Duncan Sheik makes up for lost time

Duncan Sheik performs at Rams Head On Stage.
Duncan Sheik performs at Rams Head On Stage. (Handout photo, Handout photo)

For Duncan Sheik, June 7 will forever be a day mired in mixed emotions.

It was then, earlier this year, that his seventh album, "Covers 80's," hit stores. The 12-track album features Sheik's deconstructions of his British new-wave favorites, such as New Order's "Low-Life" and Japan's "Gentlemen Take Polaroids." As the 42-year-old singer-songwriter put it recently, the songs "seemed to capture that angst teenage moment I was going through in the '80s."

But on the day the album dropped, Sheik canceled his summer tour and entered a treatment center for alcohol addiction. He later joked on his blog that he told the center's staff, "My record is coming out, and I'm checking in."

Six months later, Sheik sounds like someone taking each day as it comes. He's not reluctant to discuss rehab, but he's not comfortable with going into details, either.

"I'm sober. It's very interesting," he said with a laugh. "I don't want to make any grand pronouncements. It wasn't a decision made on dramatic circumstances. It was a choice and change I wanted to make."

Sheik's songwriting has always been confessional, and now his writing online was becoming that way, too. His friends stopped him from publishing "a much longer diatribe," saying it was "too much information," he said.

Things were more complicated than just his drinking, he said. But the bottom line remained the same: "I didn't want to get up on stage and not give people a really good show."

With the booze behind him, Sheik is hitting the road and will perform Sunday at Rams Head on Stage. His set list will include cuts from his solo catalog, "Covers 80's" tracks and songs from "Whisper House," Sheik's 2009 album that featured selections from his 2010 musical of the same name.

Years after scoring the 1997 Top 40 hit "Barely Breathing" and subsequently struggling to recapture that success, Sheik turned to theater. In 2007, he struck gold with "Spring Awakening," a rock-musical adaptation of a 19th-century German play of the same name. "Spring Awakening" won eight Tony Awards that year, with Sheik sharing the honors for best original score with creative partner Steven Sater and winning for best orchestration on his own.

He's still working on theater projects, including an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' novel, "American Psycho." Sheik said the play is still in development, but progress has been made. After a "great workshop in New York" a month and a half ago, Sheik and his team are figuring out whether it will be performed in America or the United Kingdom, the home of the show's director, Rupert Goold. He hopes "American Psycho" will be staged by the end of next year.

Attaching your name to a story that many find offensive — for its vivid depictions of violence, torture and sex — will make people wonder. Even Sheik had his reservations, saying his first reading of the satire in college "really turned me off." He read it again three years ago and was surprised.

"I was amazed at how so much of what's in the book relates to what's going on, with the economic meltdown and people's attitudes," Sheik said. "The conflict that's happening in our culture between the haves and the have-nots, it's very much a part of what 'American Psycho' is about."

Despite his Broadway success, Sheik said he'll never stop making solo albums. It's the challenge to intersect his two careers that excites him.

"I wish I could get the regular music listeners to go see theater and the theatergoers to listen to more normal music," he said. "They just seem to be in different universes, and I keep trying to find interesting ways to bring those worlds together."

His tour, and its mixing and matching of material, might be a good start. For longtime Sheik fans wondering if they'll hear "Barely Breathing," which VH-1 named the "eighth -greatest one-hit wonder of the '90s," the answer is yes. That wasn't always the case.

"It's a really simple pop song and people seemed to like it, and some people got rightfully annoyed with it, including me," he said.

Along with "American Psycho," Sheik is also working with Sater on an adaptation of "The Nightingale," based on the 1843 Danish fairy tale of the same name, for a California production next summer. Music is on his mind, too: Sheik said his next record could be a collaboration with other artists that's "more eccentric and out there." He sounds at ease not chasing the charts.

"I'm not necessarily trying to be the next Kanye West or Lady Gaga," Sheik said. "I'm trying to do something interesting and different for a specific audience."

If you go

Duncan Sheik performs Sunday at Rams Head on Stage, 33 West St. in Annapolis. Doors open at 12:30 p.m. $25. Call 410-268-4545 or go to