Neal Langford, former bassist of the Shins, has died. Shins leader James Mercer broke the news of Langford’s death in a heartfelt Instagram post last night: “He was in several bands with me including the Shins. A very important figure in my life you could say. I mean this is the guy who talked me into getting over my shyness and up on the stage. He put me in front of the microphone!… There’s too much to the story but I loved him. And I owe him a lot. Neal Langford you were always loved and you always will be.” No cause of death has been reported.
In a recent interview, James Mercer said that his friend Neal Langford was the person who convinced him to get over his natural shyness and to try singing. “He was just the coolest kid I’d ever met,” Mercer said. “We had this real trading of ideas back and forth, and he was just a sweet kid.”
In 1992, Mercer and Langford started playing together in an Albuquerque band called Flake, which eventually changed its name to Flake Music. That group released a few singles and one album, 1997’s When You Land Here, It’s Time To Return, which Sub Pop reissued in 2014. In 1996, Mercer and Flake Music drummer Jesse Sandoval started the Shins as a Flake Music side project. The band took its name from a Flake Music song. Initially, Scared Of Chaka members Dave Hernandez and Ron Skrasek played in the Shins, but when they left the band, Langford joined the Shines. Flake Music broke up in 1999, and that band’s entire lineup essentially became the Shins.
The Shins released their debut EP Nature Bears A Vacuum in 1999, and that EP, along with a tour with Modest Mouse, got the attention of Sub Pop Records. The Shins released their single “New Slang” as part of the Sub Pop Singles Series in 2001. Soon afterward, the band signed to Sub Pop and moved to Portland. Later that year, they released Oh, Inverted World!, their debut album.
Oh, Inverted World! became a word-of-mouth indie sensation, and it eventually went platinum. It came to symbolize a different era of warm, approachable, marketable indie rock — a moment perhaps best exemplified by the moment in the movie Garden State where Natalie Portman forced Zach Braff to listen to “New Slang” and tells him that the Shins will change his life. By the time the Shins recorded their 2003 sophomore album Chutes Too Narrow, Neal Langford was out of the band, and original bassist Dave Hernandez rejoined.
In a 2009 interview with The Guardian, original Shins drummer Jesse Sandoval, angry over his dismissal from the band, said, “[Neal] got fired. Neal was into ballooning but he didn’t choose ballooning over the Shins… The way Neal got fired was no different from the way I got fired.” Eventually, Langford and former Shins keyboardist Marty Crandall started a new band called Sad Baby Wolf, who released one EP in 2013. In that recent interview, James Mercer said that Langford was living in North Carolina with his partner and doing well.
Below, check out some of the music that Neal Langford made.