What happens when you hit it big in the music business with your first single?
That's the dilemma Duncan Sheik faced when "Barely Breathing" came out in 1996. The single remained on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart for a record-setting 55 straight weeks. It reached No. 16 on that chart (the one made famous by Casey Kasem) and has been a staple on adult contemporary stations (think Mix 104.1) ever since.
Sheik's eponymous debut album was certified gold, but he's never made a dent on either the singles or album charts again.
But he's always remained busy (Sheik owns a rare distinction of having won Grammy and Tony Awards) and he'll be at the Bull Run in Shirley on Father's Day, Sunday, June 15, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased at bullrunrestaurant.com.
The 44-year-old Sheik is a complex story, but one with local connections, having graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover in 1988. He studied semiotics, a field closely related to that of linguistics, at Brown University before moving to Los Angeles. He worked a little with Lisa Loeb, who he met at Brown, before embarking on his solo career.
He followed that debut album with an experimental follow-up album called Humming in 1998 that featured elaborate and precise string arrangements. It barely cracked the top 200 album chart. He released two more albums, Phantom Moon and Daylight in 2001 and 2002, respectively, with the latter making a minor dent on the album chart.
That's about the time he began moving into other genres. He first composed original music for the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Twelfth Night in 2002, then composed the score for the 2004 film A Home at the End of the World.
While he released an original album, White Limousine, in 2006, he also wrote the music for Spring Awakening that year. The musical won the Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Best Orchestration in 2007, and picked up the Grammy in 2008 for Best Musical Show Album.
He released Whisper House, a concept album which provided the score for the musical of the same name, in 2009. Two years later, he released an album of covers of popular 1980s songs called Covers '80s. And, in 2012, he co-wrote Alice by Heart, an adaption of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
He's currently composing the music for the musical adaption of American Psycho and working on a feature-film adaption of Spring Awakening. Oh, and he's working on a new studio album as well. That's some of what he'll be playing at Bull Run.
"I'm excited about it. I'm playing little pockets of shows to work out the new material and introduce it to people," Sheik told me in a recent phone interview of the new album, which should come out late this year or in early 2015.
"Because I have been working on so many theater projects over the past decade, this set of material is things I started writing in 2009 so there's about five years' worth of songs, or the best of the set of songs written over the last five years, which is kind of like how you make your first album."
And, no, Sheik can't believe it's been two decades since "Barely Breathing" became the earworm that many of us could not get out of our heads.
Sheik has thus far avoided nostalgia tours featuring his fellow '90s alumni such as Soul Asylum, Sugar Ray and Everclear, but he thinks there's a reason for it. "When I started putting out records, it was a very weird time in the music business. You had acts like Radiohead and Bjork that I loved and still love, but they were way more few and far between. You had a transition from grunge rock to the late '90s with sugary commercial pop. I was right in the middle of that and not attached to any of it. It's a double-edged sword. I was saved from some of the nonsense of it, but I would also die to be Pearl Jam and still be playing in front of 20,000 people."