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Baltimore’s Future Islands dish at The Independent on the ‘happy mistakes’ in their music

Photos by Maggie Corwin // Written by Molly Kish //

Showbams spoke with Samuel Herring (vocals), William Cashion (bass) and Gerrit Welmers (keyboards) of Future Islands before their show in San Francisco at The Independent on September 4th, the night before the group left for Northwest Music Fest.


Showbams: Initially you all met when studying in East Carolina & formed Art Lord & the Self Portraits in 2003, reconfigured into Future Islands in 2006 and in 2008 relocated to Baltimore and recorded both Feathers & Hallways and In Evening Air. Through all the shifting lineups, recordings and locations, what made this particular one stick the most? What was it about you three?

Herring: I’ve actually know Garret since we were about 13/ 14 years old, and we were like best friends throughout high school, went off to college together and then I met William. Me and William, as soon as we met we became really close friends, and really started to bounce ideas off of eachother – crazy art ideas, musical ideas – and that’s when we started Art Lord. When we lost our fourth member who moved out of town for Art Lord, that finished that and we started Future Islands with another guy, and when that didn’t continue… It was really a lot of us just trusting in each other, like we’ve been through all the crazy times, the fights, especially me and Garrett at that point knowing each other for a long time, and me and William are always very similar so sometimes we get into it. We’d already been through all that stuff, and by the time we moved to Baltimore, I think we were just realizing that we all just wanted the same thing and we saw that in each other, we saw that in our group, and we’re just like “You want this, don’t you?” Because it’s what I want. And were all just, “Ya I want this.”

So I think it’s really just that dedication that we knew we could trust in each other, that we all wanted to be full time musicians, and that we were going to sacrifice everything to go for it, and that’s when the tables really turned for us.

Showbams: That full-level commitment thing — that’s important for any successful band to have the cohesive nature of everyone wanting it as much as the other one. You studied art and music throughout college. Was this something you wanted from the beginning to be the end result? Did you say, “I want to be in a band, I want this to be a full-time job”, or was it something that you naturally fell into?

Cashion: I’ve always wanted to be in a band. I had an ex-girlfriend that really pushed me to try visual art, I never really felt like an artist, then I decided I wanted to go into graphic design, then I had some friends I met in college that pushed me more toward a fine art kind of atmosphere. I thought art school was a pretty cool place to go, a lot of bands I like – Devo, Talking Heads – they all went to art school. Honestly, I did think about that and I wanted to be in a band for sure that toured. But ya, I guess it’s worked out, so far. (laughs) I’m not sure if all of us felt that way…

Herring: When I went off to school I didn’t have any intention of starting a band. I was really into hip-hop stuff and I was leaning more to doing that type of stuff. But I was really just into performance art and conceptual art. So I thought I was going to be this, this ‘great artist’ and music kind of took ahold of me completely. And I was able to find that sort of performance release in music, and that’s something that I still have. So it’s kind of a funny, full circle, how when I was 18 /19 I was trying to find the perfect way to blend my words, and performance, but also two dimensional, three dimensional works, like how do you do that? I was always trying to figure that out. And through music, I’ve been able to kind of, find that place, through performance and the use of my words.

Welmers: Well, I hated art school and nor did I think I was going to be in a band. But then we started playing together and it was pretty cool. It just worked out.

Showbams: Do you feel as though you can correlate the experiences that you had meeting each other, first starting out in the band together with the work that you do today? Do you see a large growth from where you began or is it something that easily transpired into where you guys are right now?

Herring: There’s definitely a growth, and that’s us just maturing as humans, or as individuals and also as a group. Well especially these two, they’ve always had an amazing chemistry musically together, and that’s something that’s kind of been there since the start and it continues. I know my writing has changed a lot. Just as I’ve tried and failed at certain things, and succeeded in some areas, and figuring out different ways to say things. We’ve of course grown a lot, but we’re still working with a similar palate that we started with, and we’re just finding new ways to use it. Kind of just through life experience, you know the songs are very much just linked to what’s happening in our lives. As we live we have more material to write from to figure things out. So it’s growing with us.

Showbams: In your recording process, you choose really interesting places to record. You choose a very different landscape than other artists would go with. “Wave Like Home” was done at a skate shop. “On the Water” was done at the Andrew Sanders house, both of which are a little obscure for a work place. Did you feel as though you wanted to branch out and do something different than going into the typical studio?

Cashion: We just got our start with Art Lord. hanging a microphone on the ceiling fan, that was turned off. We would do tests and put the amps in different places, and just make it so that everything was even, that’s kind of how we got our start. All of the old Art Lord EP’s are kind of recorded like that just live, in a room, no overdubs just straight to tape. Art Lord back in the day used to got to studio’s and it was just always a train wreck, it sounded horrible. It sounded good in a room but not so much in a sterile lifeless studio. So when you record some place like a skate shop or in somebody’s house there’s already that built in character. There’s tricks in the studio to fake it, but we have always felt more comfortable just in a place like that. We can live there, there’s a kitchen and we save a lot of money too.

