Singer, songwriter, and producer James Mercer of The Shins wrote “New Slang” when he was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It came out as a single and then he re-recorded it for The Shins’ debut album Oh, Inverted World, which came out 20 years ago, in 2001. After Garden State came out, featuring the song "New Slang," that album went gold. And the soundtrack for the movie won a Grammy. Nowadays, James Mercer lives in Portland. I spoke to him from his home studio, and he told me how The Shins actually first started as a recording project, a side project, while he was in another band called Flake Music. In this episode, James breaks down "New Slang" and looks back at how his songwriting and his early home recording skills came together to make this iconic song.
For more, visit songexploder.net/the-shins.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Listening to song exploder, where musicians take apart their songs and piece by piece tell the story of how they were made. My name is
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That's Natalie Portman and Zach Braff in the movie garden state, which came out in two thousand and four and this song, the song she says, will change your life is new slang by the shins.
songwriter and producer. James Mercer wrote it when he was living in Albuquerque New Mexico
It came out as a single and then he re recorded it for the shins debut album. Oh inverted world, which came out twenty years ago in two thousand one after garden, state came out that album went gold and the soundtrack to the movie.
A Grammy nowadays James Mercer lives in Portland. I spoke to him from his home studio
tell me how the shins actually first started as a recording project, a side project while he was in another band, called flake music.
and then this episode James breaks down new slang and looks back at how
song rating as early
Recording skills came together to make this iconic song.
image, James Mercer.
I can, I guess, eighty nine I moved here from the UK.
hey my dad was stationed at a aria base over there. I just moved back to the states at eighteen and just by default, went to you in em,
and I met this guy Neil Langford
Neil and I were listening to the same sort of music. So Neil and I decided to start our own band,
the weird fuzz pedals and it was loud and it kind of had some relationship with the Grunge vibe of the early
nineties, so that was flake
Inflate music because another band was called flake.
I was introducing certain songs that I had written to the band and it was aesthetically different. You know
It was just different enough that the guys
weren't that into it, I could just sense it
I started to realize I think maybe I should really learn how to record maybe get some equipment, and I can just kind of put these things together. So ninety
six really is. When I came up with the idea the shins
I asked. Jesse are drummer in flake to join me and the early
Shin stuff was upbeat and kind of noisy,
the very first stuff I put out that I self released. It's pretty
rock and roll and groggy. I guess I say
and I dont know where I got the gun.
tion to do sort of a folk song. I just kind of got
people into recording and then the songwriting started to change. I was experimenting with the acoustic, a tar and I think it
about ninety eight when I happened across this
chord progression that I really liked. So I just created this,
both set of cords and a melody for it,
I remember showing it to Jesse standing in the kitchen at sixteen twenty Silver Street in Albuquerque
I didn't have lyrics, though, so I was just scouting for him, but he was cool. He liked it and it gave me some confidence in the song, but I didn't know what to do:
so it kind of floated around for more than a year with me just being frustrated.
But I had gone and bought a Hewlett Packard, really not a super powerful computer.
And then a buddy of mine gave me a copy of a program called cool edit pro
and I started messing with it and it was just so fun. There were just
many things you could do and
basically I had an sm, fifty seven sure microphone. It was the most
expensive, nicest microphone I could afford at the at Simon
starting this up. So
on the demo the
phone and fidelity is sort of predicated on that
when you notice you die
on Panama in the owner of Subpod. He in a love the demo and in
put out the demo as a single on sub pop. But when I was recording the record, he just felt that if you could get something that would give it more clarity, you know he was pushing for that and I was hesitant to attempt it
I didn't get much feedback from the singles release, but one thing
didn't know was that the girl
was around town tat. He would come up and talk,
being tell me like that's just a great song, and I was like oh now, you're talking to me so John.
Since I d of re recording it combined with the fact that I was getting this new attention from people in our key aegis
they liking song. I just felt man. I should put whatever efforts I can into this. You know and just get. It is well recorded, as I can accomplish here at my tiny micro studio and my little studio apartment. You know so I too soon
microphone microphones from the US fifty seven to erode Anti one. You see
fidelity on the guitar.
