Future Islands performing at Death By Audio in Brooklyn, February 2011
|Origin||Greenville, North Carolina, United States|
|Genres||Synthpop, alternative rock, indie pop|
|Labels||4AD, Thrill Jockey, Upset The Rhythm, Friends Records|
|Art Lord & the Self-Portraits, The Snails, Moss of Aura, Peals, Hemlock Ernst|
Michael Lowry (touring drummer)
Future Islands is an American synthpop band based in Baltimore, Maryland, and signed to 4AD, comprising Gerrit Welmers (keyboards and programming), William Cashion (bass, acoustic and electric guitars), and Samuel T. Herring (lyrics and vocals). The band was formed in January 2006 by Welmers, Cashion and Herring--the remaining members of the performance art college band Art Lord & the Self-Portraits--and drummer Erick Murillo.
Murillo left in November 2007, after which the band relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, and released the debut album Wave Like Home through British label Upset The Rhythm in 2008. Their second album In Evening Air was released in 2010 by Thrill Jockey and in 2011 the band released their third album On the Water through the same label.
Future Islands came to prominence in 2014 with their fourth album Singles released by 4AD. Its lead single "Seasons (Waiting on You)" was considered best song of 2014 by Pitchfork, and NME and its performance at the Late Show with David Letterman in March 2014, became the most-viewed video on the show's YouTube page.
On April 7, 2017, the band released their fifth album The Far Field. Described by Consequence of Sound as "one of the best live bands around", Future Islands locked main-stage sets at some of the world's biggest music festivals--Coachella, Panorama, Bonnaroo and the Glastonbury Festival,-- and sold out many dates on their European summer tour, before the album was released.
Sam Herring and Gerrit Welmers grew up in Morehead City, North Carolina two streets away from each other, and attended the same middle school in Newport, North Carolina. They became friends around 1998, when they were in 8th grade. Herring had started making hip-hop music when he was 13 or 14, while Gerrit was a skater with interests in metal and punk music who bought his first guitar at age 14. Having different musical backgrounds, they did not consider making music together during high-school. William Cashion started playing guitar when he was around 13, having had a couple of bands as a teenager in Raleigh, where he commuted to High School from Wendell, North Carolina. In 2002 he enrolled in the painting and drawing program at ECU and had drawing classes with Sam Herring.
The idea to form a band came while Cashion was helping Herring study for an art history exam. They invited local record shop personality Adam Beeby to play rhythmic keyboards and fellow art student Kymia Nawabi for percussion and backing vocals. After a tumultuous debut on Valentine's Day February 14, 2003 at Soccer Moms' House, Herring also invited Welmers to join the band. Only Cashion and Welmers already played a musical instrument--the guitar--but Cashion took the bass and Welmers the keyboards, for a Kraftwerk-inspired sound.
Sam Herring played Locke Ernst-Frost an arrogant narcissistic artist from Germany, Ohio, dressed in a 70's-inspired white suit with slicked-back hair, and a heavy German accent. The character's name originally was meant to be Oarlock Ernest Frost but it got shortened as a reference to John Locke the religious poet, Max Ernst, the artist and Robert Frost, the American poet.
The band quickly gained a local reputation and started touring the underground venues in the Southeast, playing shows with North Carolina acts like Valient Thorr and Baltimore artists such as Height, Videohippos, OCDJ, Nuclear Power Pants, Santa Dads, Ecstatic Sunshine, Blood Baby, Ponytail and electronic musician Dan Deacon whom they met during a show on May 26, 2004.
Nawabi who was already a senior when Cashion, Herring and Welmers were freshmen, left the band to prepare for her graduation project in June-July 2003. When Adam Beeby had to leave Greenville in September 2005, the remaining members dissolved the band.
--William Cashion, stated to BMore Musically Informed - September 30, 2009.
When Art Lord & the Self Portraits disbanded in late 2005, its members forgot they had discussed with alt-country band The Texas Governor the possibility of touring together. Future Islands was formed in early 2006 to keep that commitment, with an original line-up consisting of Cashion, Herring, Welmers and Erick Murillo--bassist for The Kickass --who played an electronic drum kit.
Already as Art Lord & the Self-Portraits, the band wanted to change their image and took this opportunity to do so. William Cashion stated: "Me and Gerrit had been talking for a while about how we wanted to get rid of the gimmick. We wanted to be taken seriously. Our songs had outgrown the gimmick that the band was made on. The songs were starting to deal with bigger, personal, universal themes. We wanted to be taken seriously."
