By all accounts, life on the road is nasty, brutish and long. And on the eve of a North American tour, Islands' Nick Diamonds is sick in a Toronto hotel room, speaking in low tones to protect his voice. But for the most part, the Canadian singer-songwriter seems unfazed. Last night's show went well.
"It was really good. I got a bit of a Morrissey vibe going on," he explained, describing the rabid Morrissey obsession among Mexican gang members. "People just started running up on stage for some reason."
Diamonds and drummer Jamie Thompson formed Islands in late 2005 after disbanding indie-pop act Unicorns. On the strength of early leaked tracks and Internet buzz, the newly-formed band landed an opening gig for Beck at the Pop Montreal festival. "He came to Montreal last year and asked us to play with him," Diamonds reflected, remembering the rock icon as "kinda quiet, meek, mild-mannered."
Financed, in part, by Rough Trade (who reissued the Unicorns' breakthrough Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?), Islands released their much-lauded debut, Return to the Sea, earlier this year. The goofy synths and morbid lyrical motifs were replaced with an occasional strings section and, loathe as the singer is to say it, more mature, elaborate compositions.
Diamonds may be taking illness in stride because his band is finally moving, unhindered, in the right direction. The future looked bleak when Thompson abruptly took off last spring, but Islands has instead settled down into a new, more stable lineup. And now a sophomore album is on the horizon, to be recorded in January or February of next year. "We have about 20 songs I think," Diamonds reflected. "More than half of those we play live so we have just a lot of new material that we've been rehearsing on tour for basically the past year." What can we expect? Diamonds, guardedly, said only that they're "a little heavier" than the old material.
In just a short time, Islands has gained notoriety as a live act, known for coordinated outfits and acoustic jaunts out into the street. And if Toronto fans are any indication, they haven't lost their touch.
Islands will play at Theatre of Living Arts (334 South St.) Wednesday, Oct. 11.