Who doesn’t love Future Islands, with their rapturous synth-pop? The Baltimore, Maryland-based band – with charismatic frontman Samuel T Herring, keyboardist Gerrit Welmers, and bassist/guitarist William Cashion – have been on a roll since 2014 when their sublimely romantic single Seasons (Waiting On You) blew up.
The mania started after the trio played Seasons on the Late Show With David Letterman. Herring’s emotive and dynamic performance – evoking Ian Curtis, Joe Cocker and a subversive cabaret singer – went viral online.
Ironically, Future Islands, who’d bonded as college students in North Carolina, weren’t even newcomers. They released three albums before signing to 4AD for the breakthrough Singles – produced by Chris Coady (Beach House). Seasons became last year’s defining song. But Singles, revealing more personal numbers like Light House, also made ‘Best of 2014’ lists. The cult New Waver Vince Clarke – of Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Erasure fame – remixed the track Doves.
This year Future Islands aired the new single The Chase for Record Store Day. They’re already looking to a fifth album. Meanwhile, the group, augmented by a drummer on tour, have established themselves as a much adored live act in Australia. First blitzing 2014’s Splendour In The Grass, they returned for Laneway Festival over summer.
Now, following a triumphant Glastonbury premiere mid-year, they’re back to play both as Mumford & Sons’ supports and headline shows. “We love it there – we love the culture, love the people in Australia,” says Cashion. “So we’re always excited to visit.”
Listen: Future Islands – Doves (Vince Clarke Remix)
Music Feeds: I caught you guys at Laneway in Melbourne. I realised how hard you work because that day you did a signing, managed a soundcheck, performed – and then you played the afterparty. It was surprising to see you so hands-on with the soundcheck.
William Cashion: Oh, thanks – that’s great. We try to hold off on getting a big crew and all that stuff as long as we can, ’cause we like to keep it real!
MF: Seasons brought you a new fanbase – and Singles was huge. But last year in interviews you guys expressed the hope that people would delve into your back catalogue. Live, you’ve done some older songs like Walking Through That Door from your second album. Have people gone back?
WC: It does feel that way. Yeah, when Singles first came out, I remember the majority of the people at the shows would really respond to the stuff on Singles. But we just did two short little tours – one in the UK and one on the West Coast in the States – and, both of those tours, I feel like the audience seemed to know a lot of the older material.
They were requesting really obscure old songs we haven’t played in a long time, which was super exciting. I’m the one in the band who loves blowing the dust off old songs and bringing them into the set. So we try to do that when we can, but it’s kinda tough once you’re in the mode of touring – if you don’t have the song ready, it can be really tough to try to learn it.
Watch: Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting On You)
MF: You released a new single, The Chase, this year. Was it a song you especially wrote or one you had lying around?
WC: Nah, it was a new song. We had most of the month of February off this year and so we used that time to get together and just jam and, of the jams that we did, we wrote The Chase and we wrote [its flipside] Haunted By You. There’s a couple more ideas that are pretty close to being finished songs from that batch, but we had to put those on the backburner – so they’ve kinda been laying there untouched until hopefully this month.
I think this month we’re gonna dive back in – ’cause we have the whole month of October off, so I think we’re gonna try to start writing again. But, yeah, we just try to write when we can. It’s always been really important to us… We’ve done it for every album – we’ve put out a seven inch with at least one or two non-album songs in between each album. It’s kind of an extension of the record, but it’s not really officially a part of the record – and it’s kinda like maybe where the next record’s going, but it’s not that either. It’s just an oddball song that doesn’t really fit anywhere.
MF: Everybody is curious about where you might go next. Do you have any ideas?
WC: We’ve always written songs the same way. So the plan is to not change the way that we’ve always written – which is generally just the three of us in a room, just jamming and figuring out different kind of chord progressions that work or different kinds of riffs or what kind of rhythm we want. But, yeah, we’re just gonna keep doing it the same way.
