom Sommer my A&R person, they all came in my
livingroom, 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 you're signed with a major label and you have a
CD out, are
you getting on all the A-list parties?
D.S.: I was on a few of them before. I had some kinda slightly
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 recoginition
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 we think of as "Name
Recognition." You know, maybe five thousand people in the world own my record
right now, so it's 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
was quite good.
S.G.: Remember the name of the author?
D.S.: Um, his name is Kevin Tulis(?). He is like an English-Irishman
wrote the book and it was quite good. I read a lot of you know, Irvine Welsh,
you know, Trainspotting guy. I read all of his books, they're really fun. I
am reading 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 hard back?
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, a lot of like, drum and bass music.
S.G.: For example?
D.S.: Like Jungle stuff like- Metal Heads, Goldy, Jerky you know
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 may be a little hint of where things could
be going in
S.G.: There's a little insight. Have you changed your show sonce May?
D.S.: Well, the show is pretty much the same thing because we
any time to go into the rehearsal to go in and change it, it's 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 moore... groovy, I guess you
S.G.: So you're gonna funk up your music?
D.S.: Maybe, yeah, a little yeah, maybe even some drum sequences even.
S.G.: Where are you calling home these days and when you get a
are you gonna do?
D.S.: Well, New York City, um, I have no vacations. I don't. I'm
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,
it's 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 apratment is probably pretty clean, huh?
D.S.: Actually, I'm kinda homeless right now, 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 Jersy and some frind's
all over the place right now.
S.G.: Here are some questions the E-Ave. staff came up with 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 nore human. Cats have
like, kinda mystical independence that I find very cold.
S.G.: All right, the last time I talked to you, we talked about
Care to comment about ice cream?
D.S.: I just had an expresso milk shake today, befoe sound check
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
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
D.S.: No, no. And my roomamates all trashed the car, you know
of those things.
S.G.: Driving around cruising for chicks?
D.S.: Something like that, going down to New York city and just
too fast and slammed it into the ground.
S.G.: Would you say you're a pub, club, or a bar person?
D.S.: Have been definately 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
kids just trying to chase after models and stuff, we were just bad. Not very
successful, I might add.
S.G.: OK, what's your drink of choice?
D.S.: I drink red wine, too much red wine.
S.G.: Any particular type?
D.S.: I'm really into a couple of things, because we made the
France, I got really into Sonser instead of French Wine and then like
Countenvy is really good, whatever. Good cabernet is fine with me.
S.G.: OK... Obviously you smoke, cuz you bummed o cigarette off
of my friend
D.S.: But not too much, I smoke really only a couple of cigarettes
a day, if
that, it's rare. After a show, I tend to need a cigarette but I try to limit
it to that.
S.G.: Darts, Fooseball, Pool, or Shuffleboard?
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 a lot of time there.
S.G.: This may be a hard question to answer because you're self
homelessness, but what does your bathroom look like?
D.S.: Yeah, it's yeah, non-existant.
S.G.: Seen any good movies lately?
D.S.: Um, one of the last movies I saw was Lone Star, the John
He's actually a really incredible film maker. I really like his stuff. And
I've been trying to go see Trainspotting for the apst 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 Arts.
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 wothout...?
S.G.: Chanting? So that comes from your Buddhist faith?
D.S.: Pretty much, yeah.
S.G.: Is it okay to lie to someone you love in order to avoid
D.S.: (Small laugh) I plead the fifth on that one, because it's
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 what?
D.S.: I...I'll tell you what, OK.. I'll kinda turn it around.
times when I am appier to be lied to. Yeah, certain things I just don't want
S.G.: Well, you're in the indusrty now, I'm sure you've come across
lawyers in your time, I don't know if you're 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 paind yet, so I have to give him a
lot, so I won't say anything bad about lawyers.
S.G.: No jokes about lawyers, huh?
D.S.: I have a good Michael Jackson joke though.
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 American Dream?
D.S.: Because hewas born a poor black boy in Gary and ended up
a rich white
woman in Santa Barbara.
(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 general?
S.G.: Maybe just life in general, what stands out in your mind,
and then when you're 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 possibilityso, you have to
just always, whatever. I don't want to say believe in yourself because it is
such a cliche' 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 over that.
S.G.: What helped you draw that conclusion?
D.S.: That's really a kinda Buddhist philosophy.
S.G.: (pause)... I read the book of Buddha so, it's really kinda
reading the King James bible to me. I really need the Cliff Notes.
D.S.: Well it depends on what you read. I mean Buddhist writings
so, there's so many of them and they're so dense and it's so vast and it's
also so metaphorical.
S.G.: Thats what I need help on.
D.S.: I mean. if one is to read the Lotus Sutra, let's say, just
Buuddhist, kinda highest teaching, it just sounds like he's telling this wild
fable, in a sense but really it has these kinds of metaphorical and symbolic
meanings that you needd to kinda pull out of those interpretations.
S.G.: Who helped you to come to a better understanding of your religion?
D.S.: A lot of people. My mother's cousin is the person who really
introduced me to Buddhism and so ahe'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, it's 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
guy, Daisaku Ikeda 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 prfessors
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
writing have been very influential to me personally.
S.G.: One last religious question here, and I'm not sure how you're
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.
standpoint of Buddhism, there isn't a God i nthe 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 phenemenon to exist. Itls like a
rhythm, rather than a person.
S.G.: What time do you go on tonight?
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
so much, that wasn't my intention it's just that's what all the questions
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
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
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...