I think I was really just experimenting,
figuring it out as I went along, but I recorded just the first bear vocal for this town,
calling my mouth only. I don't know how
good do. But
send doubling the vocal is a no brainer
I always soon. As I figured out. I could do that as great. Let's do that, every song
girl T send occurs when his town-
only I don't know how
it's sort of a song about the frustration that one feels when they don't have their finger on exactly what
they are aiming for everything in my life was uncertain. At the time ending
in your late twenties. You can hardly take,
Psychedelics anymore, because there's this stress on you now you can feel thirty coming where
supposed opposed to have your shit straight, trying to come of age and not succeeding and
it's partly just addressing some omnipresent social culture that I was immersed in.
all my friends. All the people who were in other bands
there's a line in the song that says Godspeed all the bakers at dawn. May they all cut their thumbs.
and bleed into their buns until they melt away that was
based on this,
imagined rivalry that I had with this woman Amy Linton much better songwriter than me, who's, also from Albuquerque
she started. A band called
stress there was super here. It was just so cool. You know. Great songs and cool sounds
They were cooler than us.
I dunno like She- gave me hope, but at the same time I was like God damnit onto that too. You know
Amy was just a big inspiration and
There was also this sort of angst that I had about that and she was a baker. So I kind of
My mind thought that's at least honest for me to use that phrase,
we are the big as it down the architect. I pleaded
I had a
keyboard something you buy. Maybe for the kids, you flip a switch.
and we've got all kinds of sound effects. So there was a kick drum on. There
sounded way better than anything I could engineer with near and and a real kick. It really did so
It's me on a keyboard in a tambourine,
Dave Hernandez who put together that baseline and performed it on the demo.
He had moved to Portland
and so I had to sit down and learn his baseline and performance and record it
there were harmonic moments in his perform.
that I loved and I just couldn't get
It lose the base during certain parts of the song. So what I did my solution was used. The cheesy bass sound on the keyboard, ooh and tuck it in with it
did you go
in the car
As I am thoroughly this sort of
lonely pining vibe into the song,
It seemed like that was the moment where you need to give some vulnerability.
jobs and to use and dance. I, the king, the ices and the rest of our lives
It was a difficult Saunders saying I mean I hadn't put that much work into my vocals before that
there's just a lot of learning when you start recording, you're, just really putting the magnifying glass on all of these.
arts and your own playing your own ability. In a for me, it was
little bit embarrassing. You know and just daunting.
But what it was was just my recording skills developed enough and
you know you get a chance to look in the mirror a little bit when you listen to the song back, and so I think it facilitates the creative process.
To be able to sort of examine your work instead of just sitting and writing you know you can
throw it down, and then I think you get a little.
we're adventurous. All the time
this song? You know it has a bit of a there's, some texture to it that feels western. So it's an inspired.
My lips, I just didn't, have a would block and I probably thought it's kind of cute and I'm doing it with my mouth here.
it sounds pretty cool when you record it,
add a little you q passes you know and then why
created the guitar solo. It starts
with a little like a guitar trick that I had learned like the Euro,
or so I started there and
oh I'll, walk around the house whistling all the time, and even
like hearing a song on the radio. I
have a tendency to fill the gaps between the vote,
goals with some sort of little line. You know you should
they there really cheesy idea
I used to do it all the time whistling or humming, so I it's.
in built and Sudan
it's me just kind of filling the gap.
in the EU
so the tambourine the final hit and what
it was. I took the last one and you open up a whole new sort of interface for cool edit pro,
and then you can start manipulating it, you know you can shift it up. You can speed it up.
It's really cool. I mean I miss it. This aspect of that program, I think, recording for me. You know it.
it's become something you get better at like an instrument
You know. Adding the sound effects and stuff is integral to the quality of the song of this song. Looking back on
this song and its origins and the time of my life that spawn it. That is a particular moment in my life, where
This song was expressing
The unique I hope is
and in my life, because I was just totally miserable about so many things that were going on. I was driving
do something somewhere else. I wanted to quit my job. My
relationship wasn't quite with it Kovan, and I had regrets about that and it's just Iris just I needed something new and that's I'm begging for it.
it's interesting to look back and think about those times and just how things have changed
I think a lot of bands have that one song that stands out and it becomes a bit of a thing. You know. Thank you just that band who did that.
song or whatever, and that may be the case.
with us, but it doesn't change
affection for the song and my understanding of its importance in my life
And now here's new slang by the shins in its entirety,
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Transcript generated on 2022-03-27.