Want to relive Forecastle? Here’s all our live tweets from the weekend

In case our daily recaps (Fri, Sat, Sun) weren’t enough for you. Be sure to pick up this week’s issue of LEO tomorrow for additional photos and final thoughts on the festival.

Forecastle Festival, Day Three: The end is always bittersweet

By Sam Benanti

As seasoned festival veterans know, the final day of an event like Forecastle is always bittersweet — on the one hand, the party is almost over, but on the other hand … it’s almost over! When it ends you’ll no longer have an excuse to be a drunken doofus at the Waterfront in broad daylight, but you also won’t have to dish out 10 bucks for a disappointing slice of pizza until the next festival rolls through. Thankfully for those of us in it for the long haul, Sunday was filled with the greatest number of musical acts worth getting excited about, lack of Outkast notwithstanding.

I arrived at the festival just as Seattle DJ/production duo Blue Sky Black Death were kicking things off at the Ocean Stage underneath the freeway. BSBD create the kind of downtempo, bass-centric dance tracks best suited to the afterparty after the afterparty, so it was unfortunate that they played in the early afternoon to the most sober crowd possible, who, not yet sufficiently “primed” for dancing, seemed unsure what to do for the duration of the set. BSBD are highly accomplished producers with an excellent body of work, but — let’s face it — watching two guys adjust the EQ on their mixer just doesn’t usually make for a compelling show, especially for a crowd already exhausted and over-stimulated by the larger-than-life theatrics of the previous days’ headliners.

Their performance stood in stark contrast to that of electronic trio Chrome Sparks of Brooklyn, who explore somewhat similar tempos, moods, and textures, but manage to pull them off with all the energy and presence of a “traditional” live band. Armed with a live drummer and a mountain of synthesizers and samplers, the band tore through their lush, R&B-inflected dance tunes with the sort of confident skill that ought to leave lesser electronic artists weeping into their MacBooks and stacks of mix CDs.

Lest anyone begin to suspect that I’m actually a DJ hater in disguise, though, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the set from Claude VonStroke, who followed Chrome Sparks on the Ocean Stage early in the evening. As the head of Dirtybird Records out of San Francisco, VonStroke is especially well versed in the very best in house and techno, and it was a real treat to hear what he chose to spin for this crowd. Maybe it was the higher tempo, the higher audience, or the genuine, infectious smile on the DJ’s face throughout — or some combination thereof — but VonStroke was a ton of fun to observe, even when he was simply twiddling knobs.

Of course, all of these dance-oriented sets were invariably leading up to the performance from Harley “Flume” Streten, the final DJ to play on the Ocean Stage before the festival herd made its way over to Beck’s headlining set. Though he has yet to really cross over into the mainstream, the Australian DJ and producer is one of the biggest breakout stars of the EDM world at the moment thanks to his slick 2012 LP and chart-topping remixes of Disclosure and Lorde. Performance-wise, Flume struck a nice balance between DJing and triggering live sounds and samples, so if he wasn’t playing an instrument, per se, you could still watch him do something up on stage that obviously commanded all of his attention. And what was he doing up there, you ask? Why, giving the entire crowd a full-body bass massage — internal organs and all — via his rave-friendly instrumental hip-hop productions. Flume set the crowd ablaze with a mix of mostly original works that served as the perfect introduction to this talented young producer for the uninitiated.

Sunday was primarily an electronic affair for me, but between Blue Sky Black Death and Chrome Sparks I headed to WFPK’s Port Stage to catch Louisville post-rock band Seluah, who skillfully commanded the audience with tight grooves and an arresting display of tension and release. Though I’ve given their full-length Red Parole a fair number of spins, this was my first time catching the group live, and I was especially impressed by drummer/singer Edward Grimes. Even when his floor tom collapsed on stage in the middle of one song, Grimes continued on with his dense, syncopated rhythms and feathery, dreamy vocals without missing a beat. Grimes was joined by his sister Rachel (of the chamber group Rachel’s) on stage for some delicate vocal harmonies that only siblings who are also highly trained musicians could pull off so effortlessly.

