Mister Heavenly (Nick Thorburn) :: the YANP Interview
August 16th, 2011 by Matt
One of my favorite albums of the year is the blessed collaboration between Man Man’s Honus Honus (or Ryan Kattner, if you prefer) and Islands/The Unicorns’s Nick Thorburn: Mister Heavenly. To celebrate the album’s release this week I’ve got a two-part interview with each half of the group. Yesterday we had an interview with Honus Honus, today we’re lucky enough to have Nick. In addition to being half of Mister Heavenly, Nick just put out a great solo record, signed up to work in another collaborative with a famous rapper and is putting out a book. Busy guy!
This one’s going to start after the break, since I begin by asking about a not-for-kiddies topic (yes, it’s the Unicorns fan-fiction porno again)
Nick Thorburn of Mister Heavenly :: the YANP Interview
NT: Hey man, how you doin’ man?
YANP: I’m good, how about yourself?
NT: I’m just in a car full of my bandmates so it might get a little… It’s fine, we’ll go.
YANP: Okay… Wow, this first question is great now that you’re in a car with the band. So, I like to start with a question that demonstrates your knowledge of the subject, and really sets the tone. So I figured I’d ask about Uniporn. Ryan said that he was made aware of the existence of the fan fiction, so my question to you is: if you had to name the Mister Heavenly porno fan-fiction, what’s its pun-ful name?
NT: Ooh, I like that. Umm… Mister Heaven-dick?
YANP: That’s good.
NT: Or, just Mister Heavenly really.
YANP: I was thinking Misters Heavenly.
NT: Thinking what?
YANP: Misters Heavenly, or Heavenly Misters. But yeah, Mister Heaven-dick.
NT: Or Fister [Heavenly] haha…
YANP: Hahaha… Okay. So yeah, in 2006, Ryan mentioned in an interview that he would like to work with you on a project. When did you guys first start talking about it? Had you already spoken at that time? Who brought it up?
NT: I think it was Ryan’s idea. It was mentioned casually. A couple years passed when Ryan first suggested it. I don’t even remember when he first suggested it because it seemed like abstract idea. With timing and persuasiveness it ended up happening. Not to say that Ryan was persuasive.
YANP: Of the two of you, was he the one who was more keeping the idea alive?
NT: I want to say yes, yeah, that’s totally cool. I feel like he courted me, and I was content to be courted.
YANP: Good deal. So you’ve been in some bands with two lead song writers or so, was writing with Ryan different than any of them? Was the way that you two wrote together more collaborative or I guess, comparatively, what was it like this time around?
NT: Based on past projects?
NT: Well, there was definitely a change of pace with respect to Islands. It was really refreshing to have someone like Ryan, whose work I admire, to be collaborating on ideas and doing things in a way that I wouldn’t necessarily predict. You know, going in a direction that I wouldn’t anticipate. That’s always a fun aspect of collaboration, something I always enjoy.
YANP: Was it more improv or anything compared to Human Highway?
NT: Yeah, definitely not coming to the table with a completed work. Sometimes that happens: there were a couple of songs where that was the case. Sometimes we just sat in a room though and every chord, we charted out together. That’s always a fun process because it yields unexpected results.
YANP: Yeah, the “Doom Wop” sound that you guys have in large parts of the record definitely reminds be of both of your bands’ previous stuff. A few songs, anyway. What do you credit? I hate for this to be like a, “Was it an organic, or conscious decision?” But what do you think put both of your heads in that direction?
NT: Well, the name came first. The name of the genre was the first thing we had- that word, that nebulous word, and we knew which direction to take it. That set the tone- in the same way that sometimes if you have a song title it can dictate what the lyrics are going to be. Almost kind of starting backwards… Well, not backwards, but laterally. But we had that name, whatever that name meant, it was an ambiguous thing. That’s where we took it to. It was really open ended, I don’t think we were too calculated about the end product, but we were thinking about that when we were writing together.
YANP: Okay. Ryan said that he had originally suggested Mr. and Mrs. Lee when you were kicking around band titles, did you suggest anything before you guys landed on Mister Heavenly?
NT: I think I suggested Heavenly. Kind of much like our song writing collaboration, it was like a compound of our two sides and word. But yeah, we decided to drop off the Mrs. and just kind of push it together.
YANP: Now, under your solo stuff, the new album, given that you’ve got (by my count) three or four active bands that you could release stuff with, what made you decide to go with a solo release of 17 songs?
NT: Wait, oh… you’re including the EP? And you’re referring to the solo record?
NT: And the accompanying EP?
NT: Right. Okay. Wait, what… What made me decide to release that solo and not as another collaborative thing?
