Vocalist Samuel Herring, bassist William Cashion, and keyboardist Gerrit Welmers have make up one of the more underrated bands today in Future Islands. They describe their music as ‘post-wave,’ a sound that blends post-punk with new wave. They’ve carried that sound through two albums and on their new third album On the Water (released on October 11th via Thrill Jockey).
At FYF Fest, they played at the small Splinter’s Den where they unfortunately played only 30 minutes. But they made most of their short time by putting on one of the best performances of the whole festival. They even played a post-FYF show on the following Monday with Dan Deacon at Echo Park’s intimate Pehrspace.
But before their set at FYF, I had the chance to talk to the band:
Nature plays a big part in your music such albums titles In Evening Air, On the Water, using sounds of waves crashing, and recording on a water front. Do you tend to wrap your music around nature?
Samuel Herring: I guess I never really thought about it, but I feel like that is part of the romantic nature of our music. I think I actually read a review about the elements in our work and I was like ‘oh, that’s an interesting thought.’ I don’t think it’s anything we go for, but water is a big part of growing up for me and Gerrit.
William Cashion: A lot of electronic music is very cold and detached. There are some bands that do that that I really like a lot. But I think what we try to do is make electronic sounds more organic and make it more real in a way, if that makes sense; more human. And maybe adding these sounds give it more of a reference point and grounds it to the human experience.
On the Water is your third album. Did you approach it any differently from your previous albums or was it the same approach?
SH: We maybe took some certain steps we hadn’t taken before. But we didn’t approach the album any differently, other than in the recording process. We wrote three songs from scratch in the studio during the recording process. That wasn’t the first time we’d done that, but that was the first time we mindfully went down there and we were like ‘we’re going to try and write some songs in the studio.’ I mean, we’ve always gone into recording with the idea that some other ideas would come out. I don’t know, maybe it’s not that different. Wave Like Home, our first LP, we wrote Old Friends, Little Dreamer and Wave Like Home all during the session. Although, Wave Like Home and Old Friends had beginnings. I was living across the state and these guys had some ideas for the songs, but there weren’t any lyrics. Little Dreamer was written during that process.
With this one, it was like we were all in a room, sat down and we just started playing with different sounds, and three songs emerged from that. With Tybee Island, it was kind of a backwards process where I had an idea for a song, but I had no idea to translate how my vision for what the music would be like to these guys. I can’t think like that. I don’t play an instrument so it’s hard for me to be like ‘just play do-do-do-do’ (laughs). Instead, I recorded the vocals on the beach and got that environmental sound. It was just the vocals, no click track or anything. Just me with my own internal metronome, singing these songs and then went back. These guys took that track and created sound to go along with that. We’d never done anything like that before so it was a fun experience.
On the track The Great Fire (on the upcoming album), you have Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak as a guest vocalist. How did that collaboration come about?
SH: We’d written that song at the beginning of the year. The first song we wrote that would be part of the album was On the Water. And then Before the Bridge and The Great Fire came along in a pair. It was really one of those things where I was working on the words and the music was pretty much pinned down. We performed it once or twice, and I started to think about the story. The words didn’t change, but I was like ‘if we bring in a female perspective into this, I think it makes it a stronger story.’ Instead of one guy being ‘I wish I hadn’t said what I said/if I could take it back/if you were here again, I’d have a chance,’ for two verses, I thought it would be really interesting to bring in a female perspective. But it was more about the voice. I was like ‘how can a female voice make this track shine?’
I contacted Jenn and I talked to these guys about bringing her in. We’ve become friends with Wye Oak from the road. Jenn has a beautiful voice, so I knew she could really kill it. I started speaking with her and started talking to her about what the song was for me. I actually like it where it’s two people in their own separate rooms, or their own zones, singing the same sentiment and feeling like that person won’t be there for them, when they don’t realize that that same person is wanting the same thing they want. It was actually her idea to intertwine the vocals. My original idea for the chorus was just to have her sing along with me. And she’s like ‘what if we do a row-row-row-the boat round, where it’s like you sing, I sing, you sing, I sing’ and I was like ‘that’s brilliant!’ It was really just a matter of knowing that she could kill it and having it come together, which was beautiful. Her voice is amazing. So there’s one good vocal track on this album (laughs).
Are there any more collaborations or guest vocalists in the future?
WC: Duets album down the line.
SH: I would love to write this album! (laughs)
Anyone in mind?
WC: Brian Eno.
SH: (laughs) I’d love to do a duet with Eno.
WC: Ed Schrader.
