Synth-pop band, Future Islands, show that the long slog can pay off and success
doesn’t come overnight a silver platter.
(Future Islands 4AD)
Baltimore, Maryland is like Birmingham - a working class city, post-industrial with its own culture and accents. A midway point between DC and Philly or DC and New York where you have to drive through the town to get from A to B. It’s a city that remains relevant as a middle ground in America and it breeds artistic creativity through it's desolate atmosphere. These are the words of Samuel Herring, lyrists and vocalist of Baltimore based band, Future Islands. Along with Gerrit Welmers (keyboards and programming) and William Cashion (bass, acoustic and electric guitars), Herring formed Future Islands out of art school in North Carolina. Together they are the phenomena that peaked large public interest in 2014 after a stint on The Late Show with David Letterman - 4 albums in and after clocking up hundreds of miles in their tour van across country.
Their first band, Art Lord & the Self-Portraits, lasted from 2003 to 2005. In early 2006, Cashion, Herring, and Welmers formed Future Islands with Erick Murillo on electronic drum kit. Their first EP, Little Advances, was released in April 2006 and they followed that with their debut album Wave Like Home later that year.
Their Feathers and Hallways 7" was recorded in Oakland, California, during their first U.S. tour and then their second album, In Evening Air, was recorded in the band's living room in Marble Hill neighborhood in Baltimore. In Evening Air was a highly personal and admirable. Herring was reading from his diary pages, depicting the hurt he was feeling at the time and conveying that raw emotion. On stage the band is electric, mainly due to Herring’s grimacing stares, stalking stage presence and chest thumping (not to mention the t-shirt tucked into jeans look to help with those explosive kicks and shimmy side steps). The band has this formula that flirts between emotional distress and optimism with the combination of lyrics, synth and Herrings growl-come-wail vocals he is known for. His growling, as he says, is a tool to get people shaking out of their boots and sure enough, it works. The chest hitting became a way for Herring to let the audience feel something rather than for him to feel it. He has said he has always been into performance art and uses it as a way to tell a story to people that can’t hear what the hell he's saying in dark dingy bars.
(Herring's infamous kicks at Pitchfork Music Festival 2015 by Mark Horton, WireImage)
In 2014 the band released Singles, their fourth album, completely out of their own pocket and the pockets of their friends. Bringing in producer Chris Coady, who's worked with TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear, and fellow Baltimoreans Beach House, it’s 80’s R&B mixed with pop and punk. They then signed a deal with 4AD after the album was all recorded, mixed and mastered.
They aim to please, to get mouths dropping and to give the crowd something they aren’t expecting. That’s exactly what they did, performing for the first time on live television, on The Late Show with David Letterman. Herring has said he had no expectations for that show; they performed like they would any other gig. It wasn’t insular; it was connected to people just as much as they would do in any other show they do – looking past the cameras. They were just in the performance - blacked out in a way. They had no idea the impact it would have. That performance of lead single "Seasons (Waiting on You)" ensured the band became an internet success overnight. It also lead to a nice 1st place setting on Pitchforks Best songs of 2014 list. - not a bad outcome.
During an insightful interview with Loud and Quiet recently, Herring depicted life on the road as “old road dogs”, their incredible family support (despite their parents wondering what they were doing with their lives half the time), the $500 'Office Pros Supply Shop' van his parents bought for the bands first tour and the long road of those first few albums. He talked about his decaying voice and the toll each album and tour has had on his vocals. For each album he has had to discover his “new voice” through trial and error and adjusted each time. In 2014 he had major troubles and found out he had abnormal growths on his vocal chords so going into a new album he had to learn once again to write in his new voice and grow with the record.
Future Islands spent 2016 working on the band’s forthcoming album The Far Field (to be released on April 7th via 4AD). They took time writing material, road-testing the songs in live shows under a bunch of fake names and finally recording the piece in Los Angeles. New single "Ran" is out now and "Shadows", the incredibly unlikely collaboration with Debbie Harry is a hotly anticipated number. This time they’ve incorporated horns and string arrangements and live drums from new member Michael Lowry. Don't expect anything you've heard before but expect to be woken in some way or another.