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Interview with Nick Diamonds of Islands (ex Unicorns)

Jessica Suarez
Jessica Suarez
6 min read
Interview with Nick Diamonds of Islands (ex Unicorns)

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Below the jump’s an interview I did with Nick Diamonds last week. I had a lot of extra quotes so I thought I’d share them. So to recap, I interviewed Alden for my college paper in 2004 when they came to Tucson. Since then I interviewed the entire band when they came back in 2004 for Tiny Mix Tapes, again this year for a Pitchfork news item, Nick about the Hallowe’en song for CMJ’s news section, and then Nick last week. I’m starting to get the hang of it.

Elliot from The Simple Mission has a Nick Diamonds interview on his site as well.

Edit: Andrew Rose kindly sent over some names and bands to make the transcript more accurate.

How did you get another project together so quickly?
Motivation, determination, ambition, desire, passion. Uh, boredom. And alcoholism.

Did you and Jaime decide to start Islands when you realized that the Unicorns would probably break up?

It was pretty obvious at a certain point and Jamie and I stepped aside and said to one another, like “Ok you know if anything happened, we got a good thing going together. We both connect and we both are kinda looking to do the same kinda thing so lets keep doing it no matter what happens.” It was like a test. We knew we wanted to play music together, we knew that it worked. It was a good energy and a good camaraderie that really shown through. So it was that easy. As soon as we broke up, we were still together. We were still musical partners.

The Unicorns has a really poppy, immediately likable sound, but Islands is more subtle…and so are Alden’s recordings. It’s funny, because I assumed when you broke up and started new bands that one band would sound very, very pop and maybe the other would be more folk. But neither band is like the Unicorns.
Yeah, I think that’s why we [Alden and I] came together. We really saw things in each other that we admired and appreciated and valued and it was common ground. We both were doing different things on the surface but like we really were doing the same thing and that’s why it worked that’s why we clicked. We got what we were doing, it’s like “I get what you are doing and I appreciate it.â€? It was really a magical relationship that was so powerful that it couldn’t sustain itself. It was like a red dwarf or something, like a dying star.

We both grew. We both took what we were doing in the Unicorns, which was a starting point. We hadn’t begun to realize our potential with that band and we never got a chance to but we kind of split off like a worm being chopped in two, now we’re stronger.

Jaime must be glad to have a bigger part in this band, as far as songwriting, than he did in the Unicorns.
Oh he has a huge part. I would come to him with a song but he would take that to completely another level and he was kinda able to look at it objectively and say, “Oh this is what you’re doingâ€? and bring it too another level that was so obvious, something I never would have noticed, I wasn’t able to see it. He would just take a song that I had and turn it into a song just by drumming. It’s so subtle that you don’t go “Oh, Jamie.â€? The nuances are just there. He’s pushing the song. It’s a very rhythmic record.

In the message boards he seemed to be the least talked about, well regarded member.¦
I know. I think, you gotta find someone to pick on. I think with Islands, it might be hard to pick on him because he’s really like the backbone.

Where did you recruit your other members? I heard your strings players, the Chow brothers, were homeless kids.
I don’t know where you got that, that’s such a lie. They’re like young university music students. So that’s not true. I think I vaguely remember saying something like that. You know how I am with lying, I kinda like to lie. I have my off days, and I’m not in a lying mood today. And I think we have a rapport. We’ve established something here.

So I’ve been listening to the album and it still seems to keep that thing you did with the Unicorns, where you have sweet, warm songs with pretty anxious, depressing lyrics.
It’s just the way it happened. You know it’s just what I do. It’s just kinda like how I express myself creatively. It’s consistent I guess to a degree. Major chords and that catchy pop music, but juxtaposed with a kind of darker pessimistic lyrics two elements that I… [been consistent with].

Are you nervous about all the expectations placed on you by people who loved the Unicorns?
No not at all, I’m excited because I think it ‘s so much stronger like its so much more dynamic and colorful and vibrant and exciting. I’m just happy with, and live too, we got really great people really adding something. There’s a lot of life in this band, and it’s only starting.

How many members are you up to right now?
Like seven right now. I’m just really anticipating and looking forward to sharing it with people because I do believe in it. I think people will like it. I think that it’s genuine.

Lets talk about the album’s guest stars.
On the record, Jamie and I made it ourselves and we were trying to fill it
out with certain instruments and friends, getting people who were in town
and people from bands, like Wolf Parade, Dan and Spencer from Wolf Parade
came in and played on the record, and Regine, Richard, Tim, and Will, and
Sarah from the Arcade Fire came in and played on the record, and Jim Guthrie
played on the record and is now playing with us. He’s gonna be with us. Mike
Feuerstack from a band called the Wooden Stars and Kepler played on the
record and sometimes plays with us. This girl from A Silver Mount Zion named
Becky which is kind of a God Speed related thing played on the record.
Pietro from Bell Orchestre and Kaveh from Belle Orchestre and Richie and
Sarah. It’s not something we’re trying to use as a tool to sell our record,
I don’t want it to be this marketing thing, like “Oh the Arcade Fire played
on the record. It’s an Arcade Fire related thing” It was just like, “Hey the
Arcade Fire was in town, their friends of ours and really great musicians,”
and like, “let’s get them in.” Richard was like the first person, that was
originally… we wanted him to be on board with production and stuff. He got
on board but then he kind of stepped down a little bit in terms of his
creative involvement he was still playing on almost all the songs, being
really involved with like string arrangements and just arrangements in
general. It was a natural kind of thing.

And the album was mostly recorded in Jamie’s bedroom?
No. All the bed tracks… most of it was recorded in a studio called Break Glass studio, which is this guy named Jace Lasek, who has a band called The Besnard Lakes. He has a studio, it’s a new studio and a lot of bands have started to record there and it’s pretty good. It was half complete when we started. It was a makeshift kind of thing. We kind of turned it into a proper thing, but it definitely wasn’t finished. We did it there then we took it, we did it on tape and then we took it to computer and then to Jamie’s and did the vocals and stuff.

So what’s in store for Islands in 2006?
Just a lot of touring, I guess, and playing our songs again and again and again and again until we get sick of them, but not breaking up. It’s like why
not keep working on it. It’s gonna be good, a lot of playing. We’re gonna just play, tour. We like touring.