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For trying to “stay zen” about his creative processes, Nick Diamonds really has nothing to worry about. His ability to balance his creative output lends him an expansive foundation upon which to really create anything he wants at this point. The primary personality behind Islands recently released Vapours, the fraternal twin to Arm’s Way – a response Diamonds insists wasn’t direct or purposeful in any way.

But this is also the same guy currently writing a humor comic book to serve as a counter to the heavier subject matter that usually ends up on an Islands or Human Highway (his other band, along with The Unicorns) effort. Stereo Subversion talked with Diamonds about this balancing act and how he chooses with piece of art goes where.

SSv: How much did Jamie [Thompson] coming back affect what you created with Vapours? Was any of it already in place without him?

Nick Diamonds: No, that was really the point for this record, I guess, or a certain point at list. It was about having Jamie on board and making a record in the style of the stuff he’d been working on in the interim after he left the band. So that was the approach to the record is having this drum machine, this sequencer and this heavy sort of record as far as arrangements go.

SSv: What is the relationship there for song construction?

It's not like I have a career of making prog music and finally decided because it wasn't commercially viable to do a short song. I'm not that one-dimensional.

It's not like I have a career of making prog music and finally decided because it wasn't commercially viable to do a short song. I'm not that one-dimensional.

Nick: I demoed all of the songs for this record. I have a ton of songs – two albums worth of material – so I arranged the songs I wanted to put on this record and demoed them. Then I sent them to the group that was recording and we just listened to them and understood them and worked them out in the studio. Some songs were much more fleshed out than others in their arrangements and everything. Some of them were pretty specific and some were more open-ended that we could go into them and feel them out in the group dynamic. That’s more or less how it always works.

SSv: Obviously the last two albums are so different, so how much is Vapours a response to Arm’s Way, if at all?

Nick: A little bit. It’s a little bit of a scaling back, I guess, and I was conscious not so much to the reception to the record but to the way of making of that record. That record was methodical and slow and drawn out. It was a really intense scrutiny of arranging and there was so much going on. I wanted to try getting more directly to the core of the hook or the melody or the rhythm and not have things too built up.

But you know, some of these songs are old and one song, “Tender Torture,” pre-dates Return to the Sea. It’s not like the songs were necessarily written as a reaction, but perhaps they were collected and sorted with that in mind. But the songwriting is hard to say. I have different styles that I can draw from.

SSv: So not one bit of it is a response to the response?

Nick: Not explicitly, I would say. I’m conscious of some of the criticism of the record, but if anything, it was an indirect reaction. Obviously, I’m aware of it, but I don’t govern my decisions based upon what people think, even if it does reach me and affect me.

SSv: The brevity of the album is another immediate aspect noticed on the album…

Nick: Well, with The Unicorns, I was already writing two-minute songs and that whole record was under 40 minutes long, so it’s not like it’s something I’ve never done before. It’s not like I have a career of making prog music and finally decided because it wasn’t commercially viable to do a short song. I’m not that one-dimensional. I really have a very diverse personality and the ability to write different kinds of songs.

SSv: With “Tender Torture” or even others, how do you know what song becomes Island territory or Human Highway or the like?

Nick: I don’t really know. Sometimes I don’t even know if I’m making the right decision with that kind of thing. So far, I think it’s pretty accurate. The songs will come and then later I will find where they fit best. So far they make sense. The Human Highway stuff is obviously more mellow for the most part and when I’m writing a song that I feel is in that mold, I can go that route. Then again, I don’t like having those rules necessarily and I like that Islands can go in many directions. It’s not that rigid for me.

SSv: So there’s never problems giving your own self permission to go there?

Nick: No, not at all.

SSv: How do you know where to catalog a song like “Tender Torture?”

Nick: Well, I write it down – the words and the chords or whatever. With that song, I actually had to relearn it from memory – everything about it. I had to listen to old bootlegs because Islands had performed it on the first tour we did. So before Return to the Sea had come out, we were playing it live as a new song. So the recording was important in that instance. I didn’t remember the words or how it went.

SSv: I love the premise of saying on one side that you have no problem giving yourself permission to do what you want. Then on the other side that you’re aware of the response, good or bad.

Nick: Yeah, I’d be a liar if I wasn’t.

SSv: Can you talk about the tension of those two meeting?

Nick: Sure. When we’re in the studio making those records, that’s the furthest thing from my mind is critical reception. It’s only when the record’s been delivered to reviewers and it’s about to come out or coming out and it’s completely finished that I start to be concerned or conscious. But when I’m writing and making a record, it’s a much more natural, intuitive process. That’s where I feel that indirectly, I may be worried, but I’m not directly making decisions based on what people want to hear.

SSv: That intuitive process, how has that changed from album to album?

Nick: I don’t think of the work as cohesive necessarily. Everything comes in spurts. Songs come from all over and from different periods of time, so I don’t think in terms of album to album. That’s what comes later on. It’s really just fleeting with the moments of inspiration and stuff and then acknowledging that and then adhering to it and then writing it down and working it out as it happens or as it comes.

SSv: What does the rest of the year look like for you?

Nick: We’re just touring for the rest of the year, I guess. There are seedlings of other songs and we have the bulk of a new album in terms of rough ideas for songs. I feel that I’m at a stage in Islands in the career where it’s still pretty fertile and young enough that there’s lots happening and lots of material there, so I’m just riding it out, I guess. [Laughs]

SSv: You sound rather aware of that fact and even appreciative of it.

Nick: Yes, I think so. I try not to over-think it and I don’t want to be too hyper-conscious of what I’m doing or what we’re doing and how it’s working. I don’t want to feel stilted because I’ve over-thought it, so I’m trying to be zen about it, too. [Laughs]

SSv: Any other creative plates you’re spinning outside of Islands?

Nick: Yeah, I’m doing a comic book for a comic book company called Drawn In Quarterly. It’s coming out in March, so I’m pretty excited about that. That’s the next thing coming out I guess.

SSv: Is that your own complete storyline?

Nick: No, it’s not like a graphic novel. It’s a collective of little stories and gags. It’s really light kind of stuff. Some of it is slightly memoir, but it’s rooted in gags and jokes and stuff. Life in Hell is a reference that people might relate to. It’s called This Is Howie Doo and that’s the main character’s name. It’s just a fun little comic. It’s funny and cartoonish and a lot lighter than Islands lyrical themes. It’s pure humor.

*Photos by Aliya Naumoff

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