Coffee with James Mercer of The Shins

James Mercer signs my vinyl copy of Chutes Too Narrow. Classic album. This image was taken by Sean Roche.

James Mercer signs my vinyl copy of Chutes Too Narrow. Classic album. This image was taken by Sean Roche.

One of my fondest memories from my career is the time I interviewed Shins mastermind James Mercer over a coffee at the hotel Blue Sydney at the Woolloomooloo wharves.

I was the music and film editor at YEN at the time and Mr Mercer was visiting Australia on a promotional trip for the upcoming Shins record Wincing the Night Away.

I had only had a brief listen to that record before speaking with him, but it instantly confirmed for me that Mr Mercer is one of the most important songwriters in modern music.

He’s an extraordinary lyricist, always finding a balance between the literal, the poetic, the cerebral and the intellectual.

The way he explores his idiosyncrasies through lyrics is constantly fascinating. I particularly like his songs Black Wave, Kissing the Lipless and the uber-poetic Caring is Creepy.

I have interviewed Mr Mercer three times now – twice for The Shins and again for his project with Brian Burton, Broken Bells. I really enjoy interviewing him. He invariably gives intelligent and thought-provoking answers.

There was a second part to our interview. Once we finished our coffee we went up to Mr Mercer’s hotel room where I played him a mix tape of songs by Australian artists and got him to give his immediate opinions.

I clearly remember him being blown away by Devil Was in My Yard by The Sleepy Jackson and I Don’t Ever Want to Change by The Drones. I played him Planet  New Year by Sarah Blasko and after the first verse he said, “She sounds very pretty. Is she pretty?” I said, “Yes.”

My friend Sean Roche took some candid photos of Mr Mercer which sadly were never used with the feature in YEN. He took a pic of me playing the “fan boy” and getting Mr Mercer to sign my vinyl copy of Chutes Too Narrow. I try very hard not to be the fan boy and gets things autographed but, on this occasion, I relented.

I wish I could remember what type of coffee Mr Mercer ordered…

A candid portrait of James Mercer by photographer Sean Roche.

A candid portrait of James Mercer by photographer Sean Roche.

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