The band played their first show on February 12, 2006 at an anti-Valentine's Day party in a venue called the Turducken house, opening for about a dozen bands. After writing 6-7 songs in only one week, they had to come up with a new name quickly, narrowing it down to two choices--Future Shoes and Already Islands--and combining them into one. Future Islands self-released the EP Little Advances on April 28, 2006 which they recorded in March 2006.
A couple of months later, Herring dropped out college and left Greenville to deal with a substance abuse problem he had acquired: "In June, I left town and didn't come back. It was just drug problems, man. I got sucked into the darkness of partying and shit college kids do. I came clean to my parents and said, 'Look, I have a problem and need your help.' I stayed at my parent's for about a month and then moved across the state to Asheville, North Carolina. It took about a year for me to get my act together."
The band still continued and on January 6, 2007 they self-released a split CD with Welmers' solo project Moss of Aura, recorded in December 2006.
In July 2007, Future Islands recorded their debut album Wave Like Home with Chester Endersby Gwazda at Backdoor Skateshop in Greenville. As Cashion describes: "When we did Wave Like Home, we were working with a really tight schedule. Sam lived in Asheville and could only be in Greenville to record for a week or so, and we had to work very fast. We recorded the whole album in 3 days, and we spent about a month mixing it."
After a Halloween party in 2007, Erick Murillo quit the band. Having finished his degree, Cashion moved back to Raleigh: "We were scattered across North Carolina. I was living in Raleigh on friends' couches, Gerrit was in Greenville and Sam was in Asheville, which was five hours away." Between November 2007 and June 2008, Future Islands--encouraged by Dan Deacon and Benny Boeldt from Baltimore band Adventure--relocated to Baltimore. Cashion moved in November, Herring in January and finally Welmers. There, they could have access to cheap rent, be part of a supportive community and be closer to cities like New York and Washington, which allowed them to tour more extensively.
During the first half of 2008, the band added another drummer, Sam Ortiz from the Baltimore band Thrust Lab, who left weeks before the start of their first national tour in late July. On August 5, 2008, the band released the track "Follow You (Pangea Version)" as part of a split 7" with Deacon, through the label 307 Knox Records. Future Islands' track on the EP "Follow You (Pangea version)" was recorded in April 2006 at the Bonque house in Greenville, North Carolina during the Pangea sessions: the band's first proper session with Chester Endersby Gwazda.
London-based label Upset The Rhythm released Wave Like Home on August 25, 2008 which made sales difficult in the US due to the import costs. The cover art was designed by Kymia Nawabi, a former member of Art Lord & the Self-Portraits. She also designed the cover art of the Feathers and Hallways 7" which was recorded in Oakland, California, on July 21, 2008 during their first U.S. tour. Produced by Chester Endersby Gwazda, it was released on April 15, 2009 by Upset The Rhythm. This single was their first release as a focused three-piece: "We have definitely talked about adding a drummer at some point, when the time is right, but right now it just makes sense to be a three piece if, for nothing else, the fact that it is really easy to tour as a three piece. We really have very little gear. We really just have PA speakers for the keyboard and a bass amp."
The strain of the band's first two consecutive national tours led to the end of Herrings' long-term relationship in late 2008. This became the theme of Future Islands' second album In Evening Air whose first songs were written right after the breakup. In early 2009, the band toured Europe for the first time. The song "Tin Man" took the band through Dan Deacon's Bromst US and European tour.
Later that year, the band signed to independent record company Thrill Jockey. It was Double Dagger's bassist Bruce Willen who was responsible for giving the label a demo that contained early mixes of "Tin Man", "Walking Through That Door", "Long Flight" and "As I Fall". Future Islands began writing the rest of the album after Whartscape 2009 and recorded it in the band's living room in the historic Marble Hill neighborhood in Baltimore, with Chester Enderby Gwazda in July 2009. Released May 4, 2010, the cover art was again designed by Kymia Nawabi.
In February 2010, Future Islands released through the NYC art collective Free Danger the EP The Post Office Chapel Wave with remixes by Pictureplane, Javelin, Jones and Moss Of Aura, and collaborations with No Age and Victoria Legrand from Beach House. Future Islands debut with Thrill Jockey was the EP In the Fall released in April 2010 and produced by Chester Enderby Gwazda. Its title track featured vocals by Katrina Ford from Celebration. The EP also included an extended version of "Tin Man", a 2007 track "Virgo Distracts" and "Awake and Dreaming" which had been written for In Evening Air but did not fit the mood of the album. The cover art was shot by Bruce Willen from Post Typography.