We haven’t really talked too much about the sound of the next record – we’re just excited to get together and write. Me, Sam and Gerrit have been writing songs together since 2003, so it’s almost 13 years that we’ve been writing together. We don’t really have to talk about things – but, once we start going, it’s kinda an unspoken language.
Listen: Future Islands – The Chase
MF: Samuel is into hip-hop and even has this secret rapper alter-ego, Hemlock Ernst. I read that you are a big New Order and Peter Hook fan. What do you listen to?
WC: I’m a huge Cure fan. I love old Kraftwerk stuff – that’s one of the earliest things where me and Sam found common ground, ’cause he knew Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express from Afrika Bambaataa. This song – is it Planet Rock where he samples Trans-Europe Express? He was like, ‘Oh, that’s Afrika Bambaataa.’ And I was like, ‘No, it’s actually the Kraftwerk sample – check it out!’
So we found this common ground – ’cause I feel like Kraftwerk had a heavy influence on the hip-hop world, but they also equally influenced New Wave and synth-pop back in the ’80s. So that was a point that we all focussed on. We still look up to Kraftwerk and really love what they did. But I’m a huge fan of old Krautrock bands – like instrumental stuff, ambient stuff, Brian Eno’s solo records, all the old Cluster stuff… Michael Rother [of Neu!] is a big one that we’re really into.
I was a big Smashing Pumpkins fan in high school and middle school – I was obsessed with The Smashing Pumpkins. [I’m a] big Pixies fan, love Frank Black – all the Frank Black solo records I think are genius. Frank Black And The Catholics – I think those records are all really great… I definitely come from more of the indie-rock [side]. I’m a huge Flaming Lips fan. I feel like The Flaming Lips have served as a sort of inspiration, or a big influence, just in the way that they’ve had many lives as The Flaming Lips, starting back in the early ’80s, and how they’ve kept going in their own way for so long – [they’ve] just morphed and grown. I’ve always kinda looked to them as just dudes who are doing it right.
MF: Have you heard New Order’s Music Complete? They’ve got a new bass player now but Peter Hook says he’s a wannabe…
WC: Yeah, I haven’t heard the whole record – I heard half of it today. I think it sounds really good. I just recently met Tom [Chapman], the new bassist. We were in Manchester a few weeks ago. Super sweet guy. I think that the Peter Hook sound is such a big part of New Order that, if he wasn’t playing a bassline that was reminiscent of what Peter Hook would play, then it wouldn’t have that same feel. So I don’t think he’s ripping him off. I think that’s just part of the style of New Order songs. I feel bad, too – I feel bad that Peter Hook gives him such a hard time.
MF: You’ve got two dates with Mumford & Sons on this upcoming Australian tour – including the Gentlemen Of The Road mini-festival in Sydney. But you also have standalone shows. Is it likely you will do any new songs?
WC: We’re gonna start writing again this month – so nothing’s written yet. But, once we start writing songs, things can happen pretty fast. So I don’t know – I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a new song or two being thrown in. But I think we’re more cautious these days… We used to always write new songs and just immediately throw ’em in the set, and that’s how we would kinda practise it and get it ready – ’cause the way that we write songs, they always morph and change and grow once you’ve played them live a couple of times.
We know how the songs should move – or if it should get loud at this point or get quiet at this point. A lot of that is figured out when we play it live. But these days if you play a new song, it’ll end up on YouTube the next day, so we’re nervous about that – having a [new] song end up on YouTube. But you never know – crazier things have happened!
Grab all the Gentlemen of the Road and Future Island headline shows dates and deets below!
Listen: Future Islands – Haunted By You
Future Islands Australian Tour Dates
Friday, 13th November
The Gov, Adelaide
Tickets: Secret Sounds
Monday, 16th November
The Triffid, Brisbane
Tickets: Secret Sounds
Previously announced shows
Thursday 12th November – SOLD OUT
Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne
Saturday 14th November
Gentlemen Of The Road Festival
The Domain, Sydney
Tickets: Secret Sounds
Gallery: Future Islands @ Melbourne, Corner Hotel 28/07/14 / Photos: Brett Schewitz