Catching Up With The Shins

ByABC News
March 19, 2007, 3:21 PM

March 26, 2007 — -- Hyperbole has been a great friend to rock and roll over the years. So when Natalie Portman lifted up those big headphones, looked into Zach Braff's eyes, and said "You gotta hear this song. It will change your life," pop culture nodded and agreed to play along.

Braff's cinematic triumph over the black dog in 2004's "Garden State," and The Shins' subsequent leap into the world of indie music stardom, came with a swiftness that belies the nature of those painful processes. In reality, it takes longer than 102 minutes to break a lithium dependency, and far longer for a mild-mannered guy like James Mercer to get his song into a Gap ad.

It takes, in the case of Mercer and The Shins, about seven years. That was the amount of time between the band's genesis in Albuquerque, N.M., and the moment Portman cooed those now iconic words.

"I felt really conspicuous watching the movie," Mercer tells ABC News' "The Mix," "Suddenly I felt like I wanted to shrink down in my seat. Seeing it made me feel like I was on the tip of a pedestal, kind of embarrassing almost."

Mercer's stand on the pedestal has lasted almost three years now, and there's no sign he has any plans to step down. The Shins' new album "Wincing the Night Away" debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts, and sold a very un-indie like 100,000 plus albums in its first week.

That's a long run, and a heavy haul, for a band that with a sound that fits no conventional genre.

Mercer seems only slightly surprised.

"It's surprisingly sustainable," he says of the band's left-of-mainstream success. "You can have a real niche audience these days. A small percentage of the population is buying your records, but you can make a living off that."

"We sold out Madison Square Garden theater and the caterers don't know who the hell we are!" Mercer laughs.

The Shins' so-called niche is now well-carved, thanks in no small part to a clever combination of new media and old school DIY spirit. "Wincing the Night Away" is the group's first release with an influential outside producer.