The band formed in 1997, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States as a side project of Mercer (previously of Blue Roof Dinner) and drummer Jesse Sandoval, who were both members of Flake Music. The band's original lineup was Mercer (vocals, guitar), Sandoval (drums), Marty Crandall (keyboards) and Dave Hernandez (bass). Neil Langford replaced Hernandez in 1998. Hernandez returned to the band in 2003, as Langford had left the band in 2001. Hernandez remained in the band until 2009. Fruit Bats keyboardist Eric Johnson joined the band in 2006.
Their debut album, Oh, Inverted World was issued in 2001 and contained the singles "New Slang" and "Caring is Creepy", which were both featured in the 2004 film "Garden State". The band's next album, Chutes Too Narrow was released in 2003 and featured the single "So Says I". The band's third album Wincing The Night Away, was released in 2007 and debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 charts, the highest charting album in Sub Pop history until Arcade Fire's"The Suburbs" debuted at #1. After a short hiatus, Mercer announced in 2009 that the band was to record a new album and that Marty Crandall, and Jesse Sandoval were no longer members of The Shins. The band's new lineup included James Mercer, Eric Johnson, Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer and Grand Archives keyboardist Ron Lewis.
Before the release of Port of Morrow, the band lineup changed once more with only Mercer and Plummer remaining from the previously announced lineup. The newly added members were announced as guitarist Jessica Dobson, bassist Yuuki Matthews (formerly of Crystal Skulls) and keyboardist Richard Swift.
The Simple Song Songfacts reports that "Simple Song." was the first single from the Port Of Morrow album, the band's debut release on James Mercer's Aural Apothecary record label. It was also the first offering to be heard from the band following the departure of Jesse Sandoval and Marty Crandall.
The current line-up for the live act is James Mercer (vocals, guitar), Jessica Dobson (guitar), Yuuki Matthews (bass), Richard Swift (keyboards) and Joe Plummer (drums).
2017 - Fifth Album & World Tour
The band released their 5th studio album, "Heartworms" on March 10, 2017 on the Aural Apothecary/Columbia Records, together with a supporting world tour. "Heartworms" features Mercer's most diverse lyrical palette to date: From fictional character sketches ('Fantasy Island', 'Rubber Ballz'), autobiographical accounts ('Mildenhall'), to first single 'Name For You', a resounding call for female empowerment inspired by Mercer’s three daughters.