Speaking of effort, legacy punk rockers The Replacements could’ve benefited from a little more preparation given that they were the second-to-last group to perform on the main stage. Sure, these clowns were renowned for being no-good screw-ups during their ’80s heyday, but far from being too wasted to keep it together, it seemed as though the band simply didn’t remember many of their songs well enough to make it all the way through them without egregious errors piling up. What ostensibly began as humorous, self-deprecating banter from frontman Paul Westerberg about being unprepared turned ever more serious with each mumbled lyric and each song abruptly ended when one or more players clearly couldn’t recall what was supposed to happen next. And for reasons unbeknownst to anybody, the group was joined on stage by third guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong (perhaps you’re familiar with Green Day?), who not only did an admirable job as a side man in the shadows, but was in fact rarely heard at all during the moments when he did actually appear to know the chords to whatever song the band was playing. My guess is that they planned on three guitars so that, statistically speaking, at least one of them probably knew how to play any given riff. Thankfully they did a bang-up job with “I Will Dare,” after which I felt little reason to stick around any longer.

Of all the performances I witnessed across the festival’s three days, none brought the disparate crowds together quite like Beck. Maybe it’s because he was the only game in town by that point, but Beck is one of those rare artists whose discography really does offer something for just about everyone. I must admit that I was more than a little nervous that the set might turn out to be nothing but tepid sad-boy jams from his latest LP (bitter fan alert!), but I’m happy to report that Beck and his massive backing band delivered basically every banger you’d ever want to hear from his extensive back catalog. Much to the delight of fickle fans like myself, the set was heavy on jams from Odelay! and Guero, some in their original form and others tweaked or even thoroughly revised to suit the party atmosphere. The most impressive display came mid-way through the twangy deep cut “Sissyneck,” when the song was nimbly mutated into an abbreviated cover of “Billie Jean.” Beck is no Jacko, as his strained, froggy vocals demonstrated during the chorus, but he’s clearly a commensurate performer on a stage of this size, and his band brought more than enough groove to supply a small village. And though he did take some time in the middle of the set to slow things down with some lukewarm acoustic ballads, from there it was nothing but bonafide hits all the way through to the bittersweet end of Forecastle 2014.

Forecastle Festival, Day Two: Jalin Roze, Jack White and other standouts

By Ian Ording

Saturday proved to be a big day for Louisville’s native music makers. Under the pervading clouds of the weekend — although with noticeably less precipitation than Friday — Forecastle fans were able to see just about the full gambit of what the River City has to offer ears, as well as some other notable acts, including what might turn out to be the best show of the weekend.

An early standout show of the second day was the Soul Rebels. Fellow fleur de lis fliers from down south in New Orleans, their brand of jazzy big band jams were a great way to enter the Forecastle grounds.

After taking in all the brass section I could ever want in one day, I swung by the Boom Stage for a few minutes of Boy & Bear’s set before heading to the media tent for some water. By this time, I figured it would be prudent to head to Mast Stage to get a solid spot for Spanish Gold’s show.

Spanish Gold, helmed by two Texans and a Louisvillian, played an admirable set for so early in their existence. This was to be somewhat expected, however, as front man Dante Schwebel has been in City and Colour as well as Hacienda, guitarist Adrian Quesada played for Grupo Fantasma and drummer Patrick Hallahan is in some band from around here called My Morning Jacket. Their onstage chemistry wasn’t quite where it could have been, but their brand of slinky psychedelic rock carried them.

I then wanted to head over to WFPK’s Port Stage to see all of Louisville’s Jalin Roze. If you weren’t there, you blew it. Backed by his band The Grand Nationals, Roze laid down a blistering set that I was sure I was going to call my favorite of Saturday. His crowd control was superb, making sure the sizeable Port Stage audience was following his every move. The best part was when his brass section started playing the horn part from Spottiottiedopaliscious and Jalin led the crowd in a “Damn damn damn daaaaaaamn” chant. Word on the street is, later that day he played an unannounced show on the boat by the Bourbon Lodge, which I, unfortunately, heard about too late. Either way, this guy is for real.

