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The heart of Baltimore pumps out a steady stream of talent that infuses the city with a unique cultural identity. Bred from this lifeblood is an indie band by the name of Future Islands. The melodic undertones of guitarist William Cashion and keyboardist Gerrit Welmers are at once juxtaposed and accompanied by the deeply gruff vocals of Samuel T. Herring. The result is both hypnotizing and enchanting. A “magic eye” of sound that is meticulously tied together and offers up huge rewards when one takes the time to hear below the surface. A sound that should not only be heard, but to be experienced. Along their world tour, they took a detour in paradise to play at the newly opened and already iconic Republik, in Honolulu, Hawaii. We got a chance to sit down with the band members to reminisce on love, loss, and the future.
What is the meaning behind the name “Future Islands” and how did you decide on that name?
Herring: It’s kind of a serendipitous thing that happened when we were coming up with a band name. Things came together with the words, “Future Islands.”
Cashion: It’s Hawaii. It’s paradise. It’s the future we all strive for.
Were you guys in a previous band together?
Herring: Yes. That band had a solid meaning and it was called “Art Lord & Self Portraits.” It was the band that we started in our teenage years. We are planning on doing a reunion show for that band next year on Valentine’s Day, which will mark our 10-year anniversary together.
You all met at East Carolina University; did you so happen to come together because you were all passionate about music?
Cashion: Well, Sam and I started bouncing ideas off of each other really fast and I definitely wanted to start a project and he shared the same sentiment. At the end of the first semester we hatched a plan that came into fruition the following January. The initial plan was to play at public places and share our music in the streets.
Herring: The idea at first was more about a performance project and music was the element that would make it accessible.
So naturally collaborating all together was comfortable?
Herring: Yeah definitely! William and I were in art school together, so we started doing all sorts of weird stuff like making posters for shows and putting them up around the art building and campus. We transformed it into a weird event.
At that time did you guys ever think you would get professionally signed and tour around the world?
Herring: No. Definitely not. I mean that goal or the idea that it was possible came much later. After four or five years playing music, we thought: “Whoa! Well, what have I been doing?” Gerrit and I dropped out of school and pretty much devoted ourselves to music. The one passion that I had and I knew it was something I was good at. It was the one thing in my life that I stuck with.
How was the transition between before getting signed and after?
Herring: Well, we’re not really signed. We’ve put out some records with a Chicago label by the name of Thrill Jockey, which is really awesome but they’re only one-album deals. We’ve never stopped being a DIY band and that aesthetic has always defined us. We’ve been able to make a lot of leaps and bounds in the past two years because we have a booking agent now. It does a world of wonders for us. In the past seven years before that, William booked our shows and that was a lot on his shoulders. It’s really difficult to get a show if you don’t have someone representing the band. You really just have to prove yourself. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s also that hard work that made us into the band we are now. We paid our dues and stayed humble.
“Cloudy days and love” are the only words under your “influences” on your Facebook page. Could you elaborate?
Herring: Love is definitely a big influence and inspiration, whether it is love had, love loss or love blossoming. William really likes cloudy days and I guess cloudy days are inspiring in a “downer” kind of way.
For many artists, songwriting acts as a way of emotional release. Is that how it is for you guys?
Herring: Definitely for me it is. William and Gerrit write the music and I write the words. Sometimes Gerrit will have some pretty solid ideas coming into a session. From the beginning we’ve always written with the three of us in a room and we just sit and play until something happens. The great thing about music is that it has feelings where it flows differently for people, but words attach meaning. It attaches a heart to my life. I feel that Gerrit and William write really emotional music and that allows me to write really emotional words.
The process of writing lyrics is far more different than writing music. Which do you guys prefer to do first?
Herring: It’s always the music first. There’s only one song that we’ve ever written that was words first – it’s “Tybee Island” from our newest album. It is not really a structured song but it’s beautiful. It started as a song that I had written for myself. I took a recorder to the beach and sang out by the ocean. We took that into the studio and William and Gerrit put washes of keys and guitars into it. The result is a beautifully loose song with my vocals and the sound of the ocean coming in.
An aspect that’s highly important to me when it comes to music is understanding and reading the lyrics to the songs. I interpreted your single titled “Tomorrow” as being about heartbreak. Was the song written from personal experiences?
Herring: Yes, I mean it’s a pretty simple song. You know when you’re waiting for somebody to call you on the phone or you have that relationship with someone that’s gotten to a point where you can’t talk to him or her. The only possible way you could talk to them is to call them, because you can’t touch them or knock on their door. But, you’re at that point where you can’t even call them because they won’t answer. That was a personal experience. You’re hoping they’ll call you because you know if you call them, it’s just digging your hole deeper.
Around the world there’s a lot of talented artists like you hoping to be found by fans and be recognized for their music. What advice would you give to striving musicians today?
Cashion: Go on the road and play shows. Push yourself to get out of the garage.
Herring: Be kind and be nice to people. Be nice to everyone at the venues and be open to possibilities. Remember that it’s a privilege that you get to do what you do, even if it’s the toughest thing in the world. When people shit on you, remember that it’s a privilege. Keep doing it and don’t let people discourage you. If you really love it then do it.
Was giving up ever an option for you guys?
Herring: It’s always an option. That’s probably the best answer.
Cashion: There were definitely some really hard times early on and we’d ask ourselves if we really wanted to be doing this. We were all broke as hell and we couldn’t keep a job, because we’d be on tour.
Herring: Yeah it’s definitely tough and you’re away from the people you care about a lot of the time. But for me I need it because it’s a part of me. It is a need to be on the road and perform. You can’t beat that down.
I noticed that all of your album covers have amazing work on it. Is that your art, or your friend’s?
Cashion: It’s all of our friends’ art. My girlfriend did our most recent album titled On the Water. Our friend Kymia Nawabi did our other two albums.
Do they listen to your music while they do the artwork?
Herring: Definitely! With Kymia, we sent her our recordings and she just kind of feels it. She allows it to sink in. The last 7″ was by a fan who came to a show and told us that we were all he listened to for the past six months. All of his artwork was inspired by the music of Future Islands. We ended up using one of his paintings because it was amazing!
Lastly, before we come to the end, what does the distant future hold for Future Islands?
Cashion: We’re taking a big break from touring next year, so we can focus on writing and working on our next record. We are not giving ourselves any deadlines, just totally trying to chill for a little bit. We are really trying to give ourselves a break.
Hopefully, you don’t take a break for too long because the world needs bands like yours. But, maybe a break on a future island is in order. Maybe a place called Hawaii. Thank you for your time and your music.