Broken Bells still strongly ringing

The 2009 announcement that the lead singer of indie-pop band The Shins and the producer behind the landmark Jay Z/Beatles mash-up project “The Grey Album” were collaborating on a record made many people presume that it would be a one-off release.

After all, producer Danger Mouse had become very in-demand, especially after the success of his work with Gnarls Barkley, while James Mercer’s band, The Shins, is one of the most celebrated of 2000s indie pop.

But from within the duo, Broken Bells was never seen as a one-and-done pairing.

“I didn’t know at the time what the future of The Shins was going to be so I wasn’t looking at this as a side project,” Mercer said. “I just went in 100% with [Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse] to do this.”

Five years later, Broken Bells has released a follow-up album, “After the Disco,” received praise from nearly all corners of the music industry and toured across the world, playing sold-out clubs and festivals alike.

amNewYork caught up with Mercer in advance of the duo’s stop at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield and talked about songwriting and jukeboxes (like the one they curated and gave away in a recent fan contest).


When writing new songs, how you decide which are for Broken Bells and which are for The Shins?

I just don’t have to worry about it. If I’m in the studio working with Brian, then we’re doing Broken Bells stuff, no matter what it sounds like. Yesterday we were working on some new stuff, and it sounds very different. Off the bat, it doesn’t sound like Broken Bells. But we did it, so it is. And when I’m at home, sitting in my kitchen with my acoustic guitar, writing songs, that’s Shins stuff.


The new, more uptempo tracks: Are they more fun to play live? And was it your intention to put together a more danceable record?

Maybe it’s just nice as a contrast. It makes the other stuff more fun, too. It makes for a more dynamic show. And some of it was intentional, certainly. I was pushing to get some more uptempo stuff on the record. And Brian seemed to be into it too. I remember him saying, ‘This record is going to be faster and sadder.’


What do you look for in a good jukebox track?

It’s almost the same thing you want when you perform a cover. You want something that people recognize and love, but something that they’re surprised by. Maybe it’s that song that they haven’t heard in a long time, but that they hear and think, ‘Man, I love that song so much.’


If you go: ‘Broken Bells’ is at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on Friday at 6:30 p.m., 69th St. and Fifth Avenue, 212-360-2777, $48.35.

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