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The Shins - SOLDOUT Biography
The Shins are an American indie rock band founded and fronted by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, James Mercer. The Shins were formed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but are now based in Portland, Oregon.
The Shins began in 1996 as a side project for singer/songwriter James Mercer, whose primary band was Flake Music in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mercer formed Flake Music in 1992 with Neal Langford on guitar, Phil Higgs and then Marty Crandall on bass, and Jesse Sandoval on drums. During the next 5 years Flake Music released several singles, a full-length album, and began touring largely due to the help of other bands like Modest Mouse.
In 1996, Mercer began writing what would eventually become The Shins' first record. Flake Music came to an end a year later, leaving Mercer with an opportunity to record Nature Bears A Vacuum a 7" EP released by Omnibus Records. For their earliest shows, The Shins performed as a duo with Mercer recruiting Sandoval to play drums. Nature Bears A Vacuum was released with no expectations of expanding the band's following beyond Albuquerque. However, the single generated enough attention that Mercer felt it necessary to assemble a full band. Crandall was brought into the fold on keyboards, and Dave Hernandez was given bass duties.
At a San Francisco performance with Modest Mouse in 2000, Sub Pop's Jonathan Poneman asked The Shins to contribute a single to the label's Single of the Month Club, which eventually became an offer to release The Shins' 2001 single, "New Slang", and their debut album, Oh, Inverted World. The group spent the rest of the year touring. The release of singles such as "Know Your Onion!" and "The Past and Pending" kept The Shins' success going into 2002, cementing Oh, Inverted World as one of the definitive indie-rock albums of the early '00s and The Shins as one of the genre's leading younger bands.
The band relocated from Albuquerque to Portland, OR in 2001 and began tracking new material in Mercer's basement that summer. In an effort to balance the home-recording method used on Oh, Inverted World with a studio finish, producer Phil Ek (Built To Spill, Modest Mouse) was brought in to mix and produce the album. Chutes Too Narrow was released by Sub Pop in the fall of 2003 to much fanfare in indie music circles, featuring even more multi-layered lyrics, as well as a musical approach that explored new genres, song structures, and levels of production fidelity
The band's third album, Wincing the Night Away, was recorded in Portland during 2006 by a largely solo Mercer, but with the production assistance of Joe Chiccarelli. It was released on January 23, 2007 and debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200 album chart with 118,000 copies sold in its first week, the highest sales week and chart position an album released solely on Sub Pop has ever achieved. It was nominated for a 2008 Grammy award in the category of Best Alternative Music Album.
On June 20, 2008, the band announced that their three record Sub Pop contract had been fulfilled and that the next Shins' record would be released on James Mercer's own label, Aural Apothecary.
On August 1, 2011 Pitchfork reported that The Shins would be releasing an album in 2012 on Mercer's Aural Apothecary Label, via Columbia Records. The Shins also announced additional tour dates for their North American tour. The new band backing Mercer on this tour include singer/songwriter Richard Swift, Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer, Yuuki Matthews of Crystal Skulls and Jessica Dobson.
On December 14th, they announced on their website that their upcoming album would be titled Port of Morrow and would be released March 2012. They revealed the cover art for the album as well, designed by Jacob Escobedo. They also released their first track form the new album "Simple Song" on January 9th.
If Tennis’ debut album, Cape Dory, was a narrative of a specific time and sensation, the Denver group’s follow-up, Young and Old, is its antithesis. The new disc, recorded in Nashville with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, embraces a grander landscape of ideas and feelings, revealing a riskier, looser version of the band.
Cape Dory, released in January of 2011, chronicled a sailing voyage embarked upon by band members and married couple Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, who met while in college in Denver, and was never intended to be shared. Young and Old, in some ways a reaction to its predecessor, represents the first time Riley and Moore have penned tracks that are meant for those outside themselves. “We wrote Cape Dory almost by accident and after playing those 10 songs over and over for ten months we knew exactly what we wanted to be playing onstage each night,” Moore says. “We were compelled right away to write this new record and it came very quickly. This is the first time we wrote songs for the sake of sharing them and performing them for other people.”
Many of the tracks that appear on Young and Old were written while the band, which also includes drummer James Barone, toured on their debut. Parts were imagined during soundchecks in venues across the country and great thought was put into how the new numbers would translate onstage. Riley and Moore solidified the tracks in May and, along with Barone, spent nine days recording with Carney in August at Haptown Studio—the first time any of the band members had worked with an actual producer.
“We felt like we were doing one thing well and we wanted to expand sonically,” Moore says. “We wanted someone with a dirty, bluesy rock background, someone who was the opposite of our sound to help lend an edge to our music. We felt like Patrick would able to handle our songs well and he did.” Riley adds, “Patrick really channeled our ideas in the best way possible.”
The resulting album retains Tennis’ sparkling indie pop aesthetic, but expands the sonic and thematic elements to include a greater range of styles and ideas. Although Young and Old isn’t a concept album in the way Cape Dory was, this record, which takes its title from a William Butler Yeats poem called “A Woman Young and Old,” finds cohesion even as it expands what the group has previously done. “I didn’t want each song to be in complete isolation from the next,” Moore says. “I wanted them to belong together. I felt like I’d done a lot of reflection personally while spending months on the road contemplating the transition I had made over the past year. I feel like each song is a vignette, a glimpse into a personal moment of mine spanning from childhood to womanhood.”
“My Better Self,” a song that inspired Moore to pen the other lyrics for the album, is dulcet and introspective, a hushed pop number that showcases the more intimate side of the band while “Petition,” a bluesy, exuberant tune, offers an opposing, kickier sensibility. “It All Feels the Same,” the disc’s delicately propulsive opener, marries the band’s past with their current freer playing philosophy. “It’s maybe one of the oldest songs we have musically, but it took a totally different turn in the studio,” Riley notes. “It was a nice taste of what’s to come. The idea of writing something so long ago that takes a shape you’d never thought of.”
In the end, Young and Old doesn’t so much tell a story as it does chronicle an evolution. It reveals a growing sense of liberation, of musicians coming into their own together. Its melodies are enchanting yet it’s all infused with an edgier tone than Tennis’ debut, a logical next step in the band’s career. “We aim to always be moving forward,” Riley says. “We’re always reaching toward the next song. It may feel distant but the more we work at it the closer it gets. That goal is always to reach it.”