Vapour Trail: An Interview With Islands

by | Sep 30, 2009 | MUSIC

Illuminated by the rainbow lights at Plaza Bowl, Islands played a fantastic set mostly focusing on their new album, Vapours.

Illuminated by the rainbow lights at Plaza Bowl, Islands played a fantastic set mostly focusing on their new album, Vapours. They threw in a few old favorites from their previous two albums as well, and kept the crowd moving on the floor as well as onstage. After the show I asked Nick Diamond and Jamie Thompson a few questions about the new album, the new line-up, and what’s in store for them on their tour.

Abigail Eisley: Welcome to Richmond, have you all ever been here before?

Nick Diamond: Yea, I think I was here 4 and ½ years ago, 5 ½ years ago. I was here 5 ½ years ago, that’s so weird.
Was that for another show?

ND: It was for another band, another show, another era. It was when the alternative music scene was raging, and we were on the forefront of the alternative music scene.

Jamie Thompson: Is that when you were playing in Temple of the Dogs?

ND: Well, I was Green River, but I joined Mother Love Temple after. This was at, I think, the University, it was a festival. Vague memories. We played and then we went to a house party and it was fun.

The house party was fun?

ND: It was fun until I broke the toilet. We had to leave.

JT: Its all fun and games until someone breaks a toilet!

ND: We had to leave right away. Anyway. A long time ago.

So, about your new album, there are definitely some noticeable differences between your new album and the past two. How did you develop these new sounds? Specifically I noticed some more synthy-sounds, and of course the auto-tune.

ND: How did we develop them?

Yes, what was the thought process behind them?

ND: Well, the line-up changed in this band for the record and that sort of predicated the sonic shift, so I had these songs demoed that I felt like needed to go in a certain direction. The players that joined I felt were able to pull it off most accurately and faithfully. So that’s kind of the way it happened. The early Unicorns stuff was really synthesizer – you know, affectionate towards synthesizers, so this was like going back to those sorts of areas, loading stuff up with synths.

And you said the line-up changed, which is also noticeable seeing you guys play. Did that happen just because people were doing other projects?

ND: Yeah, some. It was a combination of things. Some people were doing other projects, some were having different life changes, like starting families, and it was just a real musical shift in the band. It was just a real sea change with the aesthetic and the output. Its always in flux, this band has never had a constant line-up, so it doesn’t preclude those people from ever playing with Islands again, its constantly changing.

As I was reading about your album, I saw that you had collaborators in production and also in playing the music.

ND: On the new record? Actually it was all the same, it was actually a pretty tight-knit group. The band that played tonight was the band that played on the record and did everything. We had one song with some guests who played horns, trumpets, and saxophone and trombone, but other than that we were very insular.

Did the album develop between the four of you? Or was it mostly from before?

ND: Let these guys answer the question.

JT: Let me answer the question!

You all played together, and you recorded together, was it developed together?

JT: Basically, Nick had worked all the structures of the songs out and had recorded demos that were mostly him playing guitar and singing or him playing keys and singing and maybe like a stock drum loop from GarageBand or something, and we went into the studio with this guy Chris Cody who was a producer who functioned as an arbitrating ear to decide things. For the most part, the arrangements and things came out in the studio. A lot of it came down to talking back and forth ‘you know this would be cool if it had a twangy guitar in it, why don’t we have this here’ and trying things out. We had to do things really quickly because we didn’t have very long to record it. Luckily the Gordon brothers, who are the other two you haven’t spoken to, are geniuses on every instrument, so they could pretty much do whatever needed to be done.

How was it for you coming back after a short hiatus?

JT: Well, the hiatus was three years, which was reasonably long. It’s really weird, it actually took me by surprise. I was living in Berlin, and Nick came on tour with Islands and Evan who’s in the band now was playing bass, because Patrice, who was the other bass player had a kid, and Evan and Jordie are in this other band called The Magic, and we’re all from the same little town and I’ve known them forever. I saw The Magic play, I saw their first show actually and I thought ‘oh these guys are awesome’. I gave Nick their CD and he really liked it and brought them on tour. Evan came and filled in and then they kind of hijacked me, they were like ‘Hey, we’ve been talking about this record, we really want to do it. Do you want to come make the record?’ The idea of doing a record again with Nick, I always wanted to do and then with my old buddies from my hometown it seemed too good to be true. I was just going to do the record, and then I went and recorded it, and I was like, ‘oh I want to tour again.’

You guys have worked together before for so long, so…

JT: Yea, everyone in this band I’ve played with like a million times.

Were you in on the process of deciding the album’s title? How was that decided?

JT: The title, I definitely had nothing to do with that. The title’s one of the songs, but I don’t know because I had nothing to do with that!

Hi! You’re back.

ND: Hi, I’m back.

How did you decide on the album’s title or the song’s title? Whichever came first.

ND: Both. Actually a rapper named Subtitle, a friend of ours was at a show in Switzerland that we played and remarked after a show how the crowd seemed to be catching vapors off of us, and I had never really heard that expression so I was attracted to it. I thought it was an interesting image to cast a spell and then I learned the roots and origins of it. It actually traces to Medieval times, when magicians would allegedly be casting spells and controlling people. That’s where it was coming from – the record casting a spell on people, people really falling under its powers.

Making them dance on the stage?

ND: Yes, exactly.

You recorded this album mostly in New York?

ND: All of it actually.

That’s the first time you’ve ever recorded in New York?

ND: Yes, I moved there about two years ago so, it was a really natural thing, it was just a result of living there, making a record in the town that I lived.

Do you think that affected the development of the record at all?

ND: A little bit. There were moments of the songs that were inspired, the first one especially that were inspired by living in New York. I think the contemporary sound had something to do with it. Feeling really involved, with the current state of things, I guess.

You are about to head out on your big tour, correct?

ND: Yes, this is our second date.

Where are you headed to next?

ND: Chapel Hill.

Are you excited about that?

ND: Yes, this band Chain and the Gang are playing which will be cool. It’s the singer of the band called The Makeup and he was also in The Nation of Ulysses and a bunch of others: Scene Creamers and Weird War. A bunch of cool bands he’s been in, so I’m excited to see that.

How do you all pass the time on the bus?

ND: Bus? No, no, a tiny little van.

How do you not get sick of each other?

ND: Just keep pressing seek on the radio dial, hoping we will find something decent to listen to.

So you don’t have an ipod or anything that you pick music from?

ND: No, the situation we have right now is just a cassette tape. We only have this van for a couple days, we are upgrading in a couple days to something nicer, when we’ll be able to have an ipod situation. Until then…

Do you all have certain favorite bands you like to listen to together?

ND: No, we have wildly varying tastes. He likes Seals and Croft, [points] that’s Evan. Evan Gordon: Summer Breeze.
I’m more of a thug…homo-thug kind of guy. I like homo-rap. Sissy bounce. Jordie’s into the 1950s if you can tell, he’s the one with the pompadour.

RVA Staff

RVA Staff

Since 2005, the dedicated team at RVA Magazine, known as RVA Staff, has been delivering the cultural news that matters in Richmond, VA. This talented group of professionals is committed to keeping you informed about the events and happenings in the city.

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