Interview: Islands (w/ Nick Thorburn)


In light of Islands upcoming show at the G-Spot on November 2, I had the pleasure of extracting some information from indie music’s resident pro-circuit pop troubadour Nick Thorburn–known fondly as Nick Diamonds from acts such as The Unicorns, Islands, and Human Highway, among others.

Incidentally, Anti- Records recently released Vapours–yet another bigwig electro-pop record, sporting some of Islands’ best tracks to date. It’s definitely worth picking up, if only to see what else these guys could possibly have left hidden up their sleeves. I hear they host a killer show too, so you might as well venture over to the G-Spot while you’re at it–if you can find it–to see what else they’ve got to say.

Here goes:

Aural States- First off, an abridged history of Islands?

Nick Diamonds- The Unicorns broke up, and Jaime and I decided to keep playing music together. So we made Islands, and we made a record [Return to the Sea], and Jaime left shortly after the record came out–I kept calling us a band, and we toured that a bunch. And now we’ve made this new record [Vapours], and Jaime came back, and we had a new lineup, and that’s it in a nutshell.

AS- What were the circumstances around Jaime’s re-enlistment?

ND- I wanted to make a record that I thought was analogous to his aesthetic sensibility, to the things he was doing and had been doing since he left.

AS- What were you all thinking about, if anything, while making this new record?

ND- I was thinking I wanted to make a very specific kind of record. One that’s a little more upbeat, a little less dramatic than the last one. Less, you know, lush– or not lush, but symphonic I guess. So the idea was to pull back on the big arrangements and simplify a little bit.

AS- How do you feel about it in comparison to your previous work?

ND- I feel good, I feel like it’s some of the strongest stuff that I’ve done definitely. You know, I’m coming at it as a songwriter and looking at the songs compositionally.

AS-  It’s curiously electronic for you guys, any particular reason for the shift?

ND- It was something I wanted to try. In a way, it was getting back to the kind of music I was making with the Unicorns, which was really synthesizer based. Getting back to basics a little bit, you know, but also kind of exploring different ways of treating songs. Some of these tracks were written before or around the same time as the last record [Arm’s Way], so I’m presenting them in a different style I guess, trying it out.

AS- You said you were trying to make this record less elaborate than you used to, has the songwriting process changed as a result?

ND- That doesn’t factor in really as much. There’s really a sort of style to the songs that lends itself to this sort of arrangement. But they’re simple songs, simple pop songs–but they’re not determined by the kind of sounds and instrumentation around.

AS- Any special plans for your upcoming tour?

ND- Nothing really. Just kind of do the tour, do the shows, the songs.

AS- Do you know who is opening?

ND- A girl named Jemina Pearl, she’s in a band called Be Your Own Pet, she just released a solo record. She’s opening, and this guy named Toro Y Moi, this kind of bedroom-pop-laptop sort of thing. Dance but still sort of garagey, you know?

AS- Is it difficult to recreate your sound in a live atmosphere?

ND- Not really. I mean, we’re very able musicians, and very flexible and stuff. There’s a lot going on with the two members besides Jaime and myself–Evan and Jordie. They’re doing a lot of switching instruments, you know, and even in between songs switching keyboards and guitars and basses. A lot of keyboard stuff, but I think we trade it well.

AS- Ever play Baltimore?

ND- Yeah, a bunch. I love Baltimore

AS- Is it at all different from playing other cities?

ND- Well, every city has got to be different, but it’s more show to show than town to town. The variations are nightly more than they are regional.

Baltimore has had a really good audience, but sometimes I get a really negative experience. I know one time I had someone in the audience in Baltimore echoing me pretty hard, and really getting a kick out of it, enjoying himself. He was really trying to throw me off a bit. And that was a negative thing, but people in Baltimore can be really awesome and supportive and there to have a good time. It’s always a mixed bag.

AS- So how often do you get those show hecklers?

ND- Not that often, that was one of the few times. Yeah, that was a bad one. You know, some people might yell out Unicorns songs. Which is fine, I can understand they want to hear a song they really like. Unfortunately we’re the wrong band.

Some people yell it out because they know it may be a sore spot for me or it might be inappropriate, but that’s not the way to go about asking. They do it purely to try and upset me or distract me, so that’s disappointing. That’s really pretty rare like I said, but it did happen in Baltimore.

AS- Have you heard Alden’s new record?

ND- Yeah yeah–I like it. I think it’s great. I’m really happy that he’s back playing music and performing. He’s a real talented creative individual, it was a shame that he was quiet for so long, I was afraid he would never make music again.

AS- Are you two still in touch?

ND- Yeah, definitely. He’s living in Montreal, so I don’t see him much because I’m in Brooklyn now. But yeah, we’re on good terms

AS- Well I guess time is running out, do you have any parting words for Baltimore’s readers?

ND- Nah, not offhand. That I’m just looking forward to hitting the city.

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