With a new album and a Broadway musical set to open, singer-song writer Duncan Sheik brings his pop-rock music—and ’80s techno sounds—to the East End for a night to remember.
Tony and Grammy Award-winning singer Duncan Sheik may have grown up in the resort town of Hilton Head, South Carolina, but the Hamptons has remained a special place for him. “I spent a fair amount of time here,” he says. “I went to boarding school at Phillips Academy [in Andover, Massachusetts] and to Brown [University], and my friends and I went to the Hamptons during the summer. We got into a lot of fun shenanigans, and one of my first girlfriends lived in Quogue. I still have friends here, and I visit every summer.”
Sheik first appeared on the pop scene in the mid-1990s, when grunge, Mariah Carey, and the Macarena dominated the airwaves, but his thought-provoking breakthrough single, “Barely Breathing,” stood apart from the mainstream pop songs, and it remained on Billboard’s Hot 100 for a record-setting 55 consecutive weeks. The 45-year-old singer-songwriter, who successfully crossed over to musical theater by composing the music for the Tonywinning coming-of-age musical Spring Awakening in 2006, is returning to the East End to perform at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on June 19. Sheik brings his contemplative music to the venue to promote Legerdemain, his seventh studio record, which is set to be released in September.
“I’ll be playing music from my new record, which is more modernist than people are used to hearing,” says Sheik. “I’m using a lot of technology.” He will also be singing songs from American Psycho and hits from Spring Awakening as well as old favorites.
Nearly 20 years since his debut single was released, he’s pleased it has withstood the test of time. “It was on Girls last season and Glee, so it’s definitely had a life,” he says. “When I hear it, it’s exciting. I’m proud of the song.”
Having a sense of pride wasn’t always the case. The song was “a little bit of a cross to bear” because it pigeonholed him as a pop artist. “It was nice to be well known, but it put me in a Top 40 context. I didn’t feel a lot of kinship with those artists,” he explains. “I was more interested in Björk and Radiohead. It caused a lot of cognitive dissonance. I was frustrated with my career. Once I had other hits, it got easier to let go of the baggage I was carrying with that song. Working in theater changed everything.”
In 2006, a decade after his time in the Hot 100, he finished composing music with lyricist Steven Sater for Spring Awakening, which won eight Tonys, including Best Musical. “It boosted my confidence and inspired me to keep writing for theater,” says Sheik, who continues to be a prolific stage writer. He’s fine-tuning his musical adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel American Psycho, which hits Broadway next February. The musical, about a banker who has a secret life as a serial killer, debuted in London last December to a sold-out, five-week run. He admits writing the music is a joy, despite the subject matter, adding, “It sounds ridiculous, but it’s really fun to write it.”
Sheik composed American Psycho’s entire score using electronic music with the help of synthesizers to evoke the ’80s. The techno sounds also inspired his Legerdemain album. He is set to perform his favorite song on his new album, “I Am No Bicycle Thief,” when he performs in the Hamptons this summer. Duncan Sheik, Friday, June 19 at 8 pm, Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main St., Westhampton Beach, 288-1500
Photography by: PhotograPhy by Claire Kramer maCKinnon