Nick Thorburn on the Stubborn Determination That Birthed Islands' New Creative Peak

Nick Thorburn on the Stubborn Determination That Birthed Islands' New Creative Peak
Photo: Christian Faustus
Releasing two standalone albums simultaneously was never a deliberate plan for Islands' Nick Thorburn. After a brief reunion tour with the Unicorns in 2014, Thorburn found himself in the midst of one of the most prolific songwriting stretches of his career.

"I'd amassed a bunch of songs and initially I thought maybe it would be one record," Thorburn tells Exclaim! "When we started rehearsing and fleshing them out, they started to feel really distinct, and like they fit neatly into two columns. And I went from there and said, 'We're going to do two albums.' I was stubborn about it and demanded that they were separate — they were not a double album, they were distinct. Combining them into one record with the best songs of each record, I thought, would be a disservice to the other songs, which I thought were valuable and worthy of inclusion."

Despite some initial apprehension from his management, Thorburn held fast and made the bold choice to release two wholly unique records at once — the poppy, electronics-and-synth-driven Taste and the rawer, more intimate Should I Remain Here at Sea? — both of which are out now after a successful pre-order campaign via crowd-sourcing site PledgeMusic.

Taste has a bright, infectious, electronic pop veneer that helps disguise some of the most political songs in the Islands catalogue. Thorburn says he has always had fun with the juxtaposition of "light, catchy, effervescent music matched with dour or serious lyrics, that sort of sneak in, Trojan horse-style. That's always been a device I try to employ. I guess some of the songs are a little more political, but still personal. I'm examining the world, and my own place in the world."

Should I Remain Here at Sea? starts with a cacophonous bang before giving way to a second half that includes some of the most melancholy tunes the band have ever recorded, including one that Thorburn struggled to even finish, album closer "At Sea."

"That's pretty much the saddest I've ever felt while singing," he says. "I didn't make it through a lot of the vocal takes — I sort of lost my composure. It was a pretty raw experience. I guess that's a default for me, that sort of melancholia, that sadness."

Billed as a "spiritual sequel" to Islands' 2006 debut Return to the Sea, Thorburn sees a clear connection between it and Should I Remain Here at Sea?, beyond obvious nautical themes.

"The first record came out 10 years ago. It's kind of a cumulative result of where I've come in those 10 years, and a way to look back at where the band have been. All the records are spiritual sequels of one another really. I'm always writing the same song — I'm just trying to get better at it."

Despite a full dance card that includes solo work as Nick Diamonds, and part-time duty as a comic book artist, film director and Serial podcast score composer, Thorburn sees a bright future with his current Islands lineup, which includes brothers Evan and Geordie Gordon (Evan also co-produced both records) and drummer Adam Halferty.

"Islands get the cream of the crop, I save the best for Islands," Thorburn reveals. "That's really the centrepiece of my musical work. Everything else is galacticly attached to it. Islands are the sun and get most of the heat."

Islands' upcoming tour dates can be found here; check out the Thorburn-directed music video for Taste song "No Milk, No Sugar" below.