Interested in expanding their sound, on July 7, 2010 the band recorded Undressed, an acoustic EP at Mobtown Studios, Baltimore for a radio broadcast. Produced by Mat Leffler-Schulman, the art cover was again designed by Kymia Nawabi. Played live at an art opening and at Whartscape 2010, the EP was released in September of that year: "We had been talking about arranging and performing an acoustic show for a while, and in the summer of 2010, Elena Johnston and Natasha Tylea invited us to do an acoustic performance at the opening of the "Wild Nothing" photography show that they curated. We got some friends together and figured out the acoustic versions."
On November 4, 2010 Future Islands released a split 7" with the Raleigh band Lonnie Walker featuring the track "The Ink Well". The cover art was by Elena Johnston and the single lead to the creation of the Baltimore independent label Friends Records.
Following a year of solid touring, Future Islands recorded their third album On the Water in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, between late May and early June 2011 with producer Chester Endersby Gwazda. William Cashion commented "Being secluded and free from distractions was the most important aspect of our going to North Carolina. Our friend Abe [Sanders] pretty much let us take over his house for ten days, and that gave us a lot of freedom to focus on writing and recording."
Not wanting to be pigeonholed, the band went against the expectation generated by In Evening Air, and the upbeat tone of the previous album was followed by a slow-burning record. Welmers' dance-floor-ready synthesizer and Cashions' uptempo bass were stripped down. The tone of the lyrics changed, according to Herring: "Because I didn't have that same anger, so I don't write about it."
Friction between the band and Thrill Jockey started to appear during the recording sessions, as Herring commented: "We had some issues. There was someone from the label hanging around talking about deadlines. Can we not talk about business while writing a song? Do you want it to be a good album, or do you want it to come out on time?"
Pressured by their label, the band rushed the mix and promotion of the album. The lead single "Before the Bridge/Find Love" was released on July 19, 2011 and the album on October 11, 2011. It featured a duet with Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak on the track "The Great Fire" and the art cover was designed by Baltimore artist Elena Johnston. After one year of touring On the Water, the band broke ties with their label.
On July 17, 2012, Future Islands released a charity split single with Baltimore band Ed Shrader's Music Beat through Famous Class records, featuring the song "Cotton Flower" and on September 3, 2012, they released the single "Tomorrow/The Fountain" through their previous label--Upset the Rhythm.
Having toured for five consecutive years, in 2013 Future Islands was finally able to afford taking a break from the road, to write their fourth album: "We sank everything we had into [Singles]. It's definitely our most polished record. We were able to take time off the road because of the money we had saved from years of touring, so were able to write while not under the pressure of being in between tours."
They started writing in February 2013 in a rented a hunting cabin in rural North Carolina, while rehearsing for the ten-year anniversary of Art Lord & the Self-Portraits' first show. About the writing process, Herring described: "We ended up demoing about 24 or 25 songs, then went into the studio and decided to do 13 of those, and by the end of it we decided it would be a ten-track record. The writing process started in February - there were two or three songs that we had from the year before that we'd demoed - we stopped writing in the last week of July, and went into the studio in the first week of August. So there was a good five and a half, six months of writing, and getting together two or three times a week over that period to just jam and see what came up."
The band financed the album and recorded it at the Dreamland studios in Hurley, New York in August 2013 with producer Chris Coady. In early 2014, the Future Islands announced they had signed a three-album deal to 4AD, who released Singles on March 24, 2014. The cover art was by mixed media artist Beth Hoeckel.
The band made their network television début on March 3, 2014, on The Late Show with David Letterman, performing the lead single "Seasons (Waiting on You)". Their performance on the show, particularly Herring's onstage antics, became an internet success, and garnered millions of views on YouTube. "Seasons (Waiting on You)" was eventually named the best song of 2014 by Pitchfork Media, the Pazz & Jop critics' poll, and Consequence of Sound. The success of the album lead the Singles tour to extend itself until November 2015.
In February 2015, Future Islands wrote the single "The Chase"/"Haunted by You" and recorded it in March with producer Jim Eno at Public Hi-Fi, Austin, Texas. The single was released on April 29, 2015 with a cover art by Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez.
In 2016 Future Islands took a break from touring and started writing their fifth album in January, in the small beach town of Avon, in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. William Cashion stated: "We got a beach house on the outer banks of North Carolina in the dead of winter. There was nobody there but us. You could look out of any window of this four-storey house and you'd be able to see the ocean. We set up in the living room, we'd get up every day and start jamming after our morning coffee and just go all day. We wrote about eight songs there, and about three of them made it onto the record. From that point on, we'd get together in chunks - we'd go to our rehearsal space in Baltimore, or over to Gerrit's place or to my home studio. We tried to just write the way that we always have."
