Mercer has been down a number of musical paths since he first emerged back in Albuquerque in the band Flake Music in the early 90s. The Shins began as an offshoot of that band in 1996 and released its first album, Oh, Inverted World, in 2001. The lead single from that album, New Slang, was a game-changer for Mercer and his colleagues, not least when three years after its release it was used in the hit movie Garden State. That suddenly brought the Shins’ brand of quirky pop to a larger audience and refreshed sales of that debut album and its successor, 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow.
In 2007 the band’s third album Wincing the Night Away increased the stakes even more, becoming their biggest-selling album, reaching No 2 in the US charts and earning the band a Grammy nomination for best alternative music album. It features singles remained fan favourites such as Phantom Limb and Turn on Me.
By then, however, Mercer was beginning to feel the pressure of 10 years of almost constant touring and recording, along with a few personnel changes in that time. In a surprise move, he parted ways with the other band members, guitarist Dave Hernandez, drummer Jesse Sandoval and multi-instrumentalist Marty Crandall.
“I am glad I did that,” he says. “In some ways it was good for them too. It was something that for my mental health I had to do. The stress of being ‘the guy’ gets too much. It was that and I needed some more partnership. Also, transitioning from the old band that we had been was hard. It was a drunken democracy. Switching and changing was difficult for me to handle delicately.”
Now, he says, “I have some that have Australia, wonderful Stravinsky Ballets Sydney Symphony Orchestra ABC Classics It’s a brave orchestra that dares to put out recordings of the three big Stravinsky “Russian” ballets — The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. Hard to imagine other 20th-century works that have had more recordings. Eight years separate the recordings of Firebird (August 2008) and the two other ballets (August 2016). Over that time, the relationship between the SSO and its chief conductor David Robertson, appointed in 2014, has blossomed to the point where he can cajole sheer magic from them. The performances grow in nuance and subtlety, characterised by slight variations in tempos and texture, and some virtuoso solo flourishes. The recordings capture the concert experience vividly. Where better-known orchestras have produced recordings that are flat and flashy steel, the SSO here is showcased in highdefinition colour. Firebird emerges as pure sensuality, Petrushka as carnival ribaldry and Rite as the bizarre ritual often glossed over as an exercise in craft, as orchestras and maestros display their rhythmical mastery. Their soul and colour place these performances alongside any that have emerged in recent years. people that I’m working with, but I’m still friends with those other guys. I had dinner with Hernandez in Seattle just recently.”
Away from music, Mercer has dabbled in acting, most notably in the 2010 feature film Some Days are Better than Others, but it’s not something he has warmed to.
“The frustration is that you don’t have any control and it’s really long hours,” he says. “Playing in a band is a really good deal. And writing songs you get to be the sculptor. As an actor I don’t have the skill to pull off amazing performances and enjoy the craft.”
He is looking forward to playing with his new band, which will include a tour of Australia later in the year.
“And that’s how,” goes the last line of enhall, “we get to where we are now”. March 10. is released through Sony on Mild-