For almost a decade now, Nick Thorburn has been crafting daring and beautiful indie music. From the fantastical indie pop of Unicorns to recent supergroup Mister Heavenly, the man who calls Islands his main focus has been busy for almost 10 years.
“A decade, yeah. Goddamn,” sighs Nick Thorburn over the phone from a tour stop in Washington, D.C. “I think on a personal level I feel like I’ve achieved a lot. I don’t know about commercially or critically, but that’s always the conflict - not feeling properly understood or appreciated.”
The Montreal-formed, Los Angeles-dwelling Islands took some time off between 2009’s Vapours and this month’s A Sleep & A Forgetting.
Recorded mostly live off the floor in 10 days, the disc is stripped down, musically and emotionally.
“It’s actually good for playing live because stripped down is essentially what all live performances are,” he says. “We were on a limited budget, but it also makes sense because we were trying to do something that was minimal, that was as honest and direct and as immediate as possible.
“I think that was really the idea going into it, to make these songs sound not rushed or hurried, but fresh. A level of spontaneity not in the performance or the arrangement but in the tone.”
That tone is a sombre one, but with a few upbeat moments, such as Hallways and Can’t Feel My Face.
So when something so intimate and personal is thrust into the world, does the artist wonder how it will be interpreted?
“I glance (at reviews) but I don’t really read (them), especially with this record because it’s so personal,” he says. “It’s really weird to read the deconstruction of what is so literal so I try to avoid getting too deep with it. But I’m curious - I don’t like to exist in a vacuum.”
Thorburn’s most honest record to date is somewhat of a concept disc.
“There is a theme and a through line,” Thorburn says. “I don’t see ‘concept’ as a pejorative, necessarily. I think if songs have connections to other songs that make a cohesive point I don’t think it’s a bad thing. The whole MO of Islands is that it really could be anything.”
With all of that in mind, is there anything that Islands won’t become?
“It could be reggae-tone, dubstep ... well, no, probably not any of that shit,” he laughs. “It could go in any direction, I’d like for it to be flexible, malleable.
“I will never rap, that’s a guarantee. But I definitely want to make rap music, like the production side of it, or sing on hooks. I’m interested in that.”
Thorburn has already dabbled, rocking a falsetto on the chorus of Buck 65’s Gee Whiz and working with New York rapper and producer El-P.
“I like to dip my toes in that world because I’m a fan, so I like to be involved.”
No matter what he’s working on, we’re just glad that he’s making some of the most innovative and thought-provoking pop music around.
Published in Volume 66, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 1, 2012)