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The Boston Globe

Music

Duncan Sheik takes his songwriting to the next stage

Duncan Sheik leads a double life.

In one he’s a folk-pop troubadour who’s been plying his singer-songwriter wares since his 1996 debut — which featured the Grammy-nominated hit “Barely Breathing.”

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Since the early 2000s the South Carolina-born, New Jersey-bred Sheik has also been a composer in the musical theater, notably winning a pair of Tony Awards — for best orchestration and original score — for the Broadway hit “Spring Awakening.”

Sheik is on the road in support of his latest album, “Covers 80s Remixed,” which finds him handing off his 2011 renditions of tunes by Depeche Mode, the Smiths, and Howard Jones to folks like Samantha Ronson and El-P for revamping. He’s also at work on two new stage projects, one a musical production of Bret Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho” and the other a musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale,” which he hinted might be singing its song in Cambridge at some point next year as part of its development process.

We caught up with Sheik, who plays the Sinclair on Thursday, from a tour stop in Nebraska to discuss his dual roles.

Q. How does one go about writing a musical based on “American Psycho”?

A. Of course that’s what I said at first when the producers called me up and were trying to gauge my interest. I was like “Oh my God, that’s a terrible idea.” (Laughs.) But then I re-read the book because I hadn’t read it since college, and I really enjoyed reading the book much more the second time around as a 39-year-old as opposed to a 21-year-old. And there’s a lot of music in the book. Patrick Bateman is a music fan.

Q. It’s a lot of Phil Collins and Huey Lewis, right?

A. He’s like the world’s worst music critic and hilariously so. Those rants that he goes on about Huey Lewis and Phil Collins are priceless. But [the characters] are in nightclubs — music is threaded through the landscape of their day-to-day existence. The first light bulb that went off in my head was that it would be really cool if the pit band for a Broadway show or a West End show was Kraftwerk or Depeche Mode. You know four guys at banks of synthesizers and drum machines and laptops. That could be interesting and cool and hasn’t been done before in that way. And then I just started writing these songs and I didn’t allow myself to use guitars, so it was a really fun and good creative process for me because it made me approach the songs in a different way just in terms of the sonic palette. And then, of course, writing from the perspective of this deranged, solipsistic guy, that’s a lot of fun too. (Laughs.)

Q. You’re also adapting Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale.” It sounds like you’re working opposite ends of the spectrum.

A. Yeah, it is. I’m covering the bases. (Laughs.) [Longtime collaborator] Steven Sater and I have been working on that for 10 years now, so it’s been a long development process and we did stage it this summer at La Jolla Rep. It was a great experience. We learned a lot about the piece, and we hope to do it next year. If it’s really happening we’ll try and bring it to New York but, with musical theater, you never know.

Q. Do you feel like “Spring Awakening” and the theater work help keep your name in people’s minds in the pop world or is there not enough overlap between those two universes?

A. Unfortunately, it’s really the latter and it’s a bummer for me because I really wanted to connect up those two audiences a bit more. It’s hard because, for some people, theater is their life and they have a certain stylistic thing that they’re used to, and then there’s people who listen to “normal” music and, stylistically, they’re pretty far apart. I guess it’s one of my pet projects to see if I can create more overlap.

Q. What was the original inspiration for the ’80s covers album?

A. It’s a bit of an homage to those bands and artists that were my big influences when I was an adolescent and I was first starting to make music myself. The initial thing was I would find myself in a situation at somebody’s house with my family and somebody hands you a guitar and says, “Play us some songs!” And after I would play the one Radiohead song and one Oasis song I know, my repertoire of songs was done. So I was trying to expand my fakebook, so to speak. But I didn’t want to do it with the Beatles and the Stones and Neil Young, because everyone does that. So I thought it would be kind of fun to deconstruct these things that were generally in the more synth-pop universe and re-create them as acoustic, organic things. Then to take this little art project full circle, I then took those acoustic materials and gave them to these remixers and DJs and had them bring it back into the electronic world. So, it’s two degrees of separation away from the original, but in a way it’s a 2012 version of what it initially was.

Interview has been edited and condensed. Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.
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