... and now for a video intermission ...

... and we're back.

I scurried from there across the grounds to Boom Stage to see the end of Lord Huron, who played well. After that, it seemed like the best time to bounce around and sample some acts. I had a delicious, albeit disappointingly small-for-five-dollars corn dog while checking out Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, who were expectedly awesome. Mount Moriah won my award for band I hadn’t heard but now want to hear more of. I caught their final two songs and was left wishing I had showed up right at 5:30 for their entire set.

Then I went to a song of Jason Isbell’s before wading into the Mast Stage’s crowd for Band of Horses. After starting with just front man Ben Bridwell on stage with an acoustic guitar and a mic, two other members joined him for the second song, also acoustic. After that, they were turned up all the way. Sporting more neck tattoos than someone who hadn’t seen them in person before would have expected, Band of Horses’ hour-and-a-half set was a standout of the day and the weekend. To everyone in the crowd’s delight, (fine, including mine) they closed with a booming rendition of “The Funeral.” Bridwell also used a super sweet chrome guitar for part of the show.

It was during their set I saw a tweet about Jalin Roze finishing his impromptu show on the boat. My only regret of the weekend thus far.

It was time to go get lost in the weird, experimental no-fi of Louisville’s last performers of the day, Slint. I had no idea what to expect from this set. I was certain they would play at least somewhat stranger than they did on the Spiderland record, but I couldn’t tell if I would enjoy that or find it a bit too heady. It ended up being the former, and the nineties trailblazers put together a cool show that was maybe a little out of place on the Ocean Stage.

Remember earlier when I said I was sure I would call Roze’s set my favorite of Saturday? Jack White ruined that.

Saturday’s headliner was, as of the time of writing, the best Forecastle show thus far. White reminded the audience he is one of the best guitarists in the world. After opening with “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” one of my personal favorites from the expansive White repertoire, he tore through White Stripes classics and destroyed tunes from his new solo album. The whole thing played as if some festival jam band had been headed by Ozzy Osborne and Jimmy Page, amps at eleven and heavy, distorted, squealing solos abound. It was as if he knew he would be good enough to only need one color of light bulb, and so the stage was awash with blue for the entirety of the show. I was especially tickled when he closed his pre-encore set with my favorite Stripes jam, “Ball and Biscuit.” Between a Frank Zappa lookalike playing a Theremin, a drummer assuredly better than Meg and Jack’s own gigantic stage presence, this was a show I won’t soon forget.

Forecastle Festival, Day One: Change frightens me, but Outkast delivers

By: Damien McPherson

Managed to walk in the park sometime around 11, cloudy, sure, but never ominous. The temperature was stellar, and unlike any July on record. In my bag I had the sunscreen I wished I’d brought to my earlier festival appearances, but I never once had to reach for it. I walked the grounds, exploring the options and comparing the layout to years past. The Heine Brothers truck was in place, only 50 feet or so where it was last year, so all is well (I’m a creature of habit. Change frightens me.). WFPK’s Port Stage has moved away from the competition of the main grounds and the awful bass competition of 2013, relocating to the eastern end parallel to the main stage (where longtime attendees will recall the LEO-curated stage from a few years back). A brief lost-kid-in-the-mall moment searching for the media tent (damned entrance change), but the very helpful ladies at the information booth directed me easily. Now Wi-Fi enabled, it was time to study the schedule and map out the day before the gates opened.

Benjamin Booker opened the main stage to increasing drizzle from the sky. Booker’s is a blues-rock with an almost punk edge at times. He began almost dismissively, with a “We just drove here from New Orleans, so, give me a break.” Not a promising start. His performance was fine, if perfunctory, and the songs were mostly background. I expect to hear them with some regularity on ‘FPK and the retail corners of Frankfort, Baxter and Bardstown. They never quite reached past the level of audible wallpaper.