The band tested their songs live in August playing under different names: The Hidden Haven, named after the beach house where they started writing the album; This Old House, after the TV show Herring watched when growing up; and Chirping Bush, inspired by a disturbing dream Welmers had about a bunch of birds who could not get out of a bush. "We wanted to do little shows, but we didn't want any attention for the shows; we wanted to kind of do it under the radar."
Future Islands recorded The Far Field in November 2016 at the Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, California with producer John Congleton. The album was released on April 7, 2017, and its lead single "Ran" came out on January 31, 2017, followed by the single "Cave" on March 24. The album featured a duet with Blondie's Debbie Harry. As in the album In Evening Air, the title comes from Theodore Roethke's poetry work and the cover art--a piece titled Chrysanthemum Trance-- is again by Kymia Nawabi.
--Sam Herring stated to The Quietus - October 18, 2012.
Future Islands' music style has been tagged as synthpop, but the band has routinely rejected that classification, considering themselves as "post-wave", by combining the romanticism of new wave with the power and drive of post-punk.
The band's members came from very different musical backgrounds and sensibilities: Sam Herring grew up performing hip-hop, Gerrit Welmers was into punk rock and heavy metal and William Cashion was into indie rock, grunge, krautrock and new wave, so a lot of the band's synthpop influences come from him. Cashion was also a big fan of The Cure and The Smashing Pumpkins, and was influenced by bassists Peter Hook from Joy Division and New Order, and Kim Deal from The Pixies and The Breeders.
While Welmers and Herring found common ground through Danzig and Kool Keith, it was through Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" which was sampled by Afrika Bambaataa that Cashion and Herring found some common ground when forming the Art Lord & the Self-Portraits. They explained:
"Our early influences were Kraftwerk and Joy Division and New Order, so it all kind of came from those sounds ... We were just using what we had at our disposal to create, and that were old Casio and Yamaha keyboards and a borrowed bass guitar, borrowed amps. We scraped together what we could to make music with, weird shakers and sound makers and stuff, and that just kind of lead us down a road. These kinds of things defined us early on and we kept with that sound, kept painting with that palette."
--Sam Herring stated to Paste Magazine - March 24, 2014.
In Future Islands writing process, Gerrit Welmers and William Cashion develop the music which Sam Herring responds to with the lyrics. Herrings' sad lyrics often contrast with the upbeat mood of the music. He explains: "Where the songs have always been kind of upbeat and happy, the message is often melancholy. I like it that way, peoples natural instinct is to let their guards down and dance, and then they actually let the words seep in. Instead of turning away from the darkness, they embrace the light and find the darkness. I think the opposite is true too."
Literary influences on Herring's writing include poet Theodore Roethke--whose anthology The Far Field names Future Islands' 2017 album and includes the "In Evening Air" poem that names their 2010 album--and poet Jack Gilbert: whose poem and anthology "The Great Fires" names one of the band's songs. Herring also admitted being influenced by Italo Calvino's prose during the time he wrote the single "The Fountain".
In the spring of 2014, Sam Herring was diagnosed with Reinke's edema. According to him "There's four causes. Acid reflux, smoking, talking too much or overuse of the vocal cords, and then chronic misuse of the vocal cords ... which is how I sing. So, basically, I was four for four." Herring started compensating for the fact that he can no longer hit certain notes by growling, which in turn became distinctive on his vocals.
More than a studio band, Future Islands define themselves as a live band and have toured extensively. Frontman Sam Herring is known by his stage performances. According to William Cashion "A lot of the energy of the show comes from the audience. If the audience is putting off energy, we're able to bounce it back. It's like a feedback loop. If the audience is there with us and they're giving us their energy, then it'll be easy for us to find it."
The style and presentation of the Art Lord & the Self-Portraits was determined by the art school backgrounds of its members: the band was meant to be a performance art piece. Herring has cited Ian Curtis, James Brown and Elvis Presley. as influences but his background in performance art and conceptual art also became reflected in his stage presence, even for Future Islands.
"I fell in love with performance art when I was 17 and that was the thing that I found: I just would sit and draw for 20 hours straight and make this thing photorealistic and then put it on a board and then people see it and that's it, or you can stand on the street and perform for 30 minutes with some weird thing you came up with off the top of your head, act out a play to no one but people are going to walk by and you're going to get a reaction. They may not get what you're doing or care about what you're doing, but there's something, you sparked something in their heads. And that's an exciting thing, to look into people's eyes. There's no expectation--you can create a memory for people, like I said, good or bad. It can grab people and that's a cool thing."
