Mix Picks: Straight out of the Mag – a Q&A with Islands


Islands are an unpredictable, mostly Canadian indie pop band that rose from the ashes of cult favourite 90s Montreal band the Unicorns. Led by founder Nick Thorburn, Islands just released their fifth album, Ski Mask, on Nick’s own music label, Manqué. And now they’re gearing up for a spring tour that will see them travel across the country throughout the month of March.

According to actor Micheal Cera, a friend who appeared in a mockumentary about the band, the album induces the loss of bowel control. “Ski Mask comes out, and people shit their pants. That’s the kind of record. It’s the kind of record people definitely shit their pants.”

Mixtape spent an afternoon with Islands. Here’s what they had to say about flip flops, public executions and music videos.  You can find this article in our latest issue right here.

Mixtape Magazine: We’re here [at the Atlantica Hotel] looking out at the Willow Tree intersection, beside the Halifax Common. Did you know this spot is where people were publicly executed, by hanging, a few hundred years ago?”

Evan Gordon: Is that humane way to die or is it torture?

Geordie Gordon: I think you shit your pants.

Nick Thorburn: Whether or not it’s painful, it’s also such a public event, it turns everyone in the town into monsters. It’s the worst.

EG: It would probably bring everyone together from miles around – it would be their one trip you make every month – to come see the hanging.

MM: Before we get too deep in Halifax history, how did your band come about?

NT: Well you can probably just check our Wikipedia page. It’s pretty accurate.

MM: How did the current members of the band come together?

NT: Evan and Geordie had a band called the Magic and they opened for Islands in 2008 and I liked them so much I asked them to become members. Adam is our new bud that we just met recently. We’ve already proposed for a lifelong marriage to our band.

MM: What is your newest album, Ski Mask, trying to say?

NT: I can’t just, there’s no pithy way to summarize what I was trying to say in one clean sentence.

MM: Maybe some general themes?

NT: It is a lot of things. It feels trivial to try and sum it up but it’s vague, it’s ambiguous, it’s open to interpretation. It’s just kind of a paranoid thing. Life sucks I guess is the main theme. Life is hard and then you die.

MM: What is the picture from the album cover? [It’s a terrifying picture of some living thing screaming, covered in what looks like dripping tar.]

NT: The picture is from a 1988 B horror film called Ozone Attack of the Redneck Mutants. I came across the image online and then tracked down the movie and then got in touch with the director, and got the permission to use the image.

MM: So is that some sort of creature?

EG: Yeah, it was a normal guy that’s been mutated by the thinning of the ozone, and his face is bubbled and spewing like pink slime I guess.

NT: It’s just nasty. It’s pure nastiness.

MM: Why did you pick that?

NT: I don’t know – I liked the way it looked, it seemed nasty and dark which is what these songs seem like to me.

MM: How long have you lived in Los Angeles?

NT: Three years pretty much. I was in New York before that for three years, and then Montreal before that for seven years. So I am 14 years old in music.

MM: What has changed for you musically since you’ve moved to the States?

NT: Nothing. I mean, I met Adam, that was a good change. But nothing has changed. Where ever you go there you are, as above, so below. You can put that in quotes because that was sarcastic. Zen or whatever. But yeah. It’s me, or Geordie or Evan. Wherever we are, we make the same music, unaffected by geography. It’s more experience based.

MM: What’s living in L.A. like?

NT: It’s nice. I like the weather – though I never wear shorts. I’m a pants-only kind of guy. And I hate flip flops. I absolutely loathe them. I don’t think feet should ever be exposed in public.

MM: What if the toes are nicely manicured, with colourful nail polish?

NT: No. It’s never a good thing. I hate everything about flip flips – the way they sit between the toes, the slapping sound they make when you walk… I’m getting uncomfortable just talking about them.

MM: Nick lives in L.A., Geordie and Evan live in Toronto (though from Guelph originally). Would you say you guys are a Canadian band or an American band?

NT: I think we’re a North American band, but we’re Canadian, legally. But I never have really identified as being a Canadian necessarily.

MM: What are some of your favourite places you’ve visited on tour?

NT: That’s a tough one. I like Cologne, Germany. It’s a fun, kind of magical city and we have a good following there.

EG: We went to Africa, to Malawi together this summer, to help with a development project that created music education programs. That was pretty awesome.

NT: But it seems like a dream now, it seems like it was never really part of our life. It was some kind of malaria dream. Maybe we never left.

MM: How has that experience changed you?

NT: It certainly changed me – not in like a profound, new-agey sort of way but it was it was a new experience. It changed as in now we’ve been there and before we hadn’t. But it’s good to have a little more perspective on the rest of the world.

MM: Why did you start making music?

NT: So girls would like me.

MM: Really?

NT: I don’t know. Maybe. Probably. A little bit.

MM: What was the first thing you played?

NT: A harmonica. I was too old. Too old to be playing a harmonica.

MM: Did it work? Getting girls?

NT: No. Just attracted the attention of bullies.

MM: If you weren’t making music right now, what would you be doing?

NT: Rotting. Decomposing by this point probably.

MM: You’re probably already doing that.

NT: No, I’m just kidding. I’d probably be trying to make movies. I went to film school so that was originally the plan. We’ll see. I live in a town where that’s what people do, so it’s not hard to make that happen.

MM: Micheal Cera has worked with you quite a bit, and was in one of your music videos. How do you know him?

NT: We did an event together in 2006. I was the musical guest and he was the host. It was like a charity event in Los Angeles. We just kind of met backstage and hit it off I guess.

MM: You were recently featured in a spoof of a music documentary. How did that happen?

NT: Our friend Derek Waters is a director in L.A. and a comedian so we wanted to collaborate and just didn’t have any real resources and then that came into our lap. He turned it around in a matter of days. And it made us laugh. It’s all him. And the actors. We just let him do his thing, and then we’ve put it up on our website.

MM: Who are you listening to right now?

EG: We listened to the Beach Boys this morning. I don’t listen to – I sound like such a cock to say this, but I don’t listen to music.

NT: He listens to conservative talk radio. I like the new Cass McCombs record. Jim Guthrie’s record’s good. The new Pusha T.

Photo: Mixtape/ Scott Blackburn