Old Baby was mid-set by the time I wandered over, Jonathan Wood brooding in to the mic. Here’s where I confess that I hadn’t gotten around to listening to Old Baby’s record, a zip file still on my hard drive unopened, and now I apologize for that omission. The songs’ darkness were buoyed by flourishes on keyboard and guitar that gave a great balance and energy, and even the sound guys (a notoriously difficult lot) were enjoying what they were hearing.

Hoofing it clear to the other end to catch the last half hour of The Black Lips’ set, I felt bad for missing the first part as they easily won for best opening act of the day. High energy (besides the guy in the Mike Nesmith wool cap) and polish, these guys were here to play, and the crowd, outnumbering the other stages by far, was more that appreciative.

A quick run to the Media Tent for words from Captain JK McKnight, Ashley Capps and Mayor Greg Fischer, as well as a sampling of a moonshine concoction and some Mellow Mushroom pizza (unprofessionally, I ate the first two bites prior to folding – rookie move), then to a stellar set from Against Me! and an adequate-but-not-exceptional performance by Gary Clark Jr, who excelled at sounding just like the record, but, then, if that’s what you wanted just pay the $9.99 and listen at home.

Nightmares on Wax is celebrating their 25th anniversary with their completely unexpected reunion and tour, and while the crowd was maybe anticipating something different under the overpass Friday, it was a solid set, and brought back some great memories for those who were aware of their previous excellence, and hell, maybe it let the kids all come down for a few minutes off whatever their choice of inebriant happened to be. (I apparently looked like security while people watching as I had several people approach me and ask for assistance or directions during this set.)

The push alert on the Forecastle app was very disappointing. Action Bronson had cancelled his appearance. No reason was given, and none was discoverable by pressing the handful of folks I asked. One journo told me his highest wish for this weekend was to be punched by Bronson, a regular occurrence for Bronson shows. There’s always next year, friend.

Twelve hours later I’m not sure I’m ready to type about Outkast’s performance yet, but, as deadline looms, suck it up and write. With a dead cell phone in my pocket and separated from the crowd I’d been hanging out with, I found one friendly face and made my way. I’d already watched their Coachella set from this year and been supplied with audio from a couple other shows from this tour, so I knew what to expect, but none of it matched the fanboy response I felt hearing these songs in person for the first time. With a live band that included long time background singer and Dungeon Family member Joi Gilliam and several appearances of Sleepy Brown, the just-shy of two hour set satisfied both bandwagon fans (Hey Ya with some pitiable audience-participation Polaroid shaking) and day one hardcore followers (Players Ball, Hootie Hoo, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, and more). Andre was wearing a platinum wig with a pixie cut, a black jumpsuit with the words “obviously oblivious” across the chest and a large “Sold” tag hanging from it, perhaps a not-subtle nod to the tour’s existence. As great as it was to see the duo together, and Andre was good, Big Boi was the star of the show, though he won’t get the credit for it. Rapping much of the show in double time, Big was on fire, whether by compensating for the incomprehensible second-class setting he holds in the group, or because he’s simply one of the best doing it, it’s Big Boi’s performance that stays in my head all these hours later.

Jalin Roze’s fantasy squad

LEO: If you had your own fest, who would you want to play it?

Jalin Roze: It would have to be hip hop/rock mashup festival because we don’t really have one here and it would be…
Headliners: Jay-Z/Kanye/NAS/Coldplay/Isley Brothers/Hall&Oats/Stevie Wonder/Dave Chapelle/Wu-Tang Clan/Prince as the festival closer.

Other acts: N.E.R.D., The Roots, Scarface, State Property, CRS, Jay Electronica, The Gap Band, Common, The Diplomats, Juvenile, Tony Tone Toni, A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T., Dom Kennedy, Curren$y, The LOX, Frank Ocean, Mos Def, Little Dragon, Francis and the Lights, Chaka Khan, DJ Premier, Toro Y Moi, Blood Orange, Death Grips, Lupe Fiasco, R. Kelly, a Clipse reunion and a Luther Vandross hologram.

A mash-up local rap set on the main stage with ?uestlove and the Roots backing.

