Interview: Back to the Future: Future Islands

Back to the Future: Future Islands

After unexpectedly shimmying their way into the limelight with their fourth album, Future Islands aren’t about to change their tune.

Samuel T. Herring is looking forward to going back on the road. It’s been 18 months since the band’s last tour came to an end, and the downtime makes the frontman feel restless.

“I miss that clean slate of just being in an empty hotel room in a new city. A bed, a desk, a chair. I know what to do in this room,” he begins, a few weeks after beginning the band’s comeback with an intimate New York show, and a few days before the second gig in support of upcoming fifth album ‘The Far Field’, at a club in Copenhagen. He even contemplates doing the dishes for his entire floor after checking out the spec of the current London hotel room he and bandmates Gerrit Welmers and William Cashion populate.

“I read that Bill Gates does the dishes every day,” William interjects. “When you have to do these mundane daily activities or household chores, it allows the mind to wander and can help you to find creativity more efficiently. Which is probably why I always find I stumble upon my best ideas when I’m in the shower or something.”

Not many bands get their big break almost a decade - and three full-length albums - into their career, and it’s safe to say the critical acclaim hurtled at ‘Singles’ and its huge, Letterman-conquering single ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ took the band by surprise as much as those following them since the mid-00s.

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“We want to be able to move people’s feet and their hearts.”

Samuel T. Herring

It doesn’t seem to be a change that’s affecting the trio, though - entirely in character, their feet are still firmly on the ground. “The problem with success is that it can colour your perception of what you did, and we found success by being ourselves, so we shouldn’t change that,” Samuel begins. “A lot of artists will follow the trends of the time, thinking ‘well, this is the spotlight so we have to go towards it, and keep in the light by redefining ourselves at every turn’, but we’ve always stuck to a similar palette, made music honestly and that we love, and not really overthought things.”

It still didn’t stop him pre-empting his own writer’s block every time the band stepped back into the studio, though. “That’s another thing with success, you worry that you’ll never be able to write another song again,” he says, but the songs and ideas for ‘The Far Field’ ended up coming together remarkably smoothly, and it’s brought a coherence that can be felt throughout. The new album is a deep, complex record that reveals more of its inner self the more you let it in, and is maybe the best example yet of Future Islands teaming bright, clean indie-pop with a core devastated by heartbreak and a fear of mortality. It’s a balance the band master - after all, Sam Herring wouldn’t be roaring and beating his chest about nothing on the telly.

“It’s always been a part of the tension that we create, which I believe is one of our most powerful elements, contrasting light and dark. Some feelings of beauty make me feel nostalgic, which may then come off as dark, but it all comes from a place of missing something that once was beautiful. There’s also times where you think ‘this is a great dance track - how do I pull something deeper out of it?’ because it’s very easy to be vapid and to write empty lyrics for a dance song. We want to be able to move people’s feet and their hearts.”

“It all comes from a place of missing something that once was beautiful.”

Samuel T. Herring

‘The Far Field’ signals a redefinition of Future Islands’ goals as people and as musicians, from a band who have never before had sold-out tours stretching into the distance in front of them before their new album is even out in the world, as Samuel explains. “In a purely practical sense, these last few years have been revelationary because we can take care of ourselves better now. We can take care of our loved ones, or do something special for the people we care about in our lives. Those things are the reasons that we pushed ourselves in certain ways. Being able to get home at the end of it all.”

“It’s wild. When we were 23 and moved to Baltimore, the goal was to be a musician who only had to make music. Then I found myself in 2016 with nothing to do, and as a musician who only had to make music. I had reached my goal, and so last year was a year of redefining my goals, and I’m not sure I’ve quite reset yet, and worked out what the next goal is.”

Whatever Samuel T. Herring’s next personal goal is, he and his band have created an album that sees Future Islands more at ease with themselves and their place in the world than ever before.

Future Islands’ new album ‘The Far Field’ is out now.

Photos: Phil Knott

Future Islands play Rock Werchter (29th June - 2nd July) where DIY is an official media partner. Tickets are on sale now. Visit diymag.com/presents for more information.

Taken from the April 2017 issue of DIY. Subscribe below.