From ‘Breathing’ to ‘Awakening,’ Sheik steps back to move forward
It’s hard to know where things begin and end for Duncan Sheik. Best known for his 1996 sensitive-man mellow pop hit “Barely Breathing” and score for the controversial, critically adored Broadway musical Spring Awakening, Sheik is currently touring in support of his most recent album, Covers: Eighties Remixed.
You might call this a reconstruction project. With his 2011 album Covers Eighties, Sheik took some of his favorite pop tunes from the 1980s and deconstructed them, stripping them of their many electronic elements and recording his own acoustic versions.
For Remixed, Sheik enlisted help from Samantha Ronson, El-P, Gabriel & Dresden, Chico Mann and Terry Urban (among others), rebuilding these tracks and re-injecting them with their original electronic lifeblood.
“It’s probably too meta,” he says lightheartedly about what has become a multi-CD, multi-year endeavor. “It’s turned out to be kind of a complicated art-school project.”
Possibly, but one borne of a personal quest. “Basically [Covers] is mostly artists who were hugely influential when I was first starting to write and record — songs that at some juncture had an immense personal impact on me,” says the 43-year-old Sheik, who grew up on ‘80s pop. The decade also informs Sheik’s score for a Broadway adaptation of gay author Bret Easton Ellis’ intense, violent satire of the selfishness of yuppie culture, American Psycho.
“When I first decided to work on it, I re-read the book and actually thought, ‘This is a terrible idea,’” he laughs. “There are [graphically violent] passages you can barely read, but I realized how prescient it was. Patrick Bateman really is a product of late capitalism. The book is rich.”
It’s also full of references to ’80s music — the same type he plays with in Covers and Remixed. Inspired by the electro-dance aesthetic, Sheik primarily used synthesizers and drum machines to create the songs for the musical, which goes into full production in the next few months.
Sheik has pursued a decidedly ouroborian cycle in recent years, leading one to wonder what he has on tap next: More stage work, like a musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale, is in the works, and then he plans to start work on a new album.
“It’s not going to be related to any theater. It will be a new record of unrelated songs,” he says. Right back where he started. Well, sort of.
“Electronic dance music has always been an integral part of my life,” he says. “I like the idea of applying those techniques and approaches to straightforward, more pop songs using ‘real’ instruments.”
— Jonanna Widner
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 30, 2012.