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The Shins Get Stoned

Indie darlings bring late-night psychedelia to next album

December 2, 2005 12:00 AM ET

Despite the boost the Shins received from being featured in last year's indie buzz film, Garden State, the Portland, Oregon-based rockers are insisting on creating their third album, the follow-up to 2003's Chutes Too Narrow, at their own pace. "I told SubPop, 'We go on tour so consistently that when we get home we're not rarin' to jump into the studio, OK?'" recalls singer-songwriter James Mercer.

That's not to say the band hasn't been getting it done. The Shins -- Mercer, drummer Jesse Sandoval, keyboardist Marty Crandall and bassist Dave Hernandez -- laid down drum tracks with producer Phil Ek (Modest Mouse, Built to Spill) this September in Seattle, and are finishing their album in Mercer's home studio. They hope to release the album -- either under the title Wincing the Night Away or Sleeping Lessons, both references to Mercer's crippling insomnia -- next summer.

"I've been mixing mikes to get really weird sounds," says Mercer, who has yet to write most of the album's lyrics. "That's probably the last thing I do." But Mercer will allow that the songs on the "twenty-five-percent complete" album chronicle "human-condition stuff." "One song is about the Fifties, when all of these modern conveniences were being invented -- like microwave ovens," he explains. "People predicted that we wouldn't work as much, but we work just as much, just more efficiently. Human life is about enjoying it, and this American worth ethic prevents people from really experiencing life."

Sonically, Mercer is exploring new territory, with more synth, piano and finger-picked guitar than on previous records. And where their creative process is concerned, the band wants to return to the laidback feel of recording their debut. "Oh, Inverted World, was a lot of sitting around with headphones on, smoking pot at five in the morning," Crandall confesses. "Sometimes it's crap, and other times it's great." Mercer adds, "Instead of mixing in a hurry, we want to get back to the ability to treat each sound with special effects and have it be a more atmospheric-sounding record. We really think of ourselves as a psychedelic band. That's the shit we listen to."

Or, as Hernandez puts it, "Our roots are getting high and listening to Pink Floyd."

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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