Before James Mercer teamed up with Danger Mouse to form the two-man band Broken Bells, he was seriously burned-out.
His band, the Shins, had long enjoyed critical acclaim and endorsements, but when its third album 2007’s ‘Wincing the Night Away,” garnered a Grammy nod, the indie darlings suddenly became a mainstream draw. Mercer said the success came at a price.
“Along with the successful record comes a lot of touring and I became the centre of a large business machine,” he tells Spinner. “It was exhausting.”
When the album cycle came to an end, Mercer couldn’t muster the creative energy to write and record a new batch of tunes. In 2009, after the band’s deal with Sub Pop expired, he put the Shins on indefinite hiatus.
“I wanted something that was a little less based on me.”
With his “day job” on hold, Mercer seized the opportunity to once again work with his friend Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton. The two had discovered a mutual admiration when the Shins and Gnarls Barkley shared the stage at Denmark’s Roskilde Festival, and had later worked together on ‘Dark Night of the Soul,’ the sprawling multimedia collaboration between Danger Mouse, Sparklehorse and filmmaker David Lynch.
Dubbing themselves Broken Bells, they launched top-secret writing and recording sessions at Danger Mouse’s Los Angeles studios. Coming to the sessions empty-handed, each song was captured as it was conceived. “We just got together grabbed instruments and started putting chords together. Once we had something we liked we would record it.”
Mercer, who handles all the songwriting for the Shins, said that during those sessions he was happy to let go of the reins, sit back and enjoy the ride.
“When you are the songwriter and the band revolves around you, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to inspire people to take part and get behind an idea. Brian is really into the band, and he thinks a lot about it. There are a lot of ideas on the album that I didn’t come up with,” he said.
Broken Bells’ record drops on March 9, 2010, but you can sample two songs on the band’s website. ‘The High Road’ sounds a bit like Bob Dylan backed by a band of Martians, and according to Mercer it is representative of the ten-tracks on the forthcoming album.
“We chose it as the song we would introduce the band with because it sounds like what you’d expect from a collaboration between Danger Mouse and James Mercer,” he said.
Currently, Broken Bells are rehearsing for an upcoming tour that will see the band hit Paris and London before a staging an anticipated showcase at SXSW in Austin, Texas.
Both Danger Mouse and Mercer insist that Broken Bells is more than a one-off vanity project. Mercer called the project a “real” band has said the duo will likely release a follow-up album. Free of the burden of expectation, the Broken Bells collaboration has left Mercer inspired and he revealed he’s already looking forward to recording new material for the next Shins album.
“I just put together a nice studio at my place in Portland. I’m excited to get working and I’ll probably start recording demos as early as April.”