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- Posted on Jan 21st 2010 4:00PM by Laura Ferreiro
Taking a break from rehearsing in Los Angeles for their first live shows together, Burton and Mercer talked to Spinner about how they arrived at the decision to partner up and form Broken Bells. "I'd been doing Gnarls for the last three years or so and I wanted to try something different," Burton says. "I felt I was getting strong enough to write and play with somebody else as well. I was always a real big fan of the Shins and James' songwriting and his voice, so I thought it could be a really fun thing to try."
Mercer was also itching to branch out from his "day job." "I wanted to do something other than the Shins," he says. "I was tired of locking myself away and controlling everything and writing Shins records. Brian heard about that and said, 'Let's do something together.'"
The pair, who originally met several years ago at Denmark's Roskilde Festival and have kept in touch ever since, quickly discovered they share similar musical sensibilities. "I think we have similar abilities and tastes," says Mercer. "When Brian really likes something I always like it, so I think it flows well and goes pretty quickly. He works fast and keeps me working, so I'm always trying to catch up, which is invigorating."
The duo recorded the album at Danger Mouse's Los Angeles studio, with Mercer flying down frequently from his Portland home and spending days or weeks crashing with Burton. They began working on Broken Bells in May 2008 and kept the project under wraps until recently. "We didn't tell anybody we were doing it so that helped us to take our time," says Burton, who has also produced albums for the likes of Gorillaz, Beck and the Black Keys. "We recorded a lot because we weren't in a rush and we weren't really doing other things at the same time so we had fun with it."
Although they had a good time making it, Burton admits that some dark elements found their way onto the album. "A lot of the subject matter, the stuff James and I were talking about and thinking about, had a darker element that subtly worked itself into the album and that's why it sounds the way it does," he says.
Much to their dismay, an unfinished version of 'Broken Bells' leaked online in December, but Burton says he hopes people will be more interested in hearing the finished product. "There's a song on the album that's not on the [leaked version] and there are songs we changed a couple of things on," he says. "We don't even know how it got out there because it's an earlier version of the album. We want people to get into the album that we finished, not the one we didn't finish."
The pair recorded 28 songs, 10 of which ended up on the debut. The rest of the tunes will likely lay the foundation for a second Broken Bells album and be used as B-sides for their singles. But they're not done yet. "We're still taking our time throwing new ideas around," Burton says. "It worked out so well not rushing around the first time and we'd like to do that again."