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The Shins' James Mercer(Photo: Nikki Fenix)
"If you like classic songwriting and classic pop, this might be your cup of tea."
That's James Mercer's elevator pitch for The Shins' eclectic fifth album Heartworms, out Friday, the indie-rock band's first since 2012's Port of Morrow. Written and recorded at his home studio in Portland, Mercer, 46, found unlikely inspiration in old records, historical figures and even Netflix sci-fi shows. He shares some of his key influences with USA TODAY.
Ariel Pink, Put Your Number in My Phone
"When I heard that, I realized what a gifted songwriter he is. There was something about the freedom of Ariel Pink's stuff that was inspiring. He has a punk-rock attitude and I miss that. The Shins started as a rebellion against what had become in the '90s this watered-down, punk-rock aesthetic and now I feel I'm rebelling against something I helped create, which is this very earnest, sensitive 'guy rock.' "
Netflix's Black Mirror: Season 3, Episode 4, "San Junipero"
"You don't realize it the whole time, but these people are basically in a digitally synthesized heaven and the whole heaven is this town on the coast of California in the mid-'80s. For somebody of my generation, that about sums it up. And (Netflix's) Stranger Things, the soundtrack to that. Oh my god, you can just feel its time."
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, left, and Mackenzie Davis in the 'San Junipero' episode of British sci-fi series 'Black Mirror.' (Photo: Laurie Sparham/Netflix)
"Name for You, I wrote (for my) three daughters. You can't help but worry about them as they grow up, and I was thinking about slut-shaming and the double standards that we put on women. I'm not a very politically minded person, I find it to be a big soap opera. So if I sing something that may in any way refer to something political, I'm thinking about the more human elements and historic arcs, not about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. That's just boring to me."
"There's a Buzzcocks thing that I was going for with Half a Million. I'm taking inspiration from music that has a rebellious nature to it. Production-wise, we were thinking about The Cars. ... As far as a song like Cherry Hearts, there's a bit of hip-hop production, and if I think hip-hop production, I think Missy Elliott and Timbaland."
"If you listen to our records, there's always some country element, even though some Shins fans don't like to admit it. Merle Haggard is probably my favorite writer in that genre and I grew up with my dad singing his songs. (Before writing Mildenhall), I never could figure out, 'What am I going to write a country song about?' It felt that it needed some straightforward story. ... There's some zeitgeist moment right now about the '80s, and I thought, 'I have a neat story from that time.' The story of moving to England (as a teenager), losing all my friends, finding new ones, and discovering the indie-pop music scene that was prevalent at the time."
"I was reading a lot of Wikipedia and articles online about (Brahe, a 16th-century Danish astronomer). He seemed to be a victim of his own conservative beliefs in the monarchy, traditions and religion of his country. He became a symbol for me of the mistake of allowing yourself to indulge too deeply in dogma, because he died at a dinner table (when) he wouldn't get up and embarrass himself in front of royalty that were there, and basically exploded his bladder. So in Painting a Hole, it's a song about fascism and the danger of conviction. I used him as a character."
photo of How 'Black Mirror,' Missy Elliott inspired The Shins' new album
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