With a new album coming out, James Mercer talks to ABQ-Live exclusively about what the future looks like for The Shins, as they kick off their world tour right here in Albuquerque.
by brenda paiz
James Mercer, singer/founder of The Shins, talked to ABQ-Live exclusively about The Shins’ new music, being a father, women empowerment and what he misses most about living here in Albuquerque. The writer inside of me was super excited about this opportunity- an opportunity that pretty much fell in our hands the same morning of the interview- but my inner fangirl was freaking out! Pacing around the ABQ-Live office staring at my phone waiting for a guy to call... what was this, high school?! But this was not just some guy. This was THE James Mercer.
I glanced down at my vibrating phone and saw an unfamiliar area code. I answered nonchalantly in my professional-yet-cool voice as James and I were connected. I hoped that he couldn't hear the quiver in my voice as I introduced myself, thanked him for his time and began the interview...
As most of us are well aware, The Shins were formed right here in the “505” over a decade ago. Since then, the pop-indie band has went on to experience great success, becoming a highly recognizable band with a plethora of catchy hits that you most likely remember listening to in High School (and who can forget that scene in Garden State, when you first heard the intro of “New Slang” fade in as Zach Braff and Natalie Portman graced the screen in the cult-favorite.)
It’s been five years since the Grammy-Nominated album “Port of Morrow,” was released but Mercer says he has been hard at work, writing and recording The Shins’ newest album “Heartworms” which will be out on March 10. The world tour will kick off here at The El Rey Theatre on March 2.
This album also marks Mercer’s return to producing, a choice that he says he feels really good about. “The reason I did it was because there's strange quirky things that I end up coming up with when I'm alone,” he says, “and when other people are there I just become aware that they need to get home at some point so you get self-conscious about experimenting with weird shit. So I just wanted to get back to working alone so I can indulge my curiosities while I'm working.”
The first single off of the album, “Name For You,” has a very familiar sound that reminds us all of why The Shins have been able to remain relevant for over a decade. Staying true to the band’s signature indie pop vibe, Mercer says he chose this song as the first single because it was catchy and upbeat but more importantly, because of its message.
“I was thinking of the whole concept of ‘slut shaming’ and the double standard on women in our society and i guess i realized it's unfair and i just started thinking about women in general and the load of baggage society loads them with as they become adults,” he explains. “I thought about my daughters as they're growing up and I guess I'm just rooting for women to feel confident and comfortable in their own skin and i want my kids to just have the confidence to feel strong and not let the world bring them down.”
The message doesn't stop there, Mercer continues to revisit the theme of women empowerment in other tracks as well and says that he thinks it's great that women are having this conversation right now. “There is a line in ‘Half a Million’ where i say ‘there's half a million things that you are supposed to be’ and I'm talking to a fictional woman. I then say ‘you are supposed to be a virgin in the moonlight and a freak on the scene,’ and that pressure that's what I think, girls feel from say, their boyfriends, or just everyone around them…It’s a struggle,” he says.
Speaking of that particular song, the lyrics pose the question of everything we are supposed to be, and when asked what he wants to be remembered as being, he had one simple response: “I just want my kids to remember me as being a great dad,” he admitted.
This isn’t the first time Mercer has openly talked about the wonders of fatherhood, but when you hear him talk about it firsthand, you truly believe it. In fact, my nervousness lessened the moment I realized he was more than just the frontman of The Shins, he is an extremely loving and proud father who, despite his success, remains humble enough to answer questions from a local magazine where he grew up.
As the interview became more of a conversation, Mercer, who now lives in Portland Or., talked about his time here in Albuquerque and what he misses most. He asked me if I had ever eaten at “El Patio,” which is one of his favorite restaurants in town, and reminisced of his time as an employee of Uncle Cliff’s Amusement Park,-yes, back when it was Uncle Cliff’s! Despite visiting Albuquerque regularly to see his parents, it's been awhile since he's been able to explore the city, he says.
While we are on the subject of his time in Albuquerque, Mercer talked about his old place on Silver Street, his shoutout to El Dorado High School in the song “Phantom Limb” (when he refers to EHS!) and how his dad's favorite musical, “The Music Man,” inspired the name of the band. So what does Mercer miss most about New Mexico? “I miss the beautiful open vistas and the open skies. You can never take a photo or communicate what happens in the sky of New Mexico,” he says, “all you can do is tell people how fucking amazing it is…It's kind of indescribable.”
As for the future of The Shins’, the rest of 2017 will be spent touring and playing summer music festivals like Lollapalooza . Mercer also says there are a lot of songs that did not make it on the album but music that he wants to share with fans. In addition to touring and releasing new music, the band’s contract with Columbia Records has been fulfilled, and as a “free agent,” Mercer says he wants to spend the next year really figuring out what's next for The Shins.
Check out the latest album by The Shins, “Heartworms” out March 10, and if you went to the show at El Rey, check out our gallery for pictures!
Published March 2017, ABQ-Live