Canadian indie-pop outfit Islands will appear at High Dive on Wednesday. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the show begins at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance on either ticketweb.com or from Hear Again Music and Movies and the High Dive. They’re $14 at the door.
The Avenue spoke with Islands’ Nick Thorburn, formerly of beloved indie-rock group the Unicorns, for a brief Q-and-A session.
Do college-town shows tend to have a different atmosphere?
There’s good and bad elements of smaller college towns versus bigger cities where you’re getting a wider swath of the population. But college towns can sometimes be a very select group of people who, you know, drink to excess and sometimes borderline disrespectful. But I also think it can also be a positive thing where there’s young people who really love music and just want to get out of world they’re in and have a night where they can get lost. That was music for me when I was in Montreal going to school — hugely important.
That "Rock And Roll Legends" segment on "Ski Mask" was hilarious. Did you say Derek Waters produced that?
I did — the lovely Derek Waters. He’s a dear friend of mine. We talked for a while about working together and collaborating on something. I had a very vague idea about doing a behind-the-music type special, and he was able to take that general idea and make it very funny. And he roped together some of his funny friends and turned it around in 48 hours. He’s a really talented and funny human being.
Have you ever talked about getting involved with "Drunk History"?
He’d asked (me) to be a narrator for the first season, but they kind of overshot their invitations and I ended up being cut out, which is OK. I don’t think I’d want to be drunk on national television, but I was an extra in (one) episode. You can see me in the back.
So "Ski Mask" is about to celebrate a birthday. Could you tell me more about the writing and recording process? You once said it was about "being angry," but it doesn’t sound vitriolic or full of rage.
I don’t really know what I was talking about (laughs). I think it has this aggressive nature where instead of playing the victim card, which is maybe done on the previous album — it was the breakup record, and I was feeling lost. With "Ski Mask" I was the gunship, and I had the shotgun vision. I’m not necessarily the aggressor, but I’m the master of my own fate. I don’t know if that’s angry, but it’s definitely more confrontational and assertive, which isn’t my general state. I’m not an assertive songwriter. I’m usually more reflective and ponderous. So this was potent.
It seems that so many artists are driven to form their own labels to escape control from bigger labels. Was there anything specific that drove you to form your own label?
We were under contract with our label, (which) had been very cool and supportive for a time, but they had been tightening their waist belts, and we started to feel like less and less of a priority. This is becoming more of a popular, conventional thing for artists — self-released, enhanced distribution deals where you have the distributor who does the heavy lifting but the artist has control. That was always a sticking point for me — being on a label where you give the record away in perpetuity.
So you don’t ever envision yourself going back to a different label?
I think so as long as there’s an infrastructure that I can curate. A label is just a bank really. It’s just a brand. If you want to be affiliated with Merge Records, that’s fine. But at the end of the day, you can hire all the people who do those jobs in-house where their job is specifically to do that one thing, whether it be radio, marketing or publicity. It’s just the norm, to sign to a label, but it’s totally outmoded. It’s traditional, but it’s not a currently relevant method of releasing music.
Is there a new Islands album in the works?
We’re pulling at a few new songs on this tour. We’ve got four new songs we’ve been working on in a live context. There’s no rush, and we’re going to try to take it slow and make everything sound right before we pull the trigger. But definitely there’s plans to make a new record.
Everyone’s been talking about a Unicorns reunion lately. Do you find that irritating, or are you happy that people are so invested?
I love it. I don’t find it irritating at all. It’s something I’ve come to terms with. I’m happy that there’s a modicum of interest about us getting back together. I think we were on to something, and I think we were trying something different. We were pretty young, in our early 20s, and we were pretty driven and sure of ourselves. I think that’s a very important quality to have. It’s an important stage in development.
What stage of development do you think you’re at right now?
Humbled — the humble stage. The world is a big place. I don’t think I realized it back then. Now I feel like the world is big, and I’m small. I’m also grateful that I’m able to do everything, but it’s definitely more fun to be in your 20s and think that you can run shit.
Well, that’s all I got for now. Is there anything else I should know?
Just get ready to get your dancing shoes on for Gainesville. It’s always been a blast and a party for us, so we’re ready to pull out all the stops.