IMAGE: DAVID BELISLE
Riff City: It's taken three years between Chutes Too Narrow and Wincing the Night Away. What took so long?
James Mercer: We just toured and toured...the career and the band kinda got out of my control.
How much weight do you give to the Garden State push?
As far as our visibility to your average pop-culture consumer, it would be a very big deal. Obviously, mostly everybody who shops at indie record stores knew who we were in 2001, but yeah, it really branched us out into that much bigger market.
One the eve of [Wincing's] release, what is your prevailing mood?
It kind of feels like summer.
Did Saturday Night Live go well?
Yeah. It's funny, doing things like that, I realize how really good those traditionally really good singers are, like big singers...like Mariah Carey or Bette Midler. You see them do that shit, and they always do it perfectly. Really, the sound onstage at SNL wasn't any better than at Berbati's.
On Wincing, there's a fear of disappointing someone. Were you worried about changing and losing fans as a result?
I tend to blur all those things together. There is [a] fear of disappointing our fans. People who care about the songs, on a personal level, care about them more than you do. But the real emphasis for writing some of that was [personal] relationships.
I've read that the title of this album is a nod to your insomnia. Is it healthier for you to be done working on the album?
It feels that way. I went through a crazy time after Chutes Too Narrow. Then I met my wife, [fell] in love and changed so many things in my life. I was finally fixing down to do something more stable, and I would have to go work on songs that were about these tumultuous years. It was sort of miserable. And literally it was kind of sickening to have to go into any sort of negative state when it's like I'm finally comfortable. But it became really beautiful. I would look at it as joyous, on a personal level.
Do you ever worry that happiness will have a negative effect on your art?
I don't worry about it too much. I was happy during most of the writing process.... Maybe the next record will be shit. Maybe we'll have like a Brady Bunch album.
Why do the Shins identify so strongly with being a Portland band?
Well, what I feel is that I belong here. I moved around my whole life, so it's difficult for me to say what home is. But I feel so much more comfortable here, just the environment, the people, the common goals, the aesthetics of the people—I think we just share a lot...and [there's] good Mexican food up here, too.
Also see album review, page 37. Read more on the Shins' future with SubPop, and about Mercer living in Elliott Smith's old house, on LocalCut.com.