It took Baltimore synthpop trio Future Islands eight years and four albums to finally become overnight sensations. With the release of Singles in 2014 – which spawned a massive namesake in the form of ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ – the band had finally wormed its way into essential playlists, end-of-year best-ofs and sold-out shows with its name on the marquee.
Of course, after taking so long to get to this position, one could safely assume that Future Islands had no interest in going back to their days in the underground. In certain key ways, their fifth LP – entitled The Far Field – saw them simultaneously trying to maintain their status while also not forgetting what made the band tick in the first place.
“I think that there was definitely a pressure of sorts that factored into this album,” says bassist/guitarist William Cashion. “We always put pressure on ourselves, but we realised there was a new-found audience that came with Singles, and there’d be a lot of new ears listening to what we did next as soon as it came out. We tried to push it to the back of our mind and just work in our own way. We stuck with the formula that we’d worked with more or less for the last 14 years – which includes the band that Gerrit [Welmers, keyboards], Sam [T. Herring, vocals] and I were in before Future Islands. We didn’t want to let anything get to us and distract from what we were writing.”
If we succeed, we succeed together. If we fail, we all fail together – and that’s OK.
It was this motivation that took the band to an isolated environment in order to start work on The Far Field. It came off the back of nearly two years of touring in support of Singles – which saw them come to Australia no less than three times – and allowed Cashion, Welmers and Herring to get back to the heart of their sound.
“We got a beach house on the outer banks of North Carolina in the dead of winter,” Cashion explains. “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.”
Also sitting in on the sessions was drummer Michael Lowry. After touring extensively with the band since the release of Singles, and even appearing in a music video for The Far Field’s lead single, ‘Ran’, it made sense that he would have a role to play in the next phase of Future Islands’ recorded material. For Cashion, it was about establishing a sense of rhythm, as well as playing up to the band’s sterling live reputation.
“This is his first full-length with us,” he says of Lowry. “I think the big part of the sound of this record is the fact that we pushed the demos further than we’d ever done before. We were really thinking about the live drums, and how we wanted them to sound on the record. One thing that we did, which we’d never tried before, was tracking the bass, guitar and drums at the same time. We were recording live to tape. That was John [Congleton, producer]’s idea – he really wanted to capture a bit of that energy that we get when we’re playing live. When Mike started playing with us after Singles came out, he made the live show even more dynamic. The peaks of the show pop that much harder – he really adds a lot to our sound.”
Having originally met in their native home of North Carolina, the core trio of Future Islands have been playing in bands together for well over a decade. Following the demise of their original project, Art Lord and The Self Portraits, they took a chance on a new synth-driven sound and formed Future Islands in 2006 with drummer Erick Murillo. Upon his departure, the band carried on as a three-piece, which is the way it’s stayed since.
“There is a real sense of trust between the three of us and the decisions that we make as a collective,” Cashion says. “If we succeed, we succeed together. If we fail, we all fail together – and that’s OK. Whatever happens, we trust in one another to work it out.
“We’ve been doing this together, the three of us, for 11 years. We’ve had a couple of people come and go – we had a drummer for the first year of the band – but for the most part, it’s just been us travelling around in a van together. We’ve been through a lot together, and it’s all part of the band that we are today.” ■
[Future Islands photo by Tom Hines]