Tell Me About That Album: A Sleep & A Forgetting by Islands"/>
Nicholas Thorburn is one of the busiest dudes in indie rock. At any given time, he seems to be juggling multiple projects, including Mister Heavenly, Th' Corn Gangg and Human Highway. His latest release is the fourth album from his indie rock band Islands, a somber breakup record called A Sleep & A Forgetting, which scales back on production and ramps up on emotion. The album has garnered Thorburn some of the best reviews of his career and finds him in Seattle on March 10th at the Vera Project. We caught up with the busy singer-songwriter to talk about the record, his favorite breakup albums and his connections to the Emerald City.
You've called A Sleep & A Forgetting a confessional record. Is there anything about the process of peeling back the layers that you think will carry forward into future writing? Every record-making process is a learning experience, so yeah, I definitely think there are aspects of this record that will carry through, maybe more than others. Being as honest and direct and to-the-point as possible can be an effective tool of communication.
Had you intentionally distanced yourself from that in the past? It was never an intentional thing to be oblique or sarcastic or have some sort of ironic distance from any emotional honesty. I think there are moments on all the Islands records that I get really real and really raw. I just think I would dip in and out of it, kind of to save myself. I don't think I was holding back but I definitely think I have my guard up. I make myself very vulnerable when all the songs are very revealing and personal.
The album's title comes from a line in a William Wordsworth poem that goes "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." What is it about that line that speaks to you or that you thought really represented the songs? It just jumped out at me. I maybe hijacked it and re-appropriated it for my own personal needs, but I don't even know how to articulate it. What's so great about that line and about the nature of poems and lyrics is that there isn't an underlying meaning to things. There's sometimes great imagery and a great mood and a feeling that can't be put in any other way. I saw that line and said, "That's the title of the album." It's a little clunky I realize. It's not the easiest title to say but it just felt so perfect to me.
Do you have a favorite song on the album? I'm fond of "Same Thing," which was the last song I wrote. I was kind of in the deepest trench of despair when I wrote that. I felt like those single guitar lines were like a figurative type of imagery. I was just hanging on to the string, hanging on a wire above a pit of shark-infested water about to lose it.
Do you have a favorite break-up record? I would say Graceland. I don't care how over-saturated that record is or how often it gets name-checked, that's just a record I've loved pre-conscious. And it is a breakup record and it resonates pretty well with me. I like Kate and Anna McGarrigle's "Heart Like a Wheel." That's pretty heavy.
A lot of Canadian artists get grants from the government to help finance making music. Is that something you've taken advantage of? Yeah, not so much with the record making but with the touring. It's such an amazing thing to have. I feel so guilty spending most of my time in the States but having a direct line to make my stupid, frivolous pop music.
Is it part of the fabric of Canadian band culture? Are most young bands aware that these grants are out there? When The Unicorns were starting, we had no concept of how to apply and we made our first record for like $300 and we toured in a $200 Honda Civic hatchback and slept on the side of the road. It was brutal and it was miserable but it gave us character. I think it's still important to suffer a little bit for perspective. And I don't take advantage of the grant system as much as I should, it's such an arduous, bureaucratic process.
Do you have any connections to Seattle? I made the Mister Heavenly record for Sub Pop so that's a connection. And I had a comic strip in the last couple issues of Mome, which is a Fantagraphics anthology, which is a Seattle-based comics publisher. I love Fantagraphics. I got a check from them recently for being in those comics and it would have made the 13-year-old me die with joy, seeing a check with my name on it from Fantagraphics. That's beyond my wildest teenage fantasy.