What a difference eight years makes. Two catchy pop songs in the movie "Garden State" propelled The Shins into the national spotlight in 2004. More recently, the indie rock band's song "No Way Down" made it into "The Amazing Spider-Man," but this time around, it hardly registered on the collective musical radar. "Yes, the 'Garden State' thing turned a lot of people onto The Shins," said lead singer, guitarist and band founder James Mercer. "(For the 'The Amazing Spider-Man'), I don't know if there was any impact at all. They didn't even sell a soundtrack; I think they sold a score, but you can't buy the pop songs. ... Maybe people heard the song but had no way to find out how to buy it." But that's OK. In a time where bands are making less selling albums, licensing songs for movies helps keep the tour bus wheels rolling.The Shins started as a side project for Mercer, whose primary band in the mid '90s was Flake Music. By the late '90s, Mercer began writing what would eventually become The Shins' first album, "Nature Bears a Vacuum," and Flake Music disbanded in '99. The band has been based in Portland, Ore., since 2002. Tonight's concert at Vail Snow Daze - the first of three concerts taking place at Ford Park through Saturday night - marks the first time Mercer or The Shins have performed locally. "I'm really excited to see this beautiful part of the country," he said. And there are plenty of Vail folks excited to see The Shins, including Tom Robbins, the owner of Eagle Valley Music & Comics, which recently relocated to Minturn. "The Shins are one of my favorite bands," Robbins said. "I really like James Mercer's voice. It's soft but has a little edge to it at the same time. It's one of those bands that's basically just rock 'n' roll but has its own flavor, like the Black Keys."
Now, nearly 15 years after he came up with it, Mercer has to dig deep to remember where the name The Shins came from, but he manages. It's from his father's favorite film, "The Music Man.""The main family in the story revolves around the Shinns," Mercer said about the musical. "The songs are incredible. The Beatles covered one of the songs on one of their records. I got it from that. I just changed the spelling."When Mercer said the name out loud to then keyboard player Marty Crandall, he approved."Outwardly, it's totally meaningless," Mercer said. "And we sort of wanted that, too. Something that wouldn't point you in any direction."That's because of Mercer's experience with one of his favorite bands, My Bloody Valentine."I remember thinking it was the dumbest name," Mercer said. "It seemed so silly. Then they were this terrific band. I wanted to avoid that, and have something that was nonsensical and abstract. "And of course, the side effect is some people hate the name because it doesn't bring anything to mind, it just sounds absurd," Mercer said. "And eventually My Bloody Valentine meant 'that band I love' and has no other context for me."
Today Mercer remains the sole remaining original member of the band. Keyboardist Marty Crandall and drummer Jesse Sandoval left or were fired, depending on who you talk to, and Mercer started making music with Danger Mouse (Brian Barton). The duo dubbed themselves Broken Bells and released a debut, self-titled album in 2010. Recently Mercer and Barton began recording a new album, which they hope to release by fall 2013, Mercer said. "We've got some cool songs," he said. "A few weeks ago I spent time in L.A. with Brian and we had some strong material."In 2011, The Shins ended its hiatus with a show at San Francisco's Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival. For tonight's show, Mercer will be joined on stage by Yuuki Matthews on bass, Richard Swift on keyboards, Joe Plummer on drums and Mark Watrous on additional guitars and lap steel."I concentrate on chemistry," Mercer said. "Everyone can be strong players, but if the chemistry isn't there, it would hardly be worth it to go on tour."Which is to say the band's current lineup is definitely working for Mercer."I think it's a fresh, new vibe," Mercer said. "It's kind of hard for me to talk about because it's difficult for me to understand how those relationships work and how they change over time, but (the band) feels very fresh and new and fun. And invigorating."High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.