Headliners adds tUnE-yArDs, White Reaper shows

If you somehow miss them at the Forecastle Festival, the exciting and lively tUnE-yArDs (currently featuring Louisville native and erstwhile Louisville Leopard Percussionist Dani Markham on, you guessed it, percussion) will perform at Headliners Music Hall on Wednesday, October 8. Tickets go on sale Saturday, July 12 at 10 a.m.

Rising locals White Reaper are the main attraction at their biggest Louisville venue to date, topping the bill on Thursday, July 24. Those $5 tickets go on sale Friday.

Dave Rawlings: The LEO Weekly interview

BY Peter Berkowitzpberkowitz@leoweekly.com

The Dave Rawlings Machine (Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch, Willie Watson, Paul Kowert and John Paul Jones) plays tonight at the Brown Theater at 8 p.m. LEO caught up with him for a chat.

LEO: Hi, Dave. Where are you today?

Dave Rawlings: I’m in Nashville, actually, I just walked over to a recording studio. I’m just recording some stuff. I don’t like counting chickens before they hatch, but working on recording some stuff. I don’t know if any of it will be of any value, but I’m doing it.

LEO: So you don’t know yet if it will be out on your name or on Gillian’s?

DR: Yeah, exactly. If it isn’t terrible, it’ll end up out there in the world, or I would hope. But recording’s a tricky thing, you gotta get it right.

Recording has never been much of a hang-up for us. once we have the material we like, it’s usually about, when I think about most of the records we’ve made, they take about five weeks or so to get them together. And I’m out working all the time, there’s usually some songwriting that needs to still to be done or some stuff that needs to be adjusted. We’re lucky enough to have a studio, we have our own studio so we can fool around with stuff that isn’t as much of a huge project now.

LEO: I hear you guys in a lot of newer bands these days. Do you hear that, too?

DR: Going back a little bit to some of those late ’60s – the Band or stuff like that, they had a lot of people at different ranges singing, and you know, those records have cast a wide net of people who they are a big influence on.

LEO: So you’re just part of the continuum?

DR: Yeah, exactly. And that’s what it is a lot of times, as you travel and get years under your belt, as a musician you forget that there are people who – every time something like that comes back around and a record comes out that uses a particular flavor, and you think. ‘Oh, that’s just like this record from 10 years ago or 20 years ago or 30 years ago…’ At this point, it would be the majority of music, there’s a chance you’d hear something and you’d go, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s from a record from 1931, and here we are almost a hundred years later and that’s the primary influence of this record.’ There are always people who are hearing that music who have never heard the source. And just like those people in 1931 might have been doing a knock off of something they heard great 50 years before that. It is a chain. A lot of times, those early records get a lot of extra credit because no one ever heard their source. They don’t know where it came from.

LEO: Does that lessen the pressure you might feel as a songwriter?

DR: At least from my perspective as a musician, you just gotta do what you love and you can’t help but do it, so if you hear something that you’re crazy about and your music is influenced by it, that’s the reason you play music. If you kinda leech all that out, ‘I’m just gonna play whatever distinctly comes from me and only me,’ it’ll be silent. You think of it as a recipe for a cake or something like that – there are ingredients, but if you don’t add other things, you’re just gonna sit there and be flour. Music comes from a combination of things, in my mind, and when I’m improvising on a song, I can sort of follow what happens in my brain. When I hear this or that, and it’ll sort of tug me through the song, and I just follow that path. But it has to do with music that you’ve heard and music that you feel, and you have to try to combine it and make something that, hopefully, does have some spark of new and does come specifically from you, and when you do think of thoughts that you’re pretty sure you’ve never heard before, those are really important ones to remember and to hold onto and to try to craft together into your own song. I’m always really happy when I come up with a song, or Gillian and I or whoever I’m working with, where you come up with stuff that you like and you can’t put your finger on it and point to anything else that does it just that way.

LEO: You’re touring this month with quite the all star band. How did you meet John Paul Jones?

