The two Asian guys both have the last name Chow. They're not related.
courtesy Anti- Records

Living on the isle of Islands

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If you're aloof or quiet, people sometimes mistake that for being stuck up and upset," says Islands front man Nick Thorburn. "I'm a pretty withdrawn, introspective sort of individual."

Though there are many ways to deal with being shy, Thorburn's solution is to paint his face white and front rock bands. The self-proclaimed victim of shy/asshole confusion seems to be dealing with his natural aloofness well, as his band remains one of the Montreal music scene's staples and groups at the forefront of the ethnically-influenced music movement.

The enigmatic singer, songwriter and guitarist has taken on many different characters and monikers, going by the surname Diamonds for much of his career with his first band, the Unicorns, and through Islands' inception. After reverting back to his birth name, Thorburn seems to be stepping into his musical role with more ease. The band's latest album, Arm's Way, benefits from a slightly darker and more constructed sound than their first offering, Return to the Sea, and reflects Thorburn's noticeable metamorphosis, along with a little more foresight.

"Deciding to work in a real studio as opposed to a friend's half-finished studio or Jamie [Thompson, former Islands member]'s apartment helped a lot," he says. "[We said,] 'Let's handle the money a little bit more wisely.' Instead of having the layers from the first record arranged in a really off-the-cuff way, we went in with this record and planned everything out pretty methodically. I think it's all kind of related, making things more streamlined and getting better at the craft and every aspect of it."

After taking this new approach to recording, Islands forged a relationship with Anti- Records, a label well-known for providing artists with the freedom of musical direction. Thorburn says the company's attitude is a great asset to the band.

"They have the infrastructure of a big label, but they have the mind-set of a small label in the way that they're really personable, reachable and open to new ideas and giving creative control," he explains. "But they also have the resources to really branch out."

Though Islands' new relationship means more big industry releases, Thorburn's prolific nature has left him with a variable catalogue full of tracks that can't always make it to record stores. The singer takes a wholesome perspective on his works and notes their inherent interconnectivity.

"They're all kind of the same song," he says. "A lot of artists kind of have one story to tell and, until they perfect it, they keep doing it. I think I've been writing pretty much the same song since I started and maybe I just haven't found [the perfect sound yet]. The new stuff I'm doing is a little bit different. There is a similarity with them that is easy to manage."

In order to channel some of that creativity, Thorburn is working on several side groups, Human Highway with crooner Jim Guthrie, Juiced Elfers with Les Savy Fav's Syd Butler and his rap team, Th' Corn Gangg. Though he has a lot of things on his plate, he's very careful to make the distinction between his rock band and his projects.

"Islands is a band and a full-time job and a labour of love," he says. "Human Highway is a project and not one that's going to be terribly active. We don't have the time and can't commit to doing that full-time, so there's no real conflict. Sometimes there's just making music with friends and sometimes you're really making a go of it."

With Thorburn's commitment to the band, and the talent that he's gathered over the years to aid in its continued success, Islands is anything but hiding in the shadows, proving their self-proclaimed longevity and the group's mantra, "Islands is forever."

Islands plays the Warehouse on June 8. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.