Timbre’s got a fascinating way of capturing a time and place, and if potent enough, the power to instantly transport one back.
James Mercer’s voice will forever be the camping/road trip that I took up the east coast of Australia in 2007. Wincing the Night Away was the name of the album, which came in CD form, and for an eight-week period all it had to compete with was Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible. I only had two CDs and needless to say, I listened to both, a lot. On hearing James’ voice I’m instantly transported back. With vivid memory of the awkward, moody teenage kid I was when I fell for his music, talking to him on the phone was a strange experience.
After numerous records with his passion project Broken Bells, and with a new look band, The Shins are back with Heartworms, an album that’s equal parts melancholy and topical. It’s a chirpy Mercer that I find myself conversing with on the phone—not necessarily what I expected given his somewhat aloof reputation.
“I listened to Port of Morrow (2012) recently and I was like, goddamn that’s dark,” Mercer tells me. “And the Broken Bells stuff can be pretty dark too—Bryan (Burton—the other half of the project) has a melancholic streak—so I wanted to break out a little bit. Also on Heartworms I was getting a little tired of the earnest Indie rock vibe and wanted to have more fun. I was looking out there and my favourite bands in the world at the moment are things like Ariel Pink and Parquet Courts, and they’re having so much fucking fun. I felt like I could be a bit looser and poke fun at musical styles that I loved when I was much younger.”
A new band lineup and a fresh approach appear to have breathed life into the project that Mercer’s been pouring himself into since 1996, and James admits that his imminent tour to Australia is made all the more exciting because of his green bandmates.
“Not all of the band have been to Australia before,” James tells me. “Some of them are new to the band, so they’re really excited. And it means that I’m going to have a little more fun than usual because that excitement is always infectious y’know. We’re just so stoked to be coming back.”
If you could imagine a perfect scene to accompany The Shins unique strain of intelligent, melodic indie pop, then chances are it be somewhere outside, just as the sun’s going down. A festival, but nothing too grand—either in size or outlook. As chance would have it, The Shins are coming out for Fairgrounds Festival this weekend, a festival that ticks just about all of the aforementioned boxes. Set in Berry on the beautiful south coast of NSW, every year the festival ups the last, and this year’s set to be the biggest yet.
“I used to have very mixed feeling about playing at festivals,” James Mercer says. “If you don’t have a spot on crew to line check for you and then be right there quick with adjustments that need to be made when you start playing. If you go out there and you can’t hear anything and it’s just a mess then it can be really frustrating. But our crew is so strong that I’ve been really enjoying festivals recently. If you go out there and shit’s not all fucked up then it’s nice.”