Duncan Sheik moves beyond ‘Breathing’ to embrace electronic sound
There was a time in the late ’90s when Duncan Sheik was everywhere.
Or rather, his debut single, “Barely Breathing,” was everywhere. The catchy pop number spent more than a year on the Billboard charts and earned the singer-songwriter a Grammy nomination.
Sheik has not yet duplicated the popular success of that first single, but he’s certainly channeled his creative juices in another successful direction: film and theater. He’s written music for movies – “A Home at the End of the World” among them – and a number of shows, including the Tony-winning “Spring Awakening” and a musical adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel “American Psycho,” which debuted in London in December.
Not that he’s abandoned his career as a singer-songwriter. Sheik, whose last record was a compilation of ’80s covers, is set to release a new album, “Ledger Domain,” later this year. In preparation, he’s heading out on a short tour that comes to the Bing Crosby Theater on Wednesday, where he expects to perform selections from his catalog, a few songs from his theater work and a lot of new material.
Sheik, speaking by phone from his home in New York City, said the new record is 95 percent done and reflects his fondness for electronic dance music.
“It’s like a record with two sides in the sense that part of it is pop music, but pop music very much influenced by the aesthetic of electronic dance music, and the other side of the record is much more organic and much more self-indulgent, frankly. They’re kind of art songs, and they do also have some electronic dance music elements, but it is a very different energy,” he said. “I kind of think of it like one side has a positive charge and the other side has a negative charge, like a battery.”
The idea of an electronic Duncan Sheik album might surprise some people. And Sheik admits he’s not used a lot of overt electronic references in his previous recordings. But it’s a style of music he’s always listened to in a “closeted sort of way,” he said.
“I’ve always had a love of synthesizers and drum machines,” he said, adding that he’s been playing with those machines since he was a teenager. “In the beginning of my career as a solo artist, I was going through a more organic phase, and that phase is over now. Now I’m having a lot of fun. In a weird way it’s like going back to my adolescent pursuits.”
The inspiration comes from the ’80s British synth pop he listened to back then, bands like Depeche Mode, Talk Talk and New Order. It’s the same kind of music that inspired his 2011 release, “Duncan Sheik Covers ’80s,” which featured his take on the Thompson Twins’ “Hold Me Now,” Tears For Fears’ “Shout,” the Smiths’ “William It Was Really Nothing” and the Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You.”
The songs for “Ledger Domain” have been in the works for five years, which is how long it’s been since he released a record of original material (2009’s “Whisper House”).
“It’s certainly the longest I’ve ever waited to put out a new solo album,” he said. “I’m glad because at least in my own mind these songs have withstood the test of time.”
Sheik acknowledges that his success in theater has overshadowed his popular music career. Still, he’s hoping 2014 changes that.
“I never stopped making solo albums and I never really stopped touring, and I don’t plan to. I’m kind of hoping the pendulum swings the other way a little bit and I can spend this next year promoting the solo album and touring the solo album,” he said. “I’m going to concentrate for a minute on my day job.”