With People is both new territory for Diane Coffee, as well as a full-circle return to their roots. Shaun Fleming’s fourth album is more intimate and personal than they’ve ever been previously, a collection of diaristic ruminations and contemplative observations of the people in their life that are nonetheless universal in their impact. Combining the breezy wistfulness of classic folk-rock with orchestral pop’s broad sweep, With People marks an exciting new era for Diane Coffee, chronicling an artist’s revisitation of their upbringing as they look at the horizon for what’s ahead.
Fleming’s follow-up to 2019’s exquisite Internet Arms came about in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, as their songwriting took an unexpectedly personal turn—zooming in on not only their own emotions and experiences, but the people that have impacted their life. “It was a way for me to see all these people I couldn’t see, and to be with them in the form of song,” Fleming explains—and the transportive nature of this creative process eventually encompassed their own upbringing in the suburbs of Agoura Hills, California, which Fleming returned to before recording to recapture the feelings of their past.
Once the songs started taking definite shapes, Fleming hit the studio with former Foxygen bandmate and production wizard Jonathan Rado (Weyes Blood, The Killers), fleshing out what would become With People in a series of sessions that were quick and artistically productive, bringing new nuances out of these ten songs as they worked together. “It kept revealing things about me personally,” Fleming recalls about the creative process, “and the pacing of the sessions kept things fun, fresh, and honest.”
The result is an album that sounds warm and lived-in, like an old friend sharing stories close to them while sitting on a moonlit porch. The jangly pomp of “Forecast” addresses an on-and-off relationship (“Everyone has that one person in their life that never leaves,” Fleming explains) and features vocals from Jessica Dobson of Deep Sea Diver, who proved the perfect match in the studio: “Our voices blended almost to the point where you couldn’t tell who was singing,” they recall.
Then there’s the bright melodic sunbeams of “The Great Escape,” which directly addresses Fleming’s Agoura Hills upbringing and the complicated feelings that arise from returns and departures: “It’s about getting out of a small town. Agoura Hills felt small to us, and then when I was in Bloomington and writing this song, I thought ‘I gotta get out of this town as well,’” Fleming laughs.
Although Fleming’s back in Los Angeles now, their time in Bloomington—a place in which they also ended up meeting their partner—directly influenced the orchestral grandeur of “Forever You and I,” a heartfelt ode to a loving relationship that emphasizes the intimacy of With People throughout. “This is the first time I’ve done something so personal,” Fleming explains while discussing the album’s overall arc. “I wanted to pull back the veil and share myself through these stories. That said, the stories are thematically universal as well.” Indeed, there’s a relatability that shines through With People, serving as a reminder that through music and in life we’re never really alone.