Since forming in 2005, Nick Thorburn’s band Islands has journeyed from indie-pop precision to electro-speckled introspection, while placing jaunty folk rock next to mid-tempo melancholy. Recently Islands dropped their fifth LP, Ski Mask, and Thorburn (otherwise known as Nick Diamonds, frontman of now-defunct three-piece The Unicorns) voices his opinion about the relevance of genre labels. “I hate classification. I understand that it’s important for record store clerks to direct customers, but it doesn’t reflect how I write or record music.”
The frequent stylistic turns heard throughout Islands’ history have been executed with such poise that the band’s elusive character hasn’t hindered the music’s pre-eminently infectious quality. Thorburn admits his music’s amorphous nature can make it unmanageable, but nevertheless he doesn’t hesitate to follow tangential impulses.
“The schematics for Islands are by their nature completely undefined. At this point, I almost feel too boundless with where I can take the music. I’d love to start zeroing in; maybe a concept record about a tree and every song could be about a different leaf. No scruples for me though – I make the music that I want to hear.”
Islands’ 2011 record A Sleep & A Forgetting revealed a more personal and wistful facet of Thorburn’s songwriting identity, and he explains that the new record conspicuously links up with the previous release. “The initial decision was to pick up where we left off with A Sleep & A Forgetting. Ski Mask opens with the song ‘Wave Forms’ which is almost a direct lead-in thematically from its predecessor. ‘The water’s calm and I am moving on’ – there is a peaceful reflectiveness and a resolute decision to move forward.” Despite this resolution to project ahead, Thorburn says that rather than being a ceaseless display of optimism Ski Mask actually further explores the weighty themes of its predecessor. “[It’s] still reflective – the water’s just a little deeper… and darker.”
The band has undergone much reorganisation over the last decade, but Thorburn’s partnership with Evan and Geordie Gordon (initiated on 2009’s Vapours) continues on Ski Mask. “We just started working with a new drummer, but the Gordon brothers have been with me for the past three records and are as solid a lineup as I could ever hope for,” says Thorburn.
Thorburn has been something of a nomad since forming Islands, starting in Montreal, Canada before relocating to New York City. Presently, he calls Los Angeles home. However, he isn’t inclined to directly associate the city he lives in with the music he makes. “I have always said that living in LA has had zero influence on my music. Whether or not that’s absolutely true remains to be seen. I lived in NYC for three years and I never noticed a particular influence from that city emerge. I’m more interested in specific incidences and events in my life than the geography of a place.”
Last year Thorburn appeared on rapper El-P’s glorious ‘Stay Down’ single, and in 2011, together with Man Man’s Honus Honus, he administered the doom-wop project Mister Heavenly. Working with musicians from a variety of genres and backgrounds clearly helps prevent his writing habits from turning stale. Additionally, Thorburn is outwardly an avid music listener, which brings about the discovery of many new loves and unique inspirations.
“I just picked up three records today that I’m excited about: a ’70s Romanian electro-prog producer named Rodion G.A.; a Nigerian compilation called Nigeria ’70, which collects Afro-funk, highlife, and Afrobeat; and a live Ike and Tina [Turner] record. I am constantly trying to outlive the indie rock ghetto.”
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY
Ski Mask out now through Stop Start.