The Shins

The Shins aren’t exactly an overnight success. It took a whopping two years from the release of their first album, Oh, Inverted World, for them to sell out three nights at New York City’s 500- plus-capacity Bowery Ballroom.

Right, so two years isn’t a long time. But in today’s market, where overnight (though quickly forgotten) successes seem to be the norm, The Shins longevity and slow build garnered them the description “rock celebrities by stealth” in The New York Times.

But with a second critically acclaimed album out on Sub Pop, Chutes Too Narrow, and tours to distant climes in the works, the band is seeing its star rise.

Singer/guitarist James Mercer said for the new album, the band is aiming to tour in Europe, something it missed out on two years ago when a booking agent fumbled a proposed outing with The New Pornographers.

The new album, which hit the States in October, is set for release in Europe February 21st; Mercer, along with keyboardist Marty Crandall, bassist Dave Hernandez and drummer Jesse Sandoval, expect to follow it in late March with their long-awaited tour of the continent.

“I don’t really know how much of a presence we have over there,” Mercer told POLLSTAR. “Mojo loved our record. We’ve spoken to them several times and they gave a really good review of the first one. So, we’ve heard there’s a bit of buzz over there about us, but I have no way of gauging it.”

Before cashing their American currency for Euros, though, the band will exchange it for Aussie dollars in December for a handful of dates downunder. The hope was to tack on a tour at the same time through Japan, where The Shins’ mixture of mid-’60s rock (a la The Beatles, The Byrds, and The Beach Boys) and millennium-era indie rock seems like a sure hit, but that’s not in the cards just yet.

“We’ve had some pretty bad – I don’t know what you’d call it – bad luck in Japan,” Mercer explained. “Warner Bros. Japan opted to license our (first) record in Japan, and then decided not to put it out. So, we have sold a sum total of 300 Oh, Inverted World records in the import section at Tower Records, which is the only place you can buy it in Tokyo.

“What we’ve done with the next record is it’s being licensed by a really cool company called P-Vine, an indie label in Japan. So they’re getting behind it and if the second record does well over there, they will license the first as well, apparently. We’re hoping to because we really love Japan and really want to visit that country.”

In early 2002, Mercer set out on an all-acoustic tour with fellow Sub Pop stars Rosie Thomas and Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine). Outside of a few in-store appearances, it was the first time he faced large audiences armed with only a guitar and a mic.

The Shins

“I was scared to death. I was very nervous about that,” he said. “But it worked out OK. … And, actually, when I came back from that, I had this boost of confidence that was really nice to feel.

“I’ve always been an introverted person and that really forced me to give up the crutch of having my best friends in the band with me all the time, and go out and be with two people that I did not know at all. … It boosted my confidence a little bit and I think there’s a confidence on the new record that’s lacking on the first record.”

Speaking of that first record, millions of people have likely heard bits of it without knowing it. Some of the music found its way to television shows and at least two commercials, if only for a brief time. Mercer said there was some backlash in the indie rock crowd but, really, he said, the ads only ran for about a week and earned him more money than he’ll likely see from album sales.

“I really never subscribed to this view that you shouldn’t make money off of your music,” he said. “I think it’s OK for people to exploit their talents however they feel fit.”

The result of the “cross-platform” deals is that The Shins are able to continue operating as an independent ongoing concern. Mercer, who recently relocated to Portland, Ore., built a studio in the basement of his house, which is where Chutes Too Narrow was recorded almost in its entirety.

When the band hits the road, the members ride in the van Mercer bought with the advance money Sub Pop gave him for the first album; since everything was recorded DIY, he didn’t owe anybody any money. Tours are undertaken without any help from the label.

“They do offer tour support, but it’s of course all recoupable through royalties, so we try to avoid that, keep clean accounting of everything,” the singer said. “And we don’t need it. We can pay for our first tank of gas to get us to the first show and from then on, we’re pretty self- sufficient.”

They’re not just breaking even, though. Inland Empire Touring’s Robin Taylor, who’s booked the band since their 2001 outing with friends and frequent tour partners Modest Mouse, said the last year and a half has seen audiences grow to the point where the band is selling out multiple nights at 1,500-capacity venues.

“Of course, they’ve had some songs on some TV shows and commercials, but just grassroots-wise, they’ve been plugging away and touring,” Taylor said. “We did three sold-out Bowery shows (before the record came out); where do we go from there?”