By 2009, when James Mercer and Brian Burton announced they were to collaborate, they were already two of the most respected names in music.
Mercer, the brains behind New Mexico’s indie-pop heroes The Shins and Burton, one half of Gnarls Barkley and a world-renowned DJ in his own right, their coming together as Broken Bells was always going to be interesting.
The self-titled album was certainly that, and a string of festival spots and a world tour duly followed, but after that it was back to the day job. Mercer released The Shins’ fourth album and Burton started work on U2’s forthcoming record.
It seemed that it would be a while before Broken Bells made another offering.
“We knew about half-way through making the first album that we wanted to carry on working together,” says Burton. “We didn’t know there’d be another album as such, just that we’d do something again sometime.”
Somehow, they found time to write and record ‘After The Disco’, due for release in early February. Current single ‘Holding On For Life’ perfectly sets the scene for its arrival, with Mercer’s unmistakable voice crooning a melancholic melody over 80s synths and a thick beat you might find on a Dr Dre record.
Like its predecessor, ‘After The Disco’ was recorded in Burton’s Mondo Studio in LA, and saw Mercer leave Oregon and move into his musical partner’s spare room for a week at a time while they were recording.
“It was great. We’d go out for breakfast, work all day, have dinner in the evening, sleep, and do it all over again. It was a lot of fun,” says Mercer. “This time was even better than the first, because we were able to communicate and be honest with each other about what we did and didn’t like.”
Thematically, the album has one significant idea at its core; the notion of being comfortable with your life not working out as you’d planned. At 43, Mercer has seven years, a wife and two daughters on his bachelor bandmate.
“We’ve become very close friends and we have a lot of similarities, but we’re very different too,” says Burton. “James helps me talk through a lot of stuff, and this record is really personal for both of us in different ways. Because we’ve spent so much time together and know each other so well, it makes it a lot of easier to write lyrics.”
This unique partnership seems to bode well for the future of Broken Bells according to Burton. He said: “Broken Bells takes precedence over everything else. It’s the most dear thing to me, definitely my favourite thing I can put all my creative energy into. It feels like home.”