Will the Shins' new Wincing the Night Away change your life? It just might.By Mikael Wood
Plenty of hip young rock bands can brag about having movie stars in their audience, but fewer are able to claim movie characters as fans. That's what the Shins can say, though: When Natalie Portman's Sam meets Zach Braff's Andrew in a doctor's waiting room in 2004's Garden State, she puts her headphones on his head and announces that a tune by the Portland-based quartet will change his life. And so it does: In no time, Andrew has ditched his retiring, sensitive-guy attitude and taken to running through airports in order to kiss beautiful women. As it happens, Garden State changed more than Braff's character's life; it also turned the Shins into one of the most popular indie-rock groups in America. We called front man James Mercer shortly before the release of the band's third album, Wincing the Night Away, and asked him about the warmth of Hollywood's embrace.
Was the exposure Garden State gave your band immediately apparent? Was it something you could notice in real time?
We certainly noticed that we had a bigger audience. When Garden State came out and became a hit, we saw our record sales increase, and we got invitations to go to colleges and play at their end-of-the-year festivals - things that hadn't happened before. It changed our whole level.
Did it transform the composition of your audience?
Something like that opens a door to listeners who don't spend a lot of time on the Internet or shop at independent record stores, the typical ways indie-rock bands find new fans. Well, we've always had a very eclectic mix of people; there are just more of them now. But I suppose there definitely must be new sorts of fans. Maybe they listen to alternative radio but not to podcasts or to college radio - people who aren't avid indie-rock concertgoers.