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 around this time 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 (frontman of local punk legends Scared of Chaka, which had played dozens of shows with Flake Music) 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. It received critical acclaim for its lyrically deft and jangly pop sound. The song “One By One All Day” was featured in the 2003 film A Guy Thing, starring Jason Lee. Two other songs from this album, (“Caring Is Creepy” and “New Slang”) were featured prominently on the soundtrack for the 2004 film Garden State, starring and directed by Zach Braff, exposing the music of The Shins to a much wider audience. Their music was also featured in the television series The OC, the film The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and they performed on an episode of Gilmore Girls. Oh, Inverted World appeared at #71 on Pitchfork Media’s Top 100 Albums of 2000–2004.
The band relocated from Albuquerque to Portland, OR in 2001. Mercer, Sandoval and Crandall made the move. Neal Langford decided to leave the band, staying in Albuquerque so he could continue with another of his passions, professional hot air ballooning. Dave Hernandez (at this point living in nearby Seattle) rejoined The Shins in 2003 playing guitar and bass. The band 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. In 2006, the band helped to curate an edition of the British All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. Nonstop touring of everywhere from Australia to Norway, as well as the US countless times over contributed to pushing sales past 500,000 worldwide, exceeding everyone’s expectations, including the band’s. Chutes Too Narrow appeared at #47 on Pitchfork Media’s Top 100 Albums of 2000–2004.
An enhanced single release in 2004 included a live version of “New Slang” recorded with Iron and Wine, a studio mix of “Fighting in a Sack,” a multimedia tack of “So Says I,” and a cover of the Marc Bolan song “Baby Boomerang”. The Shins have also recorded a cover of “We Will Become Silhouettes” by The Postal Service, which was released on that group’s 2003 single “Such Great Heights”. On May 9, 2005, the video for “Pink Bullets” (directed by Adam Bizanski), was one of the first videos to demonstrate iTunes music store’s new capability to sell videos.
In a Pitchfork Media interview, Mercer announced that Eric Johnson of fellow Sub Pop band Fruit Bats had joined the Shins.
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. The album was leaked to the Internet on October 20, 2006 and was available for pre-order on iTunes, with an extra track. It was nominated for a 2008 Grammy award in the category of Best Alternative Music Album.
In 2007 the band did a Take-Away show acoustic video session shot by Vincent Moon, and recorded a version of “Little Boxes” for the Showtime series Weeds. On November 27, 2007, the group was featured on a Darfur charity album released by Waxploitation.
On January 24, 2008, “The Past and Pending” was played at the funeral of Heath Ledger.
After a year as this lineup, during which half the songs on debut album “Oh, Inverted World” (including “New Slang”) were penned, Hernandez moved to New York City. Neal Langford was selected as his replacement, and it was this lineup that saw the group embark on a tour with Modest Mouse.
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 July 26th, 2011, the band announced via Facebook that they would soon release news about upcoming shows and new music.
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.