“It is the fear of having a real job keeps me plugging away,” Islands frontman Nick Thorburn tells us over Zoom from his LA home ahead of the group’s first show in Ireland in over a decade in The Workman’s Cellar later this month.

“My motivation for making music isn't to live a lavish life, it's to carve out the life that is sustainable and enjoyable but mostly gives me the freedom to spend my time creating things.”

And create things he has. A prolific songwriter, Thorburn shot to prominence at the turn of the century as part of the short-lived but influential project The Unicorns, before going on to form Islands who released their debut album ‘Return To The Sea’ in 2006.

In total, Thorburn has released 18 albums in 21 years as part of numerous groups and under the solo moniker Nick Diamonds, as well as providing the soundtrack for the wildly successful podcast Serial.

Surprisingly, despite his unquenchable need to write songs, the Canadian musician has been tempted to quit music in search of finding other ways to nourish his soul.

“There's a few things that have made me consider going legit; going straight, as it were. I do a lot of volunteer work in LA with homeless outreach, with the unhoused community, and that's been really meaningful for me.”   

“There's fatalism to it I guess,” offers Thorburn, pondering the title to Islands’ ninth studio album 'And That’s Why The Dolphins Lost Their Legs’.

“I was in the backyard at someone's house in LA years ago and somebody was explaining how dolphins had evolved to live on land at one point...but then eventually took a look around and said, ‘Fuck this, I'm going back in the water.’"

"And so, the joke is this idea of a de-evolution, to lose your limbs and go back in. Just this idea that the world is so brutal and unforgiving that you head back into the ocean.”

There’s a dark, self-deprecating cord throughout much of Islands work with Thorburn more than willing to be the butt of the joke.

“I think to be a competent musician artist or songwriter you have to be able to interrogate your own life and just be plugged-in in general and so I feel like I lean into the criticism.  It's fun to poke at those dark corners in my life and in the world around me but do it in a way that's kind of tragically funny.” 

Thorburn notes there a ‘journalistic component’ to songwriting where “you're always listening and note-taking.”

“I think it's like any form of writing or any kind of seeing the world. It's just interpreting things we experience or see or hear and trying to translate that, articulate it and express it in an emotional way that's not too heavy-handed or self-aggrandising and that's just meaningful and profound but also playful.”

And that playfulness may express itself lyrically or visually. The cover art for And That’s Why The Dolphins Lost Their Legs’ pays homage to The Rolling Stones’ ‘Some Girls’, while also poking fun at the human condition with a rogues gallery of clowns.

“A fucked-up brady bunch is great,” says Thorburn, laughing at our reaction to the artwork before going on to explain that the concept comes from the idea that “humans are clowns - inherently we're clownish and we mess things up like clowns do, we slip on banana peels and get pies in the face.”

Many of the album’s standout moments peel back such veneers and shake the trees. When Thorburn proclaims “Fuck your God, he closed the window and shut the door” on Life’s A Joke, it’s a powerful allegory for the vanishing faith in institutions in the Western World.

“Especially with the way the world is now and with what is happening in Gaza, for example, we're constantly being asked to test our faith in humanity."

“It's so clear that we're the bad guys, that we're the evil empire and it's always been that way, and I like that people are waking up to this fact that it's not this heroic liberation. America is an oppressive occupier and it's good that people are finally seeing that.”

Despite emerging from what was viewed contemporaneously as the greatest music scene in the world, Nick Thorburn holds little affinity for the golden age of the Montreal music scene.

“I never ever felt like there was a real kinship even within the scene from Montreal when we were starting out with Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade and the scene in Canada at large with Broken Social Scene and Feist. There was so much music coming out of Canada at that point, it was really wild…I don't think The Unicorns and Islands ever really felt connected to those people. Everyone was kind of charting their own path and we just all happened to be bubbling up at the same time.”

“I have no nationalist identity, especially with music.” reflects Thorburn. “The unicorns, we were just kind of weird orphans, we were outliers and so I've always kind of felt that way, isolated, and it's a little lonely but it's just the honest truth.”

This sense of musical isolationism has permeated Thorburn’s career with the songwriter disliking the competitive nature of the music industry.“I have no musical community in LA either,” he says, noting, “most of my friends are in the film industry or other forms of entertainment.”

Perhaps this self-imposed exile from the music world is one of the reasons why Nick Thorburn has been able to be so prolific and it will come as no surprise to fans that the 10th studio album from Islands will arrive soon enough.

I'd release more music if I could, but it's a hassle to get the machine rolling,” notes Thorburn, continuing, “…sometimes I have this urge to just release everything I write and not everything needs to be heard by the public.

Perhaps in an attempt to reach a happy medium, Thorburn has recently joined Patreon, delivering unreleased music from all corners of his career direct to fans. However, he notes that he “grappled” with the decision before taking the plunge.

“I do worry that maybe I'm showing too much of the sausage being made, but I also think it's kind of interesting," he states, adding, “I think about Arthur Russel, how he only released one album in his lifetime properly under his name and after he died, there's just been countless records or collections of songs of his that have come out and they're beautiful. The songs are staggeringly beautiful, so I think it's kind of interesting to mete out some of these songs while I'm alive instead of them just coming out after I'm gone.”

When we enquire if he has sought out any other avenues to get his songs out there, Thorburn informs us that he’s ‘flirted’ with the idea of writing for other people but doesn’t foresee himself following that path.

“I think it's a cool idea and it's a cool puzzle, songwriting for other people, but ultimately I'm just a weird monk who wants to make my own stuff.”

Fans will get a chance to hear the weird monk in The Workman’s on April 27th when Islands play their first Irish show in around 15 years as a duo, a decision that was partly inspired by seeing Destroyer playing stripped back shows.

“It's a cool opportunity to highlight the songs themselves at their most isolated and put some emphasis on the voice. I'm really excited about how that's gonna play out. I'll definitely be vulnerable.”

“I like that Islands is almost like a concept and it's travelled with me. It's kind of an extension of me and it's steeped in all of these different iterations. I can conform it to the shape required and that speaks to the durability of the band.” 

Islands at The Workman's Club Cellar on April 27th 2024. Tickets from €18.00 here