James is the founder + driving force behind indie rock icons The Shins. With over 20 years in the game, he’s seen just about every facet of the music business – from tiny shows at dives bars to Billboard top 10 albums on major labels – and as you can imagine he’s learned a thing or two along the way.
Getting your career as a creator off the ground is hard. Keeping it on the rails after years or decades is even harder. Being one of the best – someone who breaks through to mainstream success? Orders of magnitude harder than all that. The amazing highs are – inevitably – coupled with difficult lows, and learning how to cope with that dynamic is crucial for the sanity + success of anyone who seeks to build a career around their creative passions– and James is a wealth of knowledge on that topic.
We also get into the nitty gritty of the how + why he created the new app Pasted (spoiler warning: it’s amazing – creates incredibly cool, cut-n-paste style graphics from the photos on your camera roll – it’s currently on the front screen of my phone– download it here).
Today on the podcast,
- Longevity and stamina. How do you stay motivated and inspired after success and hardship, the industry, dealing with the “what’s next” feeling and post-achievement comedown?
- The artist-as-entrepreneur paradigm. Whether they like it or not, all artists are also entrepreneurs. What does “entrepreneur” mean to James?
- Collaboration: How do you have co-creators? (eg. his Broken Bells collaboration with Danger Mouse). How do you develop the soft skills to the business? When do you compromise on creative differences and when do you decide to cut ties?
The creative process is always a struggle
Listen to the Podcast
Bonus: Secret acoustic show from James
Watch the Episode
Some Questions I Ask:
- What was it like at the very beginning of your career? [2:50]
- What kind of odds jobs did you work back then? [6:00]
- Why is the act of recording so important to you? [7:35]
- How did you get from the early days to an established career? [8:50]
- What’s the story of the Shins’ first album? [12:50]
- What happened after the first album? [13:55]
- Contrast the early days vs the post-Billboard success days [16:15]
- How did the creative process change? [19:10]
- What are some surprising things about you? [20:35]
- What is role of art aside from music in your life? [22:35]
- Tell us about your new app Pasted [24:45]
- Why did you choose to make an app? [29:05]
- Was the aesthetic rock poster-inspired? [32:10]
- Have you ever considered giving up being an artist? [33:00]
- Tell us about the new album “Heartworms” [37:10]
- How have you changed as an artist over the years? [42:15]
- Did you have a plan, or do you just follow your instincts? [42:45]
- How did you get over shyness? [46:10]
- How did you develop your voice?[44:05]
- How do you course correct when things go awry? [49:05]
In This Episode, You Will Learn:
- How James found his calling in music + told his military family about it [4:15]
- How he recorded the first Shins album with a cracked copy of CoolEdit Pro [5:45]
- Why getting out there and making connections with other humans was key to James’ career growth [9:20]
- Why overnight success is a bs myth and stamina wins [10:45]
- How he built a relationship with SubPop [11:40]
- How a Shins’ song became part of the movie Garden State and jumpstarted their career [15:00]
- Why he sought out artist friends to create the band’s image rather than use photos of them [18:20]
- Why James loves gardening and the role it plays in his life [21:00]
- Why he would never have played music without the encouragement of a friend [23:45]
- How we partnered with an old friend/musician-turned-developer to create Pasted [25:30]
- The similarities between creating music and tech products [29:45]
- The difference between making music and performing it [33:45]
- How he dealt with his parents’ reaction to his choice to pursue art [35:00]
- The inspiration for the title of The Shins’ latest album [38:05]
- How he came to collaborate with Danger Mouse [39:10]
- How the people he’s playing with inform his work [46:10]
- When it’s time to abandon a song [50:00]
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