Future Islands are a Baltimore-based synth-pop band that appear to revel in opposites: witness vocalist Sam Herring’s soaked-in-gin wails jostling with happy, bleeping synths. Or the over-the-top, psychedelic videos, where real-life slams into an imaginary dreamworld. In every beautiful moment, things are streaked with danger; during every quiet period there’s a frenzy waiting around the corner. And this juxtaposition between light and dark is what makes Future Islands stand out from amongst their contemporaries – because in so many ways this formula shouldn’t work, but it does.
State spoke to Sam Herring and bassist William Cashion (third member is Gerrit Welmers) in advance of their Foggy Notions gig in Whelan’s Upstairs on 9th September. Many will remember the band from their Dan Deacon support slot last June.
How’s the tour going so far? Do you enjoy touring, and are you looking forward to playing in Europe?
William: Our upcoming tour with EAR PWR will be our third tour in Europe this year, which is really exciting. We are most definitely looking forward to coming back and especially to Dublin, we had such a
great time when we played there earlier this summer with Dan Deacon.
Sam: We’re always excited to come out here and it will be a lot of fun doing the tour with EAR PWR. It will be their first time overseas. Both of our bands have been on the road pretty constantly the last
year, so it’s just kind of become a way of life. But a life that I love.
What have been your most memorable shows?
William: There have been so many memorable shows. I guess one that sticks out was this one time in Cincinatti, we only played one and a half songs and we almost broke up the band. Luckily that didn’t
happen and we’re still touring!
Sam: Yeah, it’s really hard to pin down one certain show. I think one of my most memorable shows was the last Art Lord show (our first band). It was just a really emotional show, all of our old friends and packed to the brim. Remembering all the good times.
You’re originally from North Carolina but are now based in Baltimore – what are the benefits to being based there?
William: There’s a great community of artists and musicians in Baltimore. It seems like everyone has something going on, it’s really inspiring for us to be involved in such an energetic and productive
Sam: It’s also in a geographically beneficial location…close to DC, NYC, and Philly, easy to get down South and out to Chicago. You also don’t have to kill yourself to pay the bills.
Wham City has been making quite an impact over the last couple of years, are you excited to be part of that?
William: Of course!
Sam: We always felt like a distant cousin to that community. But it’s great to be right in the middle of it all.
What can the audience in Dublin expect at the gig?
William: Dim-lights and new songs from our forthcoming album, In Evening Air.
Sam: A lot of my sweat, a little bit of heartbreak, real dreams…
What’s the creative process for you – is there a main songwriter or is it very collaborative in terms of the lyrics and music?
William: It’s a very collaborative process. Usually Gerrit will have an idea, or I’ll have something and we’ll jam on it until we form some kind of loose structure. Then Sam comes in and we build the song
around his lyrics and song structure.
Sam: It’s pretty much built around loose jams and inspiration. When we’re working through ideas and hit on something, we start to work around that particular idea.
How have you changed since the days of Art Lord & The Self Portraits?
William: When Future Islands first started, we were a very different band, even more stripped down and more energetic with a live drummer. With the current line-up, I think the vibe we’ve got is very
comparable to the old Art Lord stuff. There’s also no more gimmicks on stage.
Sam: We aren’t as pretty as we used to be. I’ve lost the ability to sing high notes, but I got a mean growl now. No more white suit, no more sideburns. A lot more mature, a lot more serious.
There seems to be an element of balancing dark and light within your music – starting with Sam’s vocals, which are not quite what you’d expect to match with the music, but really work. Is that something you like to emphasise?
Sam: I think that balance has always been a strong part of our appeal. We never intentionally worked at this, I think it’s just the natural contrast of my words against the music. Where the songs have always been kind of upbeat and happy, the message is often melancholy. I like it that way, peoples natural instinct is to let their guards down and dance, and then they actually let the words seep in. Instead of
turning away from the darkness, they embrace the light and find the darkness. I think the opposite is true too. As Art Lord we just wanted to have fun, but our songs started popping up on goth forums and it blew my mind, in a completely awesome way.
Your music videos are quite psychedelic, and a bit surreal; what inspires them?
William: You’ll have to ask the directors! We’ve generally been out of the creative process when it comes to making music videos, but I’m hoping that changes with our new material/future videos.
What records are you listening to at the moment?
William: Meat Puppets II, Brian Eno Discreet Music, Fleetwood Mac Tusk, Cocteau Twins Victorialand, Double Dagger MORE.
Sam: Ooh I like all William’s…I’m horrible at this question, I just shout out my favorites…The Rachels’ Music For Egon Schiele, Yo La Tengo And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out and most recently Screaming Females’ What If Someone Is Watching Tv?
Can you tell us a bit more about Wave Culture, your tape label?
William: Our friend Rob [who owns a great burrito place called Roburrito’s in York, PA] found a tape duplicator at a yard sale (I think?) and he asked if we wanted it. So far we have just released some Future Islands & Art Lord tapes but have plans to release more stuff by our friends (Pictureplane, Dan Deacon, Lonnie Walker, etc.) in the future.
Are you traditionalists when it comes to collecting music?
William: I’m not sure how traditional I am, but I am obsessed with going to record stores. I prefer vinyl but often buy CDs so I can listen to them in my car, and then they end up getting scratched or broken…
Sam: I’ve just recently fell in love with vinyl again, I’ve given up on CDs, they just sit at the bottom of my car and get ruined. But honestly I’m too broke to buy records so we try to just trade with rad bands on the road and come home with a stack.
Have you guys started work on your next full length album, will you be working with Chester E Gwazda on it again?
William: We started working on the new album in early July and I’d say we’re about half way finished at this point. We are working with Chester again, but it’s definitely a different kind of album. With Wave Like Home, we recorded the whole thing start-to-finish in three days and we’ve already worked on the new record for three weeks and it’s nowhere near done. We’re really excited about the way things are going with the album so far.
Finally, what does the rest of 2009 hold for Future Islands?
William: Hopefully we’ll be releasing a remix 12″ in the Fall and we’re doing a few small tours with Double Dagger and then another tour with Thank You. Mainly, we’re going to be getting everything ready for the new album and hopefully it will come out in early 2010.
Sam: Lots of shows, more songs. Hopefully big things….
Future Islands play Whelan’s Upstairs on 9th September.