Progress Report

Progress Report: Nick Thorburn

By / January 27, 2009

NAME: Nick Thorburn (Islands, Human Highway)
PROGRESS REPORT: Recording Islands’ third LP at Stratosphere Studio in New York City; recording a solo LP, I Am An Attic at home; releasing a comic book, This Is Howie Doo, through Bodega Distribution.

Nick Thorburn fits the same overachieving Canadian trope that we’ve bestowed on Spencer Krug and Owen Pallet. But Thorburn’s a more self-conscious musician, one who satisfies his self-diagnosed ADD by feeding new ideas, playing with perceptions and expectations, caring a lot about what people think, then claiming to not care at all. He’s Twittering progress on the next Islands record. You might not realize from his cryptic Tweets, but he’s working very differently than he did last album around. “It’s a new configuration in line-up, and it’s electronic-based, with plenty of drum machine and programming,” he says. “[It’s a very stripped down affair, with minimal instrumentation and sparse arrangements. This is not Arm’s Way II.”


Islands @ Cedar St., SXSW ’08 [Photo by Amrit Singh]

Even the numbers around the recording are smaller: he is on day eight of recording with 10 days to go (though they are spending 16 hours a day in the studio). There will be 12 songs on the untitled album, (including “Vapours” “Everything Is Under Control” and “Disarming The Car Bomb”). Thorburn says the tracks are shorter than usual, and “most don’t even break the 3 minute mark.” Singles? “All singles.” Though he isn’t retreading Arm’s Way, Thorburn isn’t rejecting that work either. “I’m extremely proud of Arm’s Way and think it was gravely misunderstood. I just tend to naturally deviate from record to record,” he explains. “[But] I believe I retain my musical center in every project I do. I don’t ever set out to do something different, I just get so excited and influenced by so many different things.” Thorburn is changing album themes as well: though death has been a dominant idea from his Unicorns work onward, he’s written only one death song for the new album. Self-consciousness remains: Thorburn says song topics will include “teenage rebellion, lazy music critics, the underclass, trust, mistrust, and good old fashioned self-doubt.” He’s hoping the album will be humorous, or “playful” as was Islands’ Return To The Sea or even Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?. Wolf Parade’s Hadji Bakara is doing some additional programming long distance. Original Islander Jamie Tambeur, who contributed much to the sound and rhythm of Return To The Sea, is also back for this Islands record.

As promised, or expected, Thorburn has several other projects he’s juggling. He’s planning a second, acoustic LP with Islands this summer, as well as a tour with Human Highway in March. He’s halfway into recording a solo record, titled I Am An Attic: “It’s just a little thing in my bedroom.” He wants to release it for free, part of a New Year’s resolution to do more for people who like what he does. His comic book This Is Howie Doo will be out sometime this spring (you can see his comics here), and he’s also writing columns for Gavin McInnes’ Street Carnage blog. Right now he doesn’t have plans for another big charity project like 2005’s “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en?” or last year’s NY Cares benefit, at least for now. “We raised a lot of cold hard cash, so if something good comes up, I’m always game.”

Here’s a rough mix of “Used To Be Funny,” a first listen from the forthcoming I Am An Attic.

Nick Thorburn – “Used To Be Funny” (MP3)


Nick Thorburn & Drawing Buddy, Brooklyn 2007. Photo by Kate Perkins.

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