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Nick Thorburn of Islands
The Islands of Montreal
by Matt Crawford on May 23, 2008
Nick Thorburn, frontman for Montreal sextet Islands, has had a lot on his plate since co-founder and collaborator Jamie Thompson left the band in 2006, but the group presses on with its sophomore release Armís Way. Thorburn discussed the new LP, and its intricate, multi-layered arrangements, on the day of its release during a phone interview from Montreal, just before the bandís North American tour. Islands stops in San Francisco at Bimboís on June 16th.
SF Station (SFS): Were you upset when you found out your album was leaked on the internet a month before its release?
Nick Thorburn (NT): No, the demand was there. People wanted to hear the music and if we werenít able to meet the demand of the consumer, that is a major flaw in the cog of the music industry. I think the business at large has to get a little better at catching up with technology. The music business is in a slump, but it's not because people arenít interested in music.
Iím a little conflicted with the artists versus consumer analogy, but I definitely feel more on the side of the artist. If someone is listening to our music and enjoying it, I canít get too upset about it.
SFS: You produce music faster than you can release albums and you have a stockpile of songs and nothing to do with them; is that frustrating for you?
NT: No, itís a really pleasant way to live.
SFS: Do you often play unreleased material live?
NT: Not usually, but we played the songs on the new album before they were released. The songs just kind of go through the cycle of relevancy. If they are not really relevant to where we are at the moment as a band, they donít make it on the record and then they donít really get performed lived. They kind of fall by the wayside, but we still like to record them and document what we do. We have plans to release all of our weird little sides at some point.
SFS: Why did you take a calculated approach with this album?
NT: It was really planned out and we went into it knowing exactly what we wanted to do. It was a breeze because we had our shit together. It was really cost-effective. It was about efficiency because we couldnít afford a laissez-faire approach to it. We had to know our parts and know everything. That was the best way to do it.
SFS: The songs seem like a good fit for that approach. You are not exactly noodling around on the new album.
BT: No, itís pretty prog-y.
SFS: When you were working on the album you initially said it was going to be full of short, pop-y songs.
NT: We definitely were in a headspace where short songs were desirable. There was a turning point with the song ďThe Arm". We realized that sprawling, orchestrated songs were more in line with where we were as band and where we were growing.
Things change. I was into making pop songs and I still have those songs, but it's multi-faceted and anything with creating is going to have a lot of different approaches to it.
SFS: Did Jamieís departure have any influence on how you approached the album?
NT: Maybe. It was kind of a wake up call, for me especially. As a songwriter, I had to pull up my socks and own up to being a leader and a singer/songwriter. It was a test of will and endurance. It was a good thing -- in the end that made me strong.
SFS: What was the biggest challenge during that time?
NT: It was just continuing. I really felt like my right-hand man was bailing and I didnít know if I could really steer the ship. It took a bit of soul searching to really feel like I was capable of it.
SFS: The cover for the album has gotten a lot of attention. Where did you come up with that concept?
NT: Itís from painter from Brooklyn that I discovered named Rebecca Bird. I saw her work and it immediately resonated. Itís like a rib-cage landscape with explosions and a mushroom cloud. It made a lot of sense for me for the theme of the record.
Islands performs at Bimboís on June 16th. Tickets are $18. Doors open at 7pm and the show starts at 8pm.
by Matt Crawford on May 23, 2008