The Shins Make Basement Tapes

New "Chutes" due in October

August 5, 2003 12:00 AM ET

The Shins will release their second album, Chutes too Narrow, on October 21st.

For the follow-up to 2001's Oh, Inverted World, the Albuquerque, New Mexico, four-piece stuck with a proven method: It recorded in singer James Mercer's Portland, Oregon, basement. "I live in a rough neighborhood," he says. "The basement isn't pleasant, but it only costs sixty bucks to buy deadbolts for the doors. It was cheaper than a real studio."

Mercer's favorite new songs are "Kissing the Lipless," which he says "starts out with these jerky hits on the guitar that sounds like Wire or something and then it goes into this sort of heavy drum space thing that reminds me of My Bloody Valentine," and the softer, acoustic "Pink Bullets."

Having cut ties with a bad relationship and a bad job, Mercer says his songwriting reflects a broader perspective as a result. "We have better stuff," he says. "My frame of mind has changed, but it has nothing to do with the band. It seemed like I wanted to change everything in my life I wanted to change. Now I'm a lot happier. I wrote about sad stuff, but I also wrote silly pop songs."

The band also scored a minor claim to fame this summer when Shins keyboardist Marty Crandall's girlfriend, Elyse Sewell, won third prize on America's Next Top Model. "She wore three different Shins T-shirts on the show," says Mercer.

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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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