James Mercer brings The Shins to town, with the album "Heartworms." (Courtesy Nikki Fenix)

Shins’ James Mercer isn’t ‘sweating the small stuff’


Even though the songs on “Heartworms,” the fifth album from The Shins, have grave lyrics, they’re not intended to be taken too seriously. Musically, the album is ear candy, in line with its original blueprint, says frontman James Mercer, who also maintains the spinoff combo Broken Bells with Danger Mouse. “The earnest indie-rocker guy was so ubiquitous two years ago that I just wanted to stab him. So I really didn’t to hear that s—in my record. I wanted to have fun and be a bit snarky,” Mercer says.

How old are your three daughters, for whom you penned the song “Name For You” on “Heartworm”?

Ten, 8 and 3. And they’ve changed my life quite a bit. But it was over time. It starts out with new responsibilities and new anxieties, right as you’re entering adulthood and you figure you’re kind of getting a handle on things. Then you have kids and it changes everything again. So I’ve calmed down about certain things. When you’re worrying about the safety and security of your kids, you’re not sweating the small stuff, you know?

What goofy dad stuff have you found yourself doing?

Well, yesterday, me and my 3-year-old had a salon day for all of the My Little Ponies. So we had lotions and shampoos and a big tub of water, and we were washing all of the Ponies. And then we were also having an air conditioner installed, so these construction dudes came over, just in time for that little scene. But I’ve always been a goofball – I was never the coolest kid in the bunch.

But “The Fear” talks abut gradually conquering your lifelong anxiety. How bad was it?

It used to be this weird, physiological anxiety. I would go through something seriously stressful, and the immediate danger would dissipate. But I’d be left in this weird haze that would just keep going. It was like my body and brain chemistry wouldn’t adjust back to normal. I had that since I was a kid.

There’s a new song called “Painting a Hole.” Do you actually paint as a hobby?

I mess around with stuff like that, but I’m not competent at it. Music is the one thing that worked out for me. But I really love working in the garden with my wife. She’s literally a master gardener, so I love to get a glass of wine in the afternoon and follow her around the vegetables and all the exotic flowers. I’ll go, “What exactly is this plant?” and she’ll explain the entire history of this strange hybrid. I’m quite happy being my wife’s handmaiden in the garden.

IF YOU GO
The Shins
Where: Greek Theatre, 2001 Gayley Road, Berkeley
When: 6:30 p.m. Sept. 30
Tickets: $55 (sold out)
Contact: (800) 745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com

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