YANP: Yeah, since you’ve got Islands, and I think you and LP are doing something. So of all of the things that you’ve got and are writing songs for, why now, why solo LP I guess is the question.
NT: Well, that had been sitting around for a while- I made that while I was in Brooklyn. That was just something where I had a surplus of songs and I didn’t know exactly where they should’ve been. I wanted to make the record just do it. I had no expectations, which is kinda why I put it online for free.
YANP: Is there going to be a physical release?
NT: I wouldn’t mind seeing like, a vinyl release. Like I said, I wasn’t expecting much from it. I just wanted to put it out there as a kind of thank you to people who were into what I was doing. If it comes down to a physical release, I would like to do vinyl for sure.
YANP: Awesome. I apologize that I don’t have time to go super in depth, but I did want to ask about a few of the songs on that. A few of the songs, especially Gone Bananas and Used To Be Funny, kind of sound like the pre-Unicorns and really early Unicorns stuff that you wrote. Do you think that that is a product of you working super-solo on these? Both of these also seem to be a sort of “Then vs. Now” sort of head space when you were writing it.
NT: That’s a good point. It’s funny, with Gone Bananas, you know how I was saying sometimes we start with just a title? That was one that started as just a title. It was actually going to be a Unicorns song- it was back around the time of that first record. I had read an article about how they were running out of a particular strain of banana, Cavendish, because there was a fungus. That was what happened with the last species of banana that is now extinct that was popular in the 60s. Like, there’s different kinds of bananas and… Whatever, I read this article about the plight of the banana and I thought Gone Bananas would be a funny title. It might have ended up as a Unicorns song if we’d stayed together, but there was no music. It was just a concept and a title. I was actually talking with Alden- he reminded, years later when we were just chilling out, Clues and Islands era, like, “Remember you had that song?” I had completely forgotten so I decided to do it, and I was still not sure where I was going to go with it. I thought maybe if The Unicorns got back together that would be a song. I just sat down and came up with it, wrote it, and it just sort of ended up being this kind of solo thing.
NT: It’s funny, I don’t know if sonically or stylistically that they… I never realized that they refer to earlier styles but, definitely the lyrical content is referring to that… The lighter past, the past I had where there was a little less gravity with everything. A bit more whimsy. It was supposed to be like, a downer, but it was also supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. It was supposed to be funny as well.
YANP: Yeah. Great, well I guess that’s all of my questions on the solo stuff. I guess to wrap up: Stepson? You and El-P. I’ve only basically just heard that you guys are working together. What’s going on?
NT: Well… I don’t know! I ran into him when I was living in Brooklyn, we were living a couple doors down. I ran into him at a coffee shop, and I thought I’d go up to him and say what’s up because I really like his shit, and we had a mutual friend who was the rapper, Dustbot. He was like, “Oh yeah, I really like that Unicorns record.” Which I found surprising, because… to think of like, back in the day when The Unicorns was happening he was into it because it just seems like a different… thing. So he was I guess a fan of mine, and he was like, “You should come sing on my record,” he was working on a solo record, and so I did that, and we kept in touch a little bit. We made these kind of vague- kind of like with Ryan — vague plans to do something together that was bigger than just a guest on a record, or a feature on a record. And yeah, I followed through. I was leaving New York at the time that we were talking about it but I was like, “Hey, I’m coming back to New York for a bit, let’s get in the ‘lab’.” And we did. So every time I go back to Brooklyn I try to get in the studio with him for a little bit and work on some stuff. We have a bunch of material, only probably two finished songs, but they sound cool. They don’t sound like much else that’s going on. They definitely sound like a fusion of our styles. Distinctly his production, but we’re both composing. It’s definitely exciting; I’m a big fan of his production style. Hopefully we can follow through with it, I would like to finish it.
YANP: Awesome. Yeah, “Where There’s A Will, There’s a Whalebone” is one of my favorite songs of the past decade so I’m excited.
NT: Awesome, thanks man.
YANP: Yeah. That one’s great. Well yeah, that’s pretty much it. I always give everyone this opportunity: are there any rumors you wanna squash or anything you wanna say before we go?
NT: Haha… umm… I don’t have a pill problem.
NT: I’m not addicted to pain pills… haha, no. I’m working on a book… I guess you could link to howiedoo.tumblr.com, I’ve got two books.
YANP: Is that the comic? I don’t think I know about the book.
NT: Yeah, the comic book. You could link to howiedoo.tumblr.com though and some of the drawings and give an idea of that. I’m trying to get that on the go. That’s the other shit I’m working on, but other than that there are no rumors. I’m rumor free.
YANP: Good deal man.