Showbams: Do you feel your choice in studio location, impacts the work you produce on your album? Were the inclusion of field recordings something that you guys wanted to do off the bat or was it an idea that came during the process?

Herring: With “On the Water”, the house that we recorded at just kind of actually fell into our laps. A good friend of our Abe was moving back down from Baltimore to North Carolina for the summer and he basically was kind of lonely and said ‘hey come and hang out,’ and we asked him if we could record there and he said ‘yeah totally.’ So we just loaded up the van with all of our gear and Chester our producer’s gear and just headed down there for ten days. It was kind of a perfect thing, we got to hang out w/a good friend and he was the one that ended up doing the ‘Before the Bridge’ video and that’s all through that house that we recorded in, so it was really kind of touching. He actually named that song too.

I think it’s those kind of happy mistakes that our music is all about. The kind of serendipitous elements of creating and finding inspiration in creating. Being inspired to create, but you know you’re with your friends and your creating sound and then things just happen! I know that we didn’t think about a lot of those field recording elements until we started to put down the album and we realized in those ten days that we were recording how some of those elements could work. Like ‘Tybee Island,’ we didn’t have any clue how we were going to record that song until we went down to the beach and decide to have a day to do some recording there as well.

Showbams: Throughout your body of work you touch upon a lot of passages of travel and cycles both literal and emotional, is this something that you consciously create or that naturally manifests?

Herring: We, of course, want to make an album that flows and within that a circularity. With ‘On the water,’ it was important for me to have it flow back into itself, which is simply done by having the sounds that lead you in be the sounds that lead you out and back in again. I miss that though from when I was a kid and I would listen to these sixty to seventy five minute hip hop albums that were just these unfolding things. Whether you listen to ‘Three Feet High and Rising,’ or De La Soul’s ‘Dead,’ or “Blue Mind State,’ it’s like a seamless thing and I really appreciate that. When I got into indie rock, I didn’t find that as much and I think all of us are into creating really full albums that can exist completely on their own.

We’re doing it ourselves so we can take these chances, I think w/bigger labels they may ask you for a little bit more out of what you do and we still really push ourselves to do what we want to. We have that luxury b/c we’ve been doing this a long time. We took some chances with “On the Water”. Nothing crazy, no noise jams or anything, but more with the way we were writing and chose to display ourselves.

Showbams: There have been a lot of artists you guys have worked with: Lonnie Walker, Dan Deacon and Wye Oak. Is there anyone you would like to work with in the future, or do you just figure it out accordingly?

Cashion: We’ve been talking about doing a supergroup with Wye Oak, which maybe that’ll happen (should I have not have talked about that, is that top secret)? We’ve been talking about getting together w/them and writing some songs, seeing what happens. I guess we all have different people we’d like to work with, Brian Eno of course would be super cool. Richard James of Aphex Twin, James Murphy.

Herring: I’d love to sing a duet with Joanna Newsome, I think our voices would be really interesting together. Garret is going to have Dave Lombardo play drums on his next album.

Showbams: I know recently you guys released a 7″ with Ed Shrader’s Music Beat, which is the second release from Less Artist More Condo’s Series (LAMC), in reference to concerts that Ariel Primero from the NYC label Famous Class, used to put on. I know there’s a story behind the album, can you elaborate?

Cashion: Our friend Cyrus runs the label, he’s really good friends with Ariel. who about a year ago passed away and there’s a series of albums in memory of him. Each of the 7″ are available for download in a pay what you want w/ all the money going to a VH1 Save the Music Fund in Ariel’s name. Which basically means money goes to public school’s for music education funding, it’s a really good cause. They choose the band that’s going to be on the A Side and then they want those bands to choose lesser known bands in hopes that they’ll get more attention and for us it was an easy choice, Ed Shrader’s Music Beat. Those guys toured the US w/us all last year and they’re also our roommates. They have some really great, new and interesting stuff w/music that I think more people should hear. Their debut is amazing and I’m really excited for what’s going to be next w/those guys. They’re like the next wave of American, underground DIY.

Herring: You can go to Load Record’s to find out more abut Ed Shrader’s Music Beat, their album Jazz Mind came out earlier on this year, but you can find that 7″ at Famous Class, too. The cover of the 7″ is a picture of Ed’s cat and Garret’s cat, the two band cats, they make sure the house is cool back home.

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Comments

  1. Great Interview Molly. Welcome to the team!

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