Duncan Sheik has won Grammys and Tonys and now with his Whisper House CD, both words collide in a musical menagerie for fans both old and new.
Sheik’s self-titled debut album earned him his first Grammy nomination for Best Male Vocal. With a sound that produces a visual emotional scope, Sheik found himself to Broadway with the Tony award-winning Spring Awakening. Working with lyricist Steven Sater, Shiek crafted an unlikely Broadway hit.
He is back with Whisper House — the music CD — for his music fans.
But, Sheik admits, there is also a theater production close behind that will debut in 2010. Are there more Tonys in Duncan Sheik’s future?
Duncan’s dramatic muse
SheKnows:Knowing your history and after listening to the latest album, I wanted to start by asking you what it is about the theatrical that most inspires you?
Duncan Sheik: (laughs) I realized through the course of the last ten years, I like the way songs can deepen the story, deepen the narrative of a piece of theater or cinema — anything that uses a narrative. I also like the way a larger story arc can shape the song that you’re writing and make theme more powerful because they become part of this bigger thing. I find it’s an exciting way to write. It allows you to write from the perspective of different personas and allows you to have these dramatic events that influence what the songs are. It expands the palette in a very helpful way.
SheKnows: When you were working on Spring Awakeningthat you would eventually win Tonys for, obviously nobody sets out to win awards, but honestly was that indeed the furthest from your mind?
Duncan Sheik: The truth is, Steven (Sater) and I kind of harbored the hope that Spring Awakening would be produced and eventually make its way to Broadway and eventually be nominate for Tonys. But, (laughs) we were quickly disabused of that notion early in the development process. No one else in the team felt that Spring Awakeninghad a chance in hell to reach any of those heights. Everyone felt it was too avant garde. It was too different and it broke a lot of rules. It didn’t adhere to the formula of Broadway musicals. Most of the people involved in the piece in its early days felt that it was something that would go to fringe festivals maybe. There was a long time where we said, ‘maybe it is too left of center to work on Broadway.’ In fact, everyone was wrong.
SheKnows:That’s a good time to be wrong. I’m hearing some artistic changes of yours over the years. In general, at the base, how has the process of songwriting changed for you over the years or is it still the same?
Duncan Sheik: I think the goal is the same. You’re trying to write songs that are unique and perhaps bring people to a mysterious place inside themselves that they’ve never visited — hopefully, to move people in as profound as way as possible. But, I guess like anything else, when you work at something for a long period of time, your skill set expands and hopefully you get better at it and you understand the craft. Your palette becomes broader as well. You end up having more tools at your disposal. That can be good and bad (laughs). Having too many possibilities sometimes can be paralyzing.
Whispering Sheik’s praises
SheKnows: What is something you would like audiences to know about the album Whisper House?
Duncan Sheik:It’s funny, a lot of people who have heard the record is that they’re first impression is that it’s really dark and all the songs are depressing, fatalistic or morbid. In fact, it’s all done with a big wink. Hopefully people are going to see there’s a real sense of humor. Perhaps it needs the context of the play itself for that to come through. But, there are a few different layers about what’s going on in those lyrics and hopefully people will spend a little time with the record to discover what they are.
SheKnows: What are plans, if there are any, for staging of Whisper House?
Duncan Sheik: There are, we’re going premiere the show in the Old Globe in San Diegoin January 10, 2010.
SheKnows:Wow, I am a mile-and-a-half from that very theater.
Duncan Sheik:Well, there you go. I was just there a couple weeks ago and met with the folks of the theater. It’s very exciting.
SheKnows:They have been such a great launching point for so many Broadway hits.
Duncan Sheik:They’re incredible and I can’t wait for people to see it.
Duncan Sheik bonus – Duncan’s podcast
Duncan prepared an inside look into his Whisper House via podcast for SheKnows. And don’t forget to visit duncansheik.com for more information.