On the phone, Nick Thorburn sounds bored. Very bored.
“Just when I was 19 or 18, I thought it sounded funny,” he sighs as he explains his former stage name, Nick Diamonds. “It was … in reference to bloated rock stars like Neil Diamond or whatever, and it was kind of a play on words, like ‘nicking’ something as a verb — I guess, you know, stealing something, stealing diamonds. It was just a part of my adolescence, I guess.”
But Thorburn’s indie-rock band, Islands — the little brother of now-defunct indie band The Unicorns — swims far from the arena-rocking status embraced by major label rock-stars. Yet their recent signing with ANTI records, a label which nurses musical heavyweights like Tom Waits, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and Neko Case, may suggest otherwise.
Decidedly — and almost belligerently — Thorburn disagrees.
“We’re not… We’re still a young, or relatively small, band,” he says, peppering his response with measured pauses and the occasional sigh or two.
Perhaps Thorburn’s seeming lack of chattiness comes from the fatigue that accompanies a packed tour schedule, with the band appearing at consecutive tour dates before finally taking a breather after their stop in Madison this Saturday.
Islands is currently playing venues across the United States and in Canada to support the upcoming release of their second album, Arm’s Way. A week and a half ago, however, this follow-up to their 2006 release Return to the Sea leaked on Bittorrent.com, much to the delight of Pitchfork writers and indie kids across the country. Still, Thorburn said the band is taking it in stride “like an old-fashioned, out of date, suffering entity.”
“It’s basically people wanted to hear the record, and we weren’t able to meet the demand (sigh) and get it out to people in time and, you know. The record industry is a little slow to adjust, I think, but… We had a deadline for when the record was gonna be released, and we’re adhering to that deadline. So, the people who wanna listen to it before that, I guess, have that choice now. It’s inevitable.”
Despite the amount of flippancy Thorburn has toward this phone call, he still manages to dole out a large helping of disdain for the record industry, especially when it comes to their gimmicky album release tactics.
“It’s frustrating for the artist to have this waiting period where you finish the record and you have to wait four months before you can release it. It’s not in step with the way things work today. So, I understand the frustration, and hopefully it will be a sign of things to come in the future where people rely less on first-week sales. I mean, that’s the reason why labels do it. They want to come out of the gate with a strong first week sales.”
Aside from this spark of passion against the mainstream record industry, the rest of the conversation with Nick Thorburn is forced and awkward. Music lovers can only hope Islands’ Saturday evening performance at Club 770 won’t follow suit.
Islands’ performance is free and sponsored by the Wisconsin Union Directorate Music Committee.