Interview – Future Islands

All My Friends recently caught up with the spectacular Future Islands to discuss their 2010 triumph, In Evening Air, their method, and their madness. If you haven’t heard this album yet, you should be disappointed in yourself and act posthaste to correct this shameful error of your ways. Once you’re caught up and equally enraptured, check out what these dudes had to say to us. Then, get your mind blown again by checking out our Future Islands video review.

Not wanting to slate it as such, but In Evening Air was a great breakup album for me. Was there an intention to make it so interpersonal? Would you say that romantic relationships are a big theme for Future Islands?

Samuel T. Herring: I think all of our relationships are a big theme. With In Evening Air it was just what was constantly on my mind and the tip of my tongue. However, I think that romantic relationships will always play a part in our music and all music for that matter, as those relationships are typically the most emotional ones. The easiest to pull from and the ones that demand the most desperate attention.

Sam is an emotional performer and, as you have said in other interviews, confronts the audience with that emotion. Do Future Islands place a lot of value on this engagement? Sometimes I think that more musicians could use a touch of exuberance, how do you feel about that?

Samuel T. Herring: People should be who they want to be onstage. I don’t think it’s something that should be pushed if that feeling isn’t there. But that is a performer’s decision. I’ve been criticized for my performance style, both positively and negatively, and that’s okay, I know who I am onstage. I think as that comfort level sets in for young performers they will reveal their true selves, and that’s all you can ask for.

In Evening Air seemed to realize the sound that had been waiting to burst through in Art Lord and earlier Future Island releases. Was the album conceptualized in advance as a new step forward?

Samuel T. Herring: We wanted it to be a step forward. We knew we had a group of songs that brought us to a new level in our development. So, it wasn’t something we were striving for, but something we were certain we had accomplished. It was an exciting time.

How do you approach songwriting? Are the instrumentals and lyrics developed separately or as a collaborative process?

William Cashion: Sometimes we’ll jam in the basement and things will come from that… We’ve also done tapes and tapes in our living room playing with an organ and bass guitar, and sometimes we draw from that.  Other times, Gerrit or I will come up with something and we’ll go from there.  It’s a very collaborative process.

Sam, can you discuss your development as a vocalist? Is your unorthodox delivery something that has always come naturally or is it something that’s been crafted over the years? Who are your influences vocally?

Samuel T. Herring: I guess it’s a pretty natural progression and learning process. When we started making music, over 8 years ago, I had a nice tone, and I could reach pretty high with it. At this point, both my speaking and singing voice are much deeper. I’d attribute that to the constant touring, lack of understanding in maintaining my voice and way too many cigarettes in between. I’ve lost an octave and half, if not two, since we started, but now I have a much greater control and understanding of what I can do. So, it’s kind of a trade off. I used to have a voice but I didn’t know how to use it. Now I have a real voice, my own voice and I know exactly where I can go, and why I’m going there. 

There are a lot of influences. Early ones: Glenn Danzig, David Clayton-Thomas, Elton John, Cat Stevens. Later ones: Mark Sandman, Richard Butler, Morrissey, Ian Curtis, Stephen Merritt. And probably many more. I always blank when it comes time to pay homage. [Laughs]

Who has Future Islands been listening to as of late?

Samuel T. Herring: My personal list: Black Vatican, Wye Oak, Z-man, Grand Invincible, Arthur Russell, Ghostface Killah, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, all Tribal Music…etc. Pretty random mix of old-timey folk, underground hip-hop, and jazz.

William Cashion:  Avocado Happy Hour’s “Easy Listening” tape, Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”, Mid-80s era Cure, Ray Lynch’s “Deep Breakfast”, Aphex Twin “Selected Ambient Works 85-92”

In Evening Air was recorded in your living room. With the advent of new technologies making home recording more and more accessible, what do you think are the benefits and drawbacks of recording at home? Is this something you plan for future recordings?

Samuel T. Herring: That will be how we record until it’s time to take another step. There’s a certain comfort in recording in home zones. It also has drawbacks, but the studio can too. I feel like it’s nice to be in a space and feel it, get some of the ghosts of a home. But you’re also in someone else’s home, so you have to keep it quiet, or clear out at some point or another. It can be difficult to separate the two modes. That can be a difficult beast to tend. Sometimes, you just want to leave the work and go home and chill out. If it’s in your house, you can’t escape.

What do you guys do when you’re not Future Islands? Any outside hobbies, jobs, or interests?

Samuel T. Herring: I have a pretty bad vinyl habit. That’s my one true material vice.

I loved “The Ink Well”; is that a good indicator of sounds to come?

Samuel T. Herring: I don’t know, I guess we’ll see. We work in and out of sounds and ideas. “The Ink Well” had its time and the story was lived; now it’s over. So there’s only going forward. Our palette remains the same though, so there are always traces of the past, and that’s nice.

The videos for “Tin Man” and “The Ink Well” have a detached, observational quality to them, focusing on atmosphere over action. Was this an approach you sought out or a product of the directors?

Samuel T. Herring: No, that was their artistic vision executed. We have a say in the final product, but we like to give liberty to anyone who’s doing visual work for us. That’s a certain level of trust we want to build, I think it’s important to give that to someone when they have a vision they want to get across.

What’s next for Future Islands? (Bated breath!)

Samuel T. Herring: New record and road warrior styles!

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  • AMF Mag

    Started in early 2011, AMF Magazine is a collective of post-college writers living in California. AMF was created to provide a forum for discussion of contemporary music and to give praise where praise is due.
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