Herring's dedication to stage performance has not been without physical consequenses. When touring Europe as part of the Dan Deacon Ensemble supporting the album Bromst, Herring was tackled by a drunken spectator in Paris. Six months later he realized he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament and underwent surgery in February 2010, continuing to perform shows in the following months wearing a knee brace, which can be seen on the June 24, 2010 Amoeba show footage. In 2014 Herring passed out at the airport on his way to Primavera festival due to exhaustion. Being revived by medics, he still made his plane and played the show that night. In 2015, he tore a meniscus while doing a knee drop when opening for Morrissey at Red Rocks on July 16, but the band completed the remaining four months of the Singles tour.
Future Islands has performed over 1,000 shows in their first 10 years. Since 2013, the band has included a drummer in its tours. In late 2013 and early 2014 it was Double Dagger's former drummer Denny Bowen who had already played drums and percussion on Future Islands albums In Evening Air, On the Water and Singles among some EPs and singles. In the spring of 2014, due to tour schedule conflicts between Future Islands and his own band Roomrunner, Bowen was replaced by Mike Lowry from Baltimore bands Lake Trout and Mt. Royal. Lowry was also part of The Far Field studio sessions.
"Our shows are all about creating a really energetic vibe, a physical thing, and we want more people to move - that's the big thing. We either want them to move, or be moved by the music. It was never weird to us that we didn't have a drummer, but to some people it was - they'd be like: "Where the hell are the drums coming from?"
Future Islands have opened for Morrissey, Grace Jones, Phantogram, Titus Andronicus and Okkervil River. They have performed at festivals such as Latitude, Great Escape, Primavera Sound, Glastonbury, Coachella, Øyafestivalen, Sziget, Bonnaroo, Sasquatch!, and SXSW among others.
Coming from an art background Future Islands attribute importance to their albums' cover artwork. William Cashion stated: "I think having good artwork is a big deal for any record. I think if a record has bad artwork I will just dismiss it, I just won't even give it a chance. I think a lot of people share that opinion, that artwork is very important." Future Islands' cover artwork has been delegated to different artists, as Sam Herring explains: "As projects pop up, we decide what artistic styles best speak to the music and the medium, then decide on artists. We primarily choose friends' work, though, people who we've become intimate with as friends. I think that pulls something deeper out of the whole, working with loved ones. You give birth to something bigger than yourself when you involve other people's ideas and minds. That's always a good thing."
Kymia Nawabi made the cover art for Wave Like Home, Feathers & Hallways (single), In Evening Air, Undressed (EP), The Far Field. She is the most recurrent artist and is based in Brooklyn. She was a band member of the proto-Future Islands band Art Lord & the Self-Portraits and directed the video of "Walking Through that Door" in stop-motion animation. William Cashion commented "Our friend Kymia ... as I said, we write and record in our own world and she kind of makes ... her artwork is definitely in her own world, in a way. The images she uses are all her own. We went to college with her and we've always admired her work and we love working with her. She also did the cover for the new EP and the Feathers & Hallways EP. We definitely put a lot of weight on the art, and we want to make the albums look as good as they sound."
Elena Johnston created the cover art for On the Water, Future Islands / Lonnie Walker split 7", Dream of You and Me (single). She co-directed with William Cashion the video of "Dream of You and Me" and is the creator of the large canvas seen in the background of the interior scenes of the video "Ran".
About the On the Water art cover William Cashion stated: "We decided that we wanted the album art to be loose and abstract for this album ... We wanted washes of color. The cover is actually an excerpt of a painting that Elena had already created." In another interview he added "It was great working with her. The piece wasn't made specifically for the album. We chose it from a series of paintings and drawings. She handled most of the typography on the album as well."
Moss of Aura
Keyboardist Gerrit Welmers has been writing solo as 'Moss of Aura' since 2006. After releasing five albums on cassette, Moss of Aura released the LP Wading in 2012 and We'll All Collide in 2016 through Friends Records.
In 2008, Sam Herring and William Cashion started a parallel project called The Snails with members of other Baltimore bands. Their releases took place during Future Islands tour breaks: debut EP Worth the Wait came out in April 2013. In February 2016, they released their debut album Songs from The Shoebox.
In early 2012, William Cashion formed Peals with Double Dagger's former bassist Bruce Willen, releasing their debut album Walking Field in May 2013. In 2016 they released the album Honey through Friends Records.
Samuel T. Herring and Hemlock Ernst
Samuel T. Herring uses the stage name Hemlock Ernst when performing rap, the name Ernst coming from his Art Lord & the Self-Portraits character. He has appeared on collaborative hip-hop releases by Milo/Scallops Hotel, Busdriver, Open Mike Eagle among others. He has teamed up with producer Madlib for a rap project named Trouble knows Me, releasing an EP in 2015.