DR: John was always interested in acoustic and folk music, so he played a lot of mandolin on Zeppelin stuff. I first met him at a bluegrass festival in North Carolina that he’d come just as a spectator to. There was a midnight jam on Saturday night, I think after hours, where all the musicians are just sort of backstage and you might say to someone, ‘Hey, let’s go out there and play this song,’ and you go down a list and they’re just sort of putting people out there and you just go out and play whatever. It’s just to encourage art  collaborations and everyone is just sort of worn out after the big day at the festival. And somehow John Paul Jones and his wife, they hadn’t been invited up to this thing. So I was talking to him, like, ‘We’re about to do this midnight jam, are you going up for this?’ and he said, ‘Well, I don’t know, I don’t think we can.’ I was just, ‘Yes, you can.’

So they piled in the car and drove just up the road half a mile up to where this theater was and hung around, and that’s kind of how I got to know him. But when he was coming to work on some records in Nashville, I played on a couple of those things and I got to know him a little better. When I did the first ‘Friend of a Friend’ tour in England and Scotland, he called up and said, ‘Do you wanna have a mandolin on the tour?’ And I said, ‘Sure,’ and he played the tour with us. It’s the thing that we all love doing together, it’s sitting in a circle and playing music or standing in line on stage and playing for people you know improvising and not knowing what’s coming next.

I think John sat in with Gillian and I at Bonnaroo years back, and that might have been the first time we really played together on stage, if I’m not mistaken. We realized pretty shortly into that set that when we — I’m using my guitar technique, some people call it cross-picking, it’s so you get this sort of flow going on, and John plays like that on the mandolin and had a similar feel, and so when we play together, we get this sort of swirling thing going on that we both like, and our styles intermesh in a way that we thought was fun. So I think that’s part of why we kept playing together was we felt like our instruments sound good together, and obviously he is such an amazing musician, it’s kind of unbelievable. He’s so facile and capable of doing anything you throw at him, from electronic music straight across to the furthest region of acoustic music. His ears are huge and he can play any kind of polyrhythm or anything. He’s just vastly overqualified to be in my band.

But everyone in my band is. They’re all giants, in my mind, at what they do. So we try to bring that to people. We get up on stage and fall into some song that crosses my mind. I usually feel good about how it’s gonna turn out, and if once in a while we miss the mark, well, that’s part of the experience of not putting together a show that is too rote, too arranged if you will.

LEO: You’re doing these two weeks more for fun than as a promotional obligation.

DR: It’s a thrill for me, and it’s been great to do, and it’s kept fresh for everybody because everybody does different things and has different projects. So all of these shows are like special events to us, to everyone in the band. If there’s a week window or two-week window where we can make this happen, we sort of savor every show. Now we want as much as we can put together. I know John says he’s been writing an opera – oh my god, I think when he gets done writing the original melody and the rough sketch of the opera, I don’t even know if you call it a sketch, but I think the orchestration takes a year and a half for these things. He’s been real busy with this and obviously other musical projects that he’s involved with, but he was playing at Bonnaroo and there’s a little bit of time there, I thought, ‘Well, if we could time it right, we could play back in Nashville and go to sort of some of our favorite towns to play in.’ I always loved playing in Louisville, that’s been a real strong place. The Machine did well there and a lot of the music I like is from there

That’s the thing, there’s always a sort of uncertainty involved and that’s what keeps the energy up. It’s never a sure thing, you can’t take it for granted when you get up there and you’re trying to do your best or whatever, you have to be there and the crowd is always part of it. We shall see, we’ll try to make it good, try to make it fun and we might have some surprises for people.

You just found one: Ms. Lauryn Hill coming to town next month

Ms. Lauryn Hill, of 1998′s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill renown and subsequent rocky road back to the live stage, will perform at Iroquois Amphitheater on Tuesday, July 22 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets go on sale Friday, June 27, at 10 a.m. Reserved seating tickets are $55 – $65. Tickets are available via www.IroquoisAmphitheater.com, by phone (877) 987-6487, or in person at the Iroquois Amphitheater Box Office (8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., M-F.)  Phone, internet & outlet orders subject to convenience fee.


