Progress Report

Progress Report: The Shins

NAME: The Shins
PROGRESS REPORT: Writing songs for the follow-up to 2007’s Wincing The Night Away. Working on a collaborative side-project.

“You go a year without playing and you think, maybe I can’t do it anymore. Maybe I forgot how to do it. I don’t know,” says Shins frontman James Mercer. Worrying about “keeping our name out there,” seems kind of ridiculous for the Shins, who added a second Terminal 5 show in NYC this month, after the first one sold out quickly. But maybe the new tour dates are the best way to figure out where his band’s at right now. Two big changes will guide the direction of their next album–one is the band’s new line up, which we showed you yesterday. Ron Lewis, from Grand Archive and the Fruit Bats, joins the band on bass, and Joe Plummer, from Modest Mouse and Black Heart Procession, has taken over for drummer Jesse Sandoval. The shakeup wasn’t personal, it just ties to Mercer’s goals for the new record. The two new tracks they debuted this tour — “Double Bubble” and “The Rifle’s Spiral,” call for a beefier rhythm section: “[The songs are] just a bit more rhythmic. They’re kind of about the percussion and stuff. One of them is really angular and chunky. It’s jabs with chords instead of strumming,” he says. “And then the other one is really rhythmic and has kind of a mod, new wave sound to it.”

The second big change is in Mercer’s personal life: “I have been lucky in love, I guess, for the last two years,” Mercer says. He’s married (to designer and amazing home decorator Marisa Kula) and has a daughter. So his well-documented insomnia has returned, though now it’s because he has a baby to wake up for. “That aspect, bumming on relationships, isn’t going to be addressed on this record,” he says. “There’s going to be some positive things.”

The Shins haven’t recorded anything yet, but Mercer sees them traveling to L.A. He was down there to record a song for the Sparklehorse / Danger Mouse collaboration Dark Night Of The Soul, which features contributions from David Lynch, Julian Casablancas, Black Francis, and Gruff Rhys. He won’t talk about whether Danger Mouse is part of his mysterious Shins side-project: “I’m doing things with him, but [Dark Night Of The Soul] is the one thing I’m doing with him that’s slated to come out at some point.” Mercer is sure that he won’t be doing a “solo” album. “Because with The Shins I really do have that control. That’s kind of what I’d be trying to get away from, so more of a collaboration,” he says. There are other Danger Mouse connections in the works–frequent Danger Mouse collaborator Tenkuro Takahashi recently remixed the first Flake Music album. That album, from Mercer’s pre-Shins band, will come out on his new label, Aural Apothacary, in 2010.

Though they haven’t recorded it, Mercer sees the new Shins record coming out in 2010. His acting debut, in Matt McCormick’s Some Days Are Better Than Others, will also be out sometime in 2010. He says acting reminded him of recording with a great producer. “Working with [Danger Mouse] and [Sparklehorse] was really good, working with [Wincing The Night Away producer] Joe Chiccarelli was really good,” he says. “I totally can see the role they play and it’s really helpful to me. It’s almost like in the movie, being able to listen to the director and understand where he’s coming from and put yourself in his shoes and in some cases just trust him.” Mercer’s character in the movie was partly based on his own personality, 10 years ago. McCormick even had Mercer wear his own, old clothes in the film. But he says acting, even when he’s playing himself, isn’t so easy for him. “It’s hard work!” he says. “Writing songs is hard work too, but it’s more lucrative, and I’m better at it.”

[Photo from Showbox 5/4 by Laura Musselman.]


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