When two artists come together and create a song, the inspiration behind the musical marriage is lost in the ether. But in the case of indie mainstays Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie) and J. Robbins (Jawbox, Burning Airlines) and their song “Mercury”, the inspiration is as clear as day: NPR.
The public radio behemoth brought the two together to write and record in two days under their Project Song Challenge (which is part of All Songs Considered). The aim of the project is to make a song when the two performers have never met or perfromed together before. Not only did NPR provide the challenge and the recording space, but also some of that elusive creative magic.
“I supplied some inspiration for their song: photo collages created by artist Tom Chambers,” explained Bob Boilen in a writeup regarding the song. “They chose a photograph of a house in a canyon filled with water, tilted and flooded. Not far from the house is a dog on a boat, floating either toward or away from the house. I also supplied a series of words. They selected the word “cerebral” and promised when they wrote the song not to be too cerebral about it.”
The song that follows is the life after the fallout pop that we’ve all come to know and love from Death Cab for Cutie. But Robbins is there to keep things interesting with his bass line and build things up musically to a rhythmic high point. And at over five minutes, it’s much more epic sounding with a true kind of sullen regret backed by a harder rock.
The folks at All Songs Considered have provided both a performance video and a making-of piece on their website, which you can sample below.