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culture

Islands Brave New Waters

A band with Montreal roots gets personal on its new release.

Photo by Liam Maloney

“It’s an embarrassing record.”

Of course, Islands frontman Nick Thorburn wasn’t talking about the quality of their latest release, A Sleep & A Forgetting, which they were in town to support on Tuesday at the Music Gallery. He was referring to the difficult circumstances surrounding its genesis.

“I was living in New York for about three and a half years and had kind of set up a life for myself there,” the transplanted Canadian explains, “when I went through an abrupt transitional phase, a personal relationship coming to a halt.”

It was clear that, for Thorburn, talking about what he would later more directly refer to as a “break-up record” wasn’t much easier than creating one. Things weren’t all bad for him during his mourning period, though. After he left New York and floated around for a few months, Los Angeles proved to be the perfect landing spot for him to process those new feelings.

“I had a benefactor-type patron who was hosting me in a multi-million-dollar mansion, so I had a piano and a rehearsal space—all these tools at my disposal helped me express myself,” says Thorburn.

The recording process—which began with the addition of new percussionist Luc Laurent—was completed in only a week and a half.

“It was a function of a limited budget,” Thorburn says, “but it was also trying to match the tone of the music, the themes, and the lyrical content. It craved a really stark and direct production style.” This meant extensive rehearsing and long hours—a diligent work ethic that was then carried over to the studio.

“We were in there twelve hours a day,” Laurent says, “There wasn’t a lot of second guessing. I think one day we did five songs.”

The end result has an organic feel. It’s just four men, largely playing in the same room together. While Islands’ sound has always been expansive enough to include many different styles, the big difference this time around is the extremely personal lyrical content.

“It’s a very vulnerable place,” Thorburn confides, “I had to fight against that, resisted being that plainly honest.” He adds that he hopes to be writing about things other than the dissolution of relationships in the future. “There are many different things to explore on a lyrical level—death, outer space.”

While Thorburn has collaborated in various capacities with other acts like Mister Heavenly and Human Highway, he insists that these experiences only enhance the chemistry within Islands—a sentiment that Laurent echoes.

“I think playing in this group allowed me to do things I wasn’t able to do in my old group [Pepper Rabbit], so it’s really refreshing.”

While Islands forges ahead, one thing the group says will not change in light of recent events is the concert staple, “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby” from their 2006 debut, Return To The Sea.

“We play it every night,” Laurent says, noting that Houston passed away the weekend before the first shows of the tour. Thorburn, while he admits to trying to hit the high notes of “I Will Always Love You” in his younger years, likes to offer his own type of tribute when on-stage.

“The title doesn’t appear in the song itself,” he says. “But I like to call attention to it.”

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