By Ryan Kelly
Nick Thorburn’s, aka Nick Diamond, Islands hit the Rock & Roll Hotel on Wednesday for what could be their final show in the district. The indie rock darlings have been underground too long, with a much too exclusive fan base. It’s time to remedy that and finally get out there to see them. Tickets are still available, and will run you only $15.
We spoke with the Islands’ frontman about the sad possibility that this could be the end of Islands, what might come next, what he’s listening to, and what you might be missing.
Brightest Young Things: The narrative, the explanation we’ve been hearing, of Ski Mask is that it’s born out of frustration– the idea that Islands may not be forever after all. What brings you to this point, where you’re questioning the band’s mortality and sending out what might be that last call for people to catch on?
Nick Thorburn: Sometimes it feels foolish to keep plugging away at something, relentlessly. Sometimes it feels good to entertain an ending. As much as I like to repeat the mantra of “Islands is forever,” I know that it’s more manifest destiny than an absolute truth.
BYT: The new album doesn’t seem so much a departure from the path you’ve been on, as much as it’s a distillation of Islands, or a recap of sorts. Is this your attempt to give listeners a good sampling of Islands…a sort of, “well, I’m not going to try to be anything I’m not. So if you accept me or reject me for this, I’ll know what’s going on?”
NT: In one sense, it’s a recapitulation, but in another, it’s very much about moving forward. The first song is “Wave Forms” which, thematically, picks up right where A Sleep & A Forgetting left off. If you’ll remember, A Sleep (LP4) was about sifting through the emotional debris of a failed relationship. “Wave Forms” is reflective to a point, but quickly asserts its decision to emotionally forge ahead.
BYT: Your songwriting, production and performance seem as strong and assured as ever. And you’ve started a new label of your own. I assume you still enjoy making and performing music, if not enduring the pains of touring and the business side of things. If this is it before Islands sink into the sea, what comes next?
NT: At the end of the day, it’s not up to me whether Islands continues or ends. I’m dependent on the business end of Islands being sufficient enough to support the work. If that bottoms out, I’ll find other means of employment. If people continue to support me then Islands can soldier on. There’s nothing I love more than writing songs, making records and performing. If I get the opportunity to continue doing that, I will be content. In that regard, I’ve never worked a day with Islands. It’s been an absolute joy and I hope that I am fortunate enough for it to continue.
BYT: Speaking of the business end, Radiohead has decried the new distribution mediums like Spotify, saying: ”When we did the In Rainbows thing what was most exciting was the idea you could have a direct connection between you as a musician and your audience. You cut all of it out, it’s just that and that. And then all these fuckers get in a way, like Spotify suddenly trying to become the gatekeepers to the whole process…We don’t need you to do it. No artists needs you to do it. We can build the shit ourselves, so fuck off. But because they’re using old music, because they’re using the majors… the majors are all over it because they see a way of re-selling all their old stuff for free, make a fortune, and not die.”
On the other hand, up and coming acts seem to make their money touring, rather than selling their albums. So Spotify acts as a way to get their music out there and basically publicize the bands. Not everyone, I would assume, can run their business like Radiohead. Your stuff is on Spotify, and you’ve done a “pay what you will” album in the past. As a band, and as a new label, what are your thoughts on the current state of the economics of music?
NT: I dunno. I don’t sell 1/1000th of the records Radiohead sell so I can’t adopt their opinions. I haven’t really formulated much of an opinion about Spotify. I shit-talked them in an interview for Stereogum and they gave me a lifetime subscription, so what can I say? I use Spotify all the time. If you don’t like where technology is headed, get out of the way? There was a guy who decried the death of music when Gramophones were introduced and sheet music was phased out… I wonder whatever happened to him. Oh I know, he’s DEAD.
BYT: Are you planning to produce any stuff on the new label that you aren’t fronting?
NT: Yeah! I’ve always toured with cool young bands who go on to great things (Chromeo, Death From Above 1979, Toro Y Moi, Arcade Fire) so I’m hoping to scoop in and grab the Next Big Thing. If anyone has a cool band or project they want me to hear, shoot me an email.
BYT: Regardless of Islands’ fate, can you see a time when you’re not writing or making music? Seems like a pretty reliable outlet for you that you’ve proven to be quite adept at.
NT: I’ll always be writing music and if I’m lucky, I’ll always be recording music. I’m in way too deep at this point to do anything else.
BYT: Any reason why you draw that line between The Unicorns and Islands, when you’ve noted in the past that Islands is just a continuation? Are you just following the Stephen Malkmus/Frank Black model of building anticipation for the big money reunion tour?
NT: Hah. My motivation is not to capitalize on the Unicorns “legacy.” The Unicorns is The Unicorns and Islands is Islands. Islands is me, and for now (and hopefully for the rest of Islands) Evan, Geordie and Adam. The Unicorns is Jamie and Alden and myself. There is a tertiary connection (that connection is me) but that’s about it.
BYT: Who are you listening to these days? Old stuff, current stuff, hip-hop?