A GoPride Interview

Duncan Sheik

Singer Duncan Sheik is breathing new life into his 80’s hits with covers tour

Thu. November 15, 2012  by Jerry Nunn

Duncan Sheik
Singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik was "Barely Breathing" back in 1996 when his debut single was climbing the pop charts. The relatively unknown star was nominated for a Grammy Award for the track.

The New York musician then took over Broadway with the musical Spring Awakening winning Tony Awards for Best Orchestration, Best Original Score, and Best Musical.

Sheik continued as a friend to the LGBT community, even appearing at Chicago's Market Days and contributing to the Red Hot + Rhapsody project to promote AIDS awareness.

Now Sheik is breathing new life into his 80's work with a new remix album and a covers tour that is bringing him to Chicago this weekend.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Duncan. So you are heading out on tour now?

DS: (Duncan Sheik) Yes, pretty short and sweet, like 20 different cities.

JN: Do you like being out on the road?

DS: It depends on how the shows are going (laughs). When they are going good, I love it! You can never really predict what is going to happen. The official beginning of the tour is in Denver tomorrow. We are just getting rolling here. I just put out this remix record of the Covers 80's album. We are playing with some electronic music this time around.

JN: I noticed. I was wondering how it would be doing some of these acoustically.

DS: My first version of that record was completely acoustic then we gave it to some remixers and had them re-imagine them back in their electronic clothing but the 2012 version of that. It is two degrees of separation from the original song, therefore a little bit of an art project. It was a lot of fun doing it.

JN: We are about the same age so both of us were influenced by the ‘80s. Do you have a favorite ‘80s movie that you like?

DS: When I first saw The Breakfast Club I thought it was one of the most brilliant thing that had ever been made. There some that are less well known but fantastic movies like Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. David Bowie was in it. There is one called Another Country with British spies in it. I do like films that are burned in my consciousness from that time.

JN: Have you heard back from any of the artists that you have covered?

DS: I am pretty good friends with Howard Jones. He really liked the version I did of his song. Richard Butler from Psychedelic Furs sent me a nice e-mail. I had a little exchange with Curt Smith from Tears for Fears but not sure if he has heard it yet or liked it.

JN: I interviewed Howard and Richard not too long ago and they are still out touring. The ‘80s groups are still around.

DS: Yes they are, clearly.

JN: This is called the Sunset Sessions Tour, correct?

DS: Yes because there are a few other artists on the bill. A radio personality puts this all together. It is all up and coming bands and artists can play with more established people and get their music out there to get exposed to an audience they might not have.

JN: You have been putting stuff out on your own label?

DS: Kind of because it is distributed through Red who is Sony's independent distribution arm but I guess you could say it is my own record label with a grand total of three records on it. you have to start somewhere!

JN: I have never asked you before where is your name from?

DS: My last name is a German name that was Ellis Islanded so to speak. My first name is Scottish because my maternal grandmother is from Scotland. I'm a northern European mutt!

JN: I heard you were raised musically.

DS: It was my grandmother. She was a great pianist and very supportive of my early artistic endeavors. My whole family has been great about it. My sister is an incredible singer. She has been in Hair on Broadway for the past three years. She is a great musical theater actress. We have got some good genes or something!

JN: Speaking of Broadway, you are working on Hans Christian Andersen's The Nightingale.

DS: We did our first staging of that in La Jolla this past summer. It was really beautiful and we had a great cast. We are hoping to do it at another theater this coming year then bring it to New York.

JN: Is it for younger audiences?

DS: Unlike Spring Awakening you could bring your nine-year-old kid to the show and it wouldn't be too racy for them. But I do think it is a fairly sophisticated thing too. It's not a kid's show but it is meant to appeal to all of the generations.

JN: On the other hand you have American Psycho the musical that is definitely not for kids.

DS: Which is probably not fun for the whole family unless your family is really messed up or really cool. It is the other end of the spectrum. It has been a fun project to work on. We will be doing that one in London. I think it will open in November of 2013. I'm excited to get back into that.

JN: Ricky Martin tweeted that he listened to "Barely Breathing" the other day.

DS: Oh he did? I didn't know that.

JN: On Twitter you seem like not a big fan of these musical reality shows like The Voice.

DS: There is a problem when the culture at large is experiencing music in that way. The might be very talented performers but it is not performed by the people who wrote it. What I was trying to say is that all of the music that I care about personally is music that is written by the artists themselves with a few exceptions.

JN: You had to work your way there.

DS: I think music in the culture was more interesting 20 years ago. In the ‘70s and ‘80s there was a more varied musical landscape. Now there is a weird bifurcation of superstar acts and nine billion indie bands. I'm not sure that is the healthiest place but it is what it is. I'm just making an observation.

JN: I have interviewed indie bands many times and never understand why they aren't more famous.

DS: I totally agree. I toured with Aimee Mann in 2003. She deserves to be playing to as many people as Rihanna but anyway here we are.

JN: Well, I hope it's not too cold for you when you are in Chicago this weekend.

DS: We will bundle up.

JN: Wear some ‘80s clothes in layers!

Sheik sings at Space, 1245 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, on Nov. 17. Visit duncansheik.com to keep up with more of the tour and future endeavors.

Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.