News Column

Broken Bells go for 'sad space rock' on sophomore project

June 13, 2014

By Kevin C. Johnson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch



June 13--Grammy-winning music producer Brian Burton, better known as Danger Mouse, has always been careful when it comes to choosing his projects, not throwing his talents at just any artist who comes calling.

He has worked with Cee Lo Green, the Black Keys, Beck, Portugal. The Man and Norah Jones since his breakthrough opening salvo a decade ago, "The Grey Album."

Burton's latest project pairs him with James Mercer, lead singer and songwriter for indie-rock band the Shins. They've joined forces under the heading Broken Bells, which comes to the Pageant next week.

The latest Broken Bells album is "After the Disco."

"I look for the stuff that makes me feel a certain way," Burton says of his collaborative choice. "I like like-minded people who do music that's in the same vein as to what I'm looking at and who have similar ideas as to why we do music."

"Oh, and you have to be really good too," he adds.

Burton and Mercer met a decade ago when both were performing at a festival in Denmark. At the time, Burton was a fan of the Shins and managed to meet them backstage before their set. They hit it off and kept in touch.

"We would see each other at festivals and things like that," Burton says.

Burton says it was a mixture of the songwriting and Mercer's voice that drew him to the Shins' music.

"The way James sings, where he goes, the tone and the melodies are unique," he says. "There's a melancholy built into it, no matter what the song is, no matter how bright. There was something to it I was drawn to."

On the flip-side, Burton says Mercer was drawn to him musically because he really wanted to do something different.

"I helped him do something he hadn't tried before," Burton says. "He feels comfortable trying different things with me. I think the melancholy and the sadness draws us to music and why we got into music in the first place. We got into it because music affected us in a certain way when we were younger. We may have had ambitions, but all we wanted was to make the music we wanted to make."

After five years or so of a casual association, they decided they should start looking into working together.

For the group's 2010 self-titled album, "We got into the studio to see what would happen and ended up working on the first Broken Bells record," he says.

The follow-up, "After the Disco," is what Burton calls "sad space rock." "I wanted the music to sound like really pretty girls crying."

Burton says the music on "After the Disco" came from a time when both artists were younger and what they thought their lives would be like once they got older.

"We're at that place now. Is this what it's gonna be like? What are we supposed to sing about now that the party's over? What's the next thing?"

He also says "After the Disco" is the best combination possible of what both he and Mercer do musically and that it's faster and sadder than the music they did before.

As for what Burton may do next, it's anyone's guess. (He is said to be working on the next U2 project.)

"I don't know -- that's a good question," Burton says. "And what little I do know I'm not telling anybody. I don't like to make plans, and I'm not thinking too far ahead."

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What Broken Bells, Elf Power -- When 8 p.m. Monday -- Where The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard -- How much $30.50-$33.50 -- More info Ticketmaster.com

Kevin C. Johnson is the popular music critic and nightlife reporter at the Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at kevincjohnson and add him on Facebook at kevincjohnsonstl.

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(c)2014 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


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