People like to have a clear sense of who a lyricist is as a person, which lends confusion to upbeat songs with painful lyrics. Would you say you’re a well-adjusted or neurotic person?
I am definitely not well-adjusted [laughs]. For the first time in my life, last year I entered a really depressed period and I was experiencing anxiety and paranoia like I never had before. I had weird paranoia that people were trying to drug me, that I was constantly under attack. I just couldn’t turn my mind off, and it was as if someone was destroying my mind. And people who have never had such problems will say, “You need to exercise and do yoga—anything but take antidepressants.”
There’s still this weird stigma attached to antidepressants and therapy in our society. It was a humbling experience to have no control. That shakes you up. It was eventually the right combination of medication and therapy that got me back onto my feet. You can actually hear the turning point that I had on the record, where it becomes funkier and less morose. That’s why you get songs like “Faberge Falls for Shuggie,” which sound like Prince and Sly & The Family Stone, while on the first half [of the record] you can really sense an inner turmoil.
Were the problems chemical or situational?
It was a completely situational thing. Having a newborn daughter really messes with your mind. I love Alabee, but I’m obviously not used to being a family man. I was having this inner tension of what my parents, my wife and the whole world expected of me. I felt like there was no solution, and that’s why there are so many references to killing myself. There are actually two versions of Hissing Fauna..., one of which addresses all the sadness, depression, breakups, psychosis and insanity. I was balancing the group’s first real moments of recognition with having a family and raising a kid. [My wife] Nina and I worked things out together, and that’s where it became much happier. Our EP coming out with the record is darker, with more references to suicide. In the process I cycled through a few medications: one for anxiety called Ativan, then Effexor for depression that made me feel 10-times worse. I was afraid the medication would wipe out my highs and lows and affect my songwriting, or turn me into a vegetable. I’m still just as creative; I have a Tourettic inner dialogue that’s like a strange film reel. I knew my medication wasn’t too destructive, because the Tourettic reel never left.
Did you like the Outback commercial based on your song “Wraith Pinned to the Mist?”
That’s the weird thing, that they didn’t just take the song, they made a new song using the structure of the original. A steakhouse is basically zero on the coolness scale. It’s so mundane, a steakhouse. People were upset with the decision, but there are companies like Volkswagen that have credibility for some reason. They’re all just products — steaks, credit cards, diamonds, cars — it’s all just a product. I wouldn’t be stoked about The Shins having a steakhouse commercial, but you have to watch out for yourself and take what little money you can get to continue playing music. Indie bands need the money so they’ll work for cheap. I heard Cat Power on a diamond commercial, and I’ve heard Apples in Stereo, Modest Mouse. But no, I thought ours was atrocious. I talked to the company about it, and first they said it would be a radio jingle. Then it became a TV commercial, and I thought, “Oh, shit.” They said, “Don’t worry, it’ll be cool.” Then it became a lame steak commercial with the baked potato with steam rising off of it, and they led me to think it was going to be kind of artsy! It freaked me out, but it really doesn’t matter. Life goes on. And hopefully no one’s going to kill me for it.