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James Mercer (50) is the founder and frontman of the indie rock group The Shins. This year is the 20th anniversary of their classic debut album Oh, inverted world. He’s also half of the duo Broken Bells along with producer Danger Mouse.
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
Some crossing between Indiana Jones and Crocodile Dundee was a viable option.
Private school or public school? University or directly at work?
City-run schools in Albuquerque. I also went to an American high school at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk (my father was a specialist in nuclear weapons). When my parents returned to New Mexico because my father was there, I went to the University of New Mexico. I stayed for maybe three years and I dropped out. A very impressive resume!
Who was or still is your mentor?
My father was a moral compass. As for my profession, I had to figure out for myself what I was doing. But my manager Ian Montone is a pretty good mentor.
How physically fit are you?
It varies. I was a skateboarder when I was young – I was incredibly fit.
Ambition or talent: which is more important for success?
Ambition, by far. I do not consider myself very talented, but I have achieved a lot by being stubborn.
How politically committed are you?
I find it difficult to have beliefs about any human philosophy or political mindset.
What is your biggest exaggeration?
I bought a 1968 International Harvester Travelall car; $ 50,000 must be spent to make this thing manageable.
What would you like to own that you do not currently own?
I would like a 1968 International Harvester Travelall car that is already retromodic: air conditioning, better steering, an efficient engine, even electrified.
In what place are you happiest?
In our garden in Portland, with my wife, she is an amazing plant person. I used to be very happy when I visited our house in Hawaii, a neat little house near Lanikai Beach, which has become so popular that it is like Grand Central Station.
What ambitions do you still have?
I achieved so much – and I did not start with a bunch. I would like a property in Hawaii that is quiet and peaceful.
What drives you further?
I felt the constant drive to write songs, a kind of nameless restlessness. Now I’m afraid of the boredom that arises when you do not work.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
“They Soon Soon”, on the soundtrack of the SpongeBob movie – one of the best songs I have ever written.
What do you find most annoying about other people?
Serious beliefs: if people have decided it’s so. It’s not only annoying, it’s scary.
What would he think if your 20-year-old self could see you now?
He will be very surprised. That 20-year-old I felt very lost. That I pulled this rabbit out of the hat would shock him.
What object did you lose that you wish you had?
The computer with the main recordings of my first record was stolen. This is the most devastating material loss I have ever experienced.
What is the biggest challenge of our time?
We will have to take into account the benefits of socialism and capitalism. People are polarized. And we come to the point about global warming and we need to keep all options on the table. No one is willing to consider that we can find a safe nuclear option.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I do not believe that this consciousness that I experience will continue after the body is gone. But there is a lot of weird shit out there, and some of it is hard to explain.
What would you achieve if you rated your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10?
I did it well, but I give myself a nine. I have never been able to get rid of this anxious nature: I am having a hard time just enjoying life.
The remastered 20th Anniversary Edition of ‘Oh, Inverted World’ is available on vinyl, CD and to stream or download
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