James Mercer Live In Studio

In 2004’s “Garden State,” Natalie Portman handed her headphones to Zach Braff and said, “You gotta hear this one song. It’ll change your life, I swear.” We heard the Shins’ “New Slang.” When the movie and its soundtrack skyrocketed to popularity, so did the band. Their unique sound, with its combination of catchy melodies, sharp and often melancholy lyrics, and jangly guitars, was at the forefront as indie rock began to come to the mainstream.

After the phenomenal success of their next album (Wincing The Night Away, in 2007, became the highest-charting album ever released solely on Sub Pop) the band took a long break. Frontman James Mercer used the time to collaborate with Danger Mouse as Broken Bells, but for fans of the Shins, it’s been five long years of waiting. The end of the wait is finally in sight; their new album Port Of Morrow will be released on March 20th on Mercer’s own label Aural Apothecary.  Expectations are high.

Mercer stopped by WERS today for a solo acoustic performance of the first single, “Simple Song,” which was released on January 9th. It is, as the title promises, wonderfully simple, and the live version proved even more so. Mercer’s lone guitar arrangement stripped away the song’s hazy wash of reverberation in favor of a straightforward strummed pop melody, letting his unique vocals shine through. His high, expressive voice soared on lines like “Love’s such a delicate thing that we do / With nothing to prove / Which I never knew,” which also underscore his notable gift for lyrics that turn from sunny to aching in the course of a phrase. “Simple Song” has all the hallmarks of the best Shins songs: elegant production, innovative but clear melodies, and those evocative lyrics.

Mercer also spoke to WERS about the recording process for the new album, citing the influence of Grammy-nominated producer Greg Kurstin, who has worked with everyone from Lily Allen to the Flaming Lips. The lineup of the live band has also changed substantially since the last album and, when they begin touring in March, will include Richard Swift, Joe Plummer of Modest Mouse, Yuuki Matthews of Crystal Skulls, and Jessica Dobson. Mercer told us to expect new versions of live favorites. He said the current lineup is working on fresh arrangements of older material for upcoming shows.

After that, I’m sure fans hope he’ll start right at work on another album. It’s been a long five years!

Click here to watch a video of James’ on-air interview

By Ella Zander

Photo Courtesy of James Mercer

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