Celebrities launch apps all the time, usually for some self-promotion or simply because they can. But like most entrepreneurs, the latest celeb tech founder, The Shins frontman James Mercer, became a founder to solve his own problem.
Mercer, the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for the American indie rock band—most known for its single “New Slang” (which became hugely popular after it was discussed in the plot of the 2004 film Garden State)—was on the hunt for something to help him up his Instagram game. He wanted a simple tool for making unique collages that are more like digital artworks than grid-like picture frames, but his search came up short.
“There was nothing,” he told the Observer. “The collage apps available were all boring and grid based.”
So he teamed up with childhood friends Zeke Howard and Ben Fogarty, who through their tech and design studio The Brigade have spent the last seven years helping startups and brands like Nike, Spotify and Bose perfect and market their products. Together they developed Pasted, a “smart” Instagram-ready digital design app that allows you to make creative collages and works of digital art. The free app launches on iOS today.
Pasted allows users to make works inspired by the look and feel of handmade paper collages. The app uses facial recognition technology to auto clip the images you’re looking for and make it even simpler to create unique pieces of art. Intuitive tools and tap-and-swipe functionality allow users to easily make adjustments including adding filters, backgrounds and free and paid cutouts called “Paste Packs.”
The Observer chatted with Mercer to learn more about the app and his new gig as a tech founder.
What inspired you to develop this app?
I had recently been inspired by my buddy Benji Wagner, the founder of Poler, to have more fun with my Instagram account. He wouldn’t stop giving me a hard time because I didn’t have as many followers as I ‘should.’ We kinda rib each other like that. This is right in the middle of writing and recording our new album Heartworms. So I started posting a bit and got into it and kinda loved it. Cut to my family and I on vacation in Hawaii. I came across an old collage of photos in a bar in Kailua; something obviously handmade and very focused on the people’s faces. I thought immediately this look would be cool for my Instagram feed. I went back to the table and searched on my iPhone for a collage app that had facial recognition and would allow a bunch of photos to be displayed at once. There was nothing. The collage apps available were all boring and grid based. So I got in touch with Zeke.
There are so many apps out there for making and editing photos, collages, videos, etc. What makes this one unique and special?
I’d say the simplicity of Pasted is what sets it apart. We’ve taken advantage of gesture based tap and swipe interface versus having to navigate through complex menus and tools. Once you understand the basics you can create just about anything with it.
Is this your first time dabbling in tech? If not, what else have you done in the industry?
This is the first time I’ve been involved in a tech project, though I have many friends in the industry. This was a fun learning experience for me to go from the whiteboard to prototypes and now finished product. There are some interesting parallels to the creative process of making a record, really.
Are you still as much into your musical career now that you’re working in tech too?
Of course! I’m just opening a new door. I’m focused on both now and was able to work in parallel with the team while I was mixing Heartworms and designing Pasted. Now that I’m on tour we use tools like Slack and InVision to stay connected as we get the app out there and see how people adopt it.
(Editor’s note: just yesterday, The Shins announced a new tour.)
Do you have any other side projects outside of music besides this app?