The Shins leader discusses the "So Now What" and the status of the "Port of Morrow" follow-up.
James Mercer says the invitation to write for another Zach Braff movie offered a chance to do something with the Shins while his schedule has been dominated by Broken Bells, his collaboration with Danger Mouse.
"Zach contacted me and wanted to see if I could contribute anything," Mercer tells Billboard about "So Now What," which will be part of the soundtrack for Braff`s upcoming "Wish I Was Here." "I struggled with it for a few days and called him and told him I was having a hard time coming up with anything. I was trying to write about specific themes in the movie and I found that to be a bit of a challenge. He told me to just write something I felt like would fit the film, so I just wrote a song I felt summed up the movie, and he just loved it. And I think it's one of the best things I've ever done; people probably say that time of shit a lot, but I'm really proud of it."
It's not the first time Mercer and the Shins have been part of a Braff film, of course; their song "New Slang" was featured on the soundtrack to 2004's "Garden State." "Wish I Was Here," which Braff directed, co-wrote and stars in, debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival and is due in theaters July 18.
Mercer is currently touring with Broken Bells to support "After the Disco," but he has more Shins music in mind as well to follow up 2012's "Port of Morrow." He says he'd like to co-produce something with bandmate Richard Swift "and just get in there and do stuff, a lot in my studio in Portland, some in his studio in Cottage Grove. The last few things I've done in the studio I've worked with Richard, and it just feels really natural." The project, however, is complicated not only by Broken Bells' itinerary but also by Swift's new role as the Black Keys' touring bassist. "We're both busy," Mercer notes, "so it'll probably be some time in the spring that we actually start getting into the studio to test the waters on new Shins material. You just ride the wave. I don't orchestrate any of this stuff; all I do is say 'yes.' "
Broken Bells returns to the road on July 31 to play a Lollapalooza after-show at the House of Blues in Chicago before its festival performance on Aug. 1. The group has a handful of other North American shows into August and will play some radio station-sponsored concerts during December. Mercer says it's been nice to have a second album of material not only to have more songs to play live but also establish the group as a going concern and not just a project.
"That's how we always felt about it," Mercer explains. "We just looked at it as, 'This is a cool idea.' We really fell in love with the whole concept that evolved during the making of the first record. For us it was a certainty we would work again on it and do another record, so we're sometimes surprised that people are so surprised. And we've got a lot of new ideas, too, so there will probably be (a third album). We just don't know when."