James Mercer of The Shins discusses his spot on the Spongebob Squarepants Soundtrack

Continuing their latest rush of mainstream popularity, The Shins released a new song titled “They’ll Soon Discover” on the Spongebob Squarepants Movie Soundtrack earlier this month. Groups such as Wilco, The Flaming Lips and Motorhead also lent their talents to the album, creating a bubbly, aquatic pop effect that characterizes the movie.

The Shins, which began as front man James Mercer’s 1997 side project, began touring with Modest Mouse just two years later. In a recent Hatchet interview, Mercer described the band’s unique sound as a combination of “the ’60s R&B music my dad listened to, some country and western music, and the ’80s late new wave I was a really big fan of in high school.” Most fans simply admire the light, airy songs that have emerged from these early influences.

The band’s first album Oh Inverted World cultivated a strong Indie pop following. Two years later, the follow-up Chutes Too Narrow attracted the same underground popularity, despite its more contemporary feel. Steering away from their earlier ’60s-esque recording with a much clearer sound that still retains the poetic lyrics of the debut.

The Albuquerque, N.M. natives have recently worked on various group promotion projects. With an appearance on “Gilmore Girls,” a recent McDonald’s commercial and a fluke appearance on the reality show “America’s Next Top Model” (keyboardist Marty Crandall’s girlfriend was a contestant), some long-time fans fear the group is selling out. But Mercer said he brushes off such claims, instead focusing on the positive exposure. Natalie Portman’s brief mention of the group in the 2004 movie “Garden State” (Fox Searchlight) helped The Shins to sell more copies of Chutes Too Narrow than its initial release. Mercer said he even considers illegal downloading as a helpful advertising tool to strengthen The Shins’ fan base.

Before their startling 2004 popularity, Mercer came off as a pleasant, friendly guy who was enthusiastic about his band’s music in most interviews and television appearance. When he recently spoke with various college journalists, Mercer that same upbeat, down-to-earth attitude toward The Shins’ growing success. He is open about the group’s busy future, emphasizing their goals to continue making music and playing shows around the world.

The Shins have upcoming shows in Japan and Australia, and Mercer said the group hopes to start recording another album in the coming year. Until then, they plan on some smaller tours around North America.

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