No costumes, no fuss, just music

By Kev Geoghegan
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

image captionMercer (left) is on vocal duties with Burton (right) providing keyboards and beats

Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton is the Mr Benn of pop music.

When he takes to the stage as one half of pop duo Gnarls Barkley, he comes dressed as the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz; or a Jedi master; or a Roman centurion.

But the producer will be dressed more soberly when he performs with his new band Broken Bells at the Royal Festival Hall in London later, as part of the Meltdown Festival.

"We certainly won't have any costumes or anything," laughs Burton's bandmate James Mercer.

"I though that whole thing with Gnarls was rad," says the singer, whose day job is with indie rock band The Shins, "but we have a 'psych-projection' thing that we've worked out so we just let the visuals add whatever they can to the show."

Broken Bells were handpicked for Meltdown by Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thomson - who is creating this year's event.


The band's roots go back six years, when Burton and Mercer crossed paths at a festival and discovered a mutual admiration for each other's work.

But their collaboration did not begin in earnest until 2009, when Mercer performed on the track Insane Lullaby, from the unreleased Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse album called Dark Night of the Soul.

image captionGnarls Barkley had a penchant for dressing up

More sessions between Burton and Mercer followed, resulting in their self-titled debut album, which was released in the UK in March.

"I'm surprised that we get along as well as we do, I think we're both pretty laid back, which helps," says Mercer of his working relationship with the keyboard player and Gnarls beatmaker.

In fact, the duo's relationship worked out so well - with Mercer providing the lyrics and vocals - that they ended up recording twice as much material as they needed.

"It's funny because I'm usually the person who is overediting and cutting things out, but I was the one who was like, 'Oh no, we can't take that out,'" Mercer recalls.

"But Brian is really good at being discriminating and I think he did the right thing cutting some songs out."

Chart disappointment

The resulting album of psychedelic pop was a critical triumph and charted in the US in the top 10.

But a fairly low-key release in the UK failed to make an impact, and it narrowly scraped into the top 50.

Mercer admits he was disappointed, saying, "it would be cool to think of lots of people listening to it" but says it was far more important to release something he was happy with.

"I suppose [record sales] are the kind of thing I should care more about," he sighs.

He adds that the material excluded from this album will almost certainly find its way on to Broken Bells' follow-up record.

Before then, the band are hoping their new single, The Ghost Inside, will boost their profile.

image captionHendricks acts in the award-winning drama Mad Men

The track twins a Burton beat and bassline that could have come straight out of Gnarls Barkley's catalogue but twinned with Mercer's bruised falsetto vocals.

More importantly, the video features Mad Men's redheaded bombshell Christina Hendricks as a lonesome starpilot heading to her dream planet.

It is the sort of video that will have men of a certain age constantly clicking the refresh button on YouTube.

"It looks really expensive but it wasn't at all," says Mercer.

Broken Bells follow up their Meltdown appearance with shows at the Eden Project and Glastonbury towards the end of June and Benicassim in Spain in July.

Following their tour, Mercer says he plans on getting back to recording some new material for The Shins.

He stresses that a change in line-up - his keyboard player and drummer left last year - won't affect the band's sound.

As the sole songwriter, "the band is a reflection of my songs and what I am doing," he says.

The Broken Bells album is out now. The Ghost Inside is released on 28 June.

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