Concert updates from Forecastle, Outskirts, Truckers and more

“Forecastle Festival” after-party with Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Matrimony and The 23 String Band at Headliners – Saturday, July 19 at 11:59 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 12 – Drive-By Truckers with North Mississippi All Stars at Iroquois Amphitheater (tickets on sale Friday)

New Zanzabar dates:Ha Ha Tonka (July 25)
Little Tybee (July 31)
Town Mountain (Aug. 29)
The Legendary Shack*Shakers (Sept. 4)

“Louisville Outskirts Festival” (Oct. 12 – 14, at the Cure Lounge, Dreamland and The New Vintage) first line-up announcement:
Abiyah (Cincinnati)
Absolutely Not (Chicago)
Antietam (NYC)
Bridge 19 (Louisville)
The Cell Phones (Chicago)
Cher Von (Louisville)
The Fervor (Louisville)
Juanita (Louisville)
Lady Pyramid (Louisville)
Mahogany Reign (Cincinnati)
Maiden Radio (Louisville)
Sandpaper Dolls (Louisville)
Shannon Wright (Atlanta)
Tara Jane O’Neil (Los Angeles)
Trophy Wife (Philadelphia)
Twenty First Century Fox (Louisville)
Twin Limb (Louisville)

James Mercer on the Shins and Zach Braff 10 years after “Garden State”


In this week’s issue, LEO Weekly has my profile of James Mercer and his current tour with Broken Bells. During our conversation, I also asked him about another current topic in his life – the use of a Shins song in Wish I Was Here, a new movie written and directed by Zach Braff, whose 2004 movie Garden State did much to change that band’s life a decade ago #natalieportman.

LEO: If this had been a year ago, I would never have asked you about Zach Braff. But… (we both laugh) because the trailer for his new movie has one of your songs -

James Mercer: Yeah.

LEO: Obviously, you would have to approve that.

JM: Yeah. So, Zach called me up and asked to do a song for his new movie, basically. And his music supervisor came out — this lady Mary (Ramos), who’s awesome — she came and showed me the movie, and I liked it. I guess it was a rough edit of the film? But it was really touching, and it was about having kids and all this stuff, which I can relate to now. And I set about trying … at first, I was trying to … they had in there, they had some songs they liked, but they wanted me to make something better, so they could replace it. I couldn’t handle that pressure (laughs), so I called him up and just asked him, “Man, can I just try and come up with something that, to me, feels like the movie?” And he was, like, “Sure, do it, go for it,” you know? “There’s a spot at the end of the picture when that would work.” So I set about writing lyrics about what the movie was about, and kind of came up with a song for the film. Which I haven’t done a lot – it was a real challenge to do that, you know? To just be, like, “OK, do something awesome — now! (laughs) And it can’t be about the shit you want to write about!” But it worked, and I am really stoked with the song. I think it’s one of my better songs. I can’t get enough of listening to it, actually. I’ve been enjoying it lately.

LEO: I can only imagine how many times people have asked you about Garden State. I bet Zach Braff doesn’t get asked about the Shins every single time he’s interviewed.

JM: Right? Yeah, I guess, yeah. It’s cool – for me, it’s like one of those things where … it’s always difficult when something is such a big deal that happens to you or the band. But looking back on it now, I just realize it was such a good thing for us! It’s something that will be always there, and I mean, in 20 years, I guarantee you my children aren’t going to be complaining about it (laughs)! Having too much spotlight on the Shins back in 2004. It’s just been a wonderful thing for us, and I feel like I owe Zach so much for it. I’m so grateful.

LEO: And what’s so interesting is, 10 years ago, you were both younger guys trying to find love, and now you’re both — I don’t know him personally, but at least in the movie and in your real life, there’s marriage and dealing with kids —

JM: Yeah, exactly.

LEO: So maybe 10 years from now, you guys can check in again —

JM: Right (laughs)!

Broken Bells play Friday, June 20 at Iroquois Amphitheater.