SH: Ed Schrader? I don’t know if you heard of a band called Virgin Prunes. They were like a goth band from the early 80s. But the funny thing is that Gavin Friday, the lead singer, him and one of the guys from the Virgin Prunes went to primary school with Bono and The Edge. So U2 formed and became this huge thing and the Virgin Prunes formed. They formed at the same time getting out of high school and went in totally different directions. But in the early 90s, the Virgin Prunes were done. But Gavin Friday and U2 wrote an album together and did duets. They won Grammys and stuff for these duets. It’s just kind of interesting that these two male duets getting back together.
You guys don’t play with a live drummer. What are some of the benefits of doing this?
WC: We’re really portable. Highly portable. We can tour in a pretty small vehicle if we need to. We’re getting ready to add more amps and expand what we do just to give it more breathing room. But for now, very minimal gear.
SH: There’s also a lot more control not having a drummer.
WC: But that’s also one of the downfalls that there’s no room for improvisation live, which is something that I miss being able to do when we had a drummer. We try to find ways to do that in our own way.
On the new album, you’re working with Chester Gwazda for the third time. What makes him the perfect choice to capture your sound?
SH: Part of it is the fact we’ve worked with him so much. Chester’s always had a good ear for what we’ve done. We were still young when Future Islands first started – around 22 years old. We worked with some producers in our first band. Older guys who would take us into the studio and they would always mess with our sound, like do all these studio tricks and completely change our songs – like overproducing us. Chester’s always found a way to let us use our elements. Working with electronic music, it’s hard to make it sound natural as it does on stage. We’ve always been strong as a live band and bringing that energy. Early on, it’s really hard to capture that kind of energy on our recording.
Chester just has a good ear, to not necessarily do that, but to shift the attention somewhere else – showing some kind of beauty to the songs. He’s into dirty recording, but he can make it clean. He can make clean recording dirty. We’ve known Chester since he was probably 19 and we were like 20, 21. He was in a band, Nuclear Power Pants, that are still around and he toured with them forever ago through our town, and that’s how we first met. He was doing a recording project for his senior year of college and that was the first time we recorded. It just kind of opened up the doors and we would do Wave Like Home. Then we were in Baltimore and he was in Baltimore, so we did In Evening Air. And then it was just a natural decision to go back and keep expanding the sound. He really just keeps getting better and better. He’s got a great ear.
In your live shows, you’re known for being in-your-face with the crowd. Do you try to emphasize crowd interaction with each show?
SH: It’s not necessarily crowd interaction that I’m going after, but it’s just trying to grab something of people, like shake them up or make them feel something. A lot of my performance is translating that message to show that this passion is real.
Do you think bands should be interactive like that?
SH: I don’t think bands should do anything to go after something. They should just be the most honest humans on stage that they are and show us what it is about their music. That’s all I could really ask. But we just do it the way we do it and we hope that people get something from that.
If you missed Future Islands at FYF Fest, they’ll be on the road from the end of October until December, promoting their latest release On the Water.
10/25 Washington, DC, Black Cat *^
10/26 Millvale, PA, Mr. Small’s Theatre *^
10/27 Cleveland, OH, Beachland Tavern *^
10/28 Detroit, MI, Magic Stick Lounge *^
10/29 Kalamazoo, MI, The Strutt *^
10/30 Chicago, IL, Lincoln Hall *^
11/01 Minneapolis, MN 7th Street Entry^
11/02 Omaha, NE, The Waiting Room^
11/03 Lawrence, KS, Jackpot Saloon^
11/04 Norman, OK, The Opolis^
11/05 Austin, TX, Fun Fun Fun Fest^
11/07 Marfa, TX, Padre’s^
11/08 Santa Fe, NM, VFW^
11/09 Denver, CO, Larimer Lounge^!
11/10 Salt Lake City, UT, Kilby Court^
11/11 Boise, ID, Neurolux^
11/12 Seattle, WA, The Vera Project^
11/13 Portland, OR, Mississippi Studios^
11/15 San Francisco, CA, Bottom of the Hill^
11/16 Santa Barbara, CA, Muddy Waters^
11/17 Los Angeles, CA The Echo^
11/18 Long Beach, CA, Alex’s Bar^
11/19 San Diego, CA, The Casbah ^
11/20 Phoenix, AZ, Rhythm Room^
11/23 New Orleans, LA, Circle Bar ^
11/25 Birmingham, AL, The Bottletree^
11/26 Atlanta, GA, The Earl^
11/27 Carrboro, NC, Cat’s Cradle^
11/28 Wilmington, NC, The Soapbox^
12/01 New York, NY, Bowery Ballroom^
12/02 Philadelphia, PA, Kung Fu Necktie^
12/03 Baltimore, MD, Ottobar^
^ w/ Ed Schrader’s Music Beat
! w/ Pictureplane