Among the countless comments posted to the YouTube video of Future Islands busting out their breakthrough hit ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ onLate Show With David Letterman, one managed to summarise the band’s live dynamic better than any critic or reviewer ever could: “Imagine if your maths teacher and your science teacher started a band with your drama teacher,” it read.
Indeed, the band’s frontman, Samuel T. Herring, is compelling and extroverted to the point where you can barely look at anything else. Some may view it as limelight-stealing, but Herring’s colleagues simply see their singer occupying his rightful place.
“We definitely try to give Sam his space,” says keyboardist Gerrit Welmers. “I like to think of it as myself and William [Cashion, bass] being two pillars on either side of the stage, holding everything together. It’s our job to make everything run smoothly. Everyone is very assured in their own roles in the band, I think. We’ve all settled into our own grooves as far as that side of things is concerned. I think we all let it out in our own ways – think of it as dancing with our fingers.”
Since the release of their fourth studio album, Singles, in the first quarter of last year, the Baltimore synthpoppers have been on a remarkable upward trajectory. The aforementioned ‘Seasons’ topped many critics’ lists as the best song of the year, while Future Islands’ live reputation has brought them to such grand festival stages as Glastonbury, Splendour In The Grass and Pitchfork. In addition to sold-out headlining shows, the band has also been brought in to warm up the stage for some true icons.
“We just played a show with Grace Jones at the Hollywood Bowl,” says Welmers, his deep baritone voice quivering with a touch of excitement just mentioning the experience. “It was really, really amazing – there was this lunar eclipse, so we were playing outdoors under this blood moon. We also got to open with Morrissey recently, which was something that we honestly never thought that we would ever get to do in our lives.”
Unfortunately, Welmers has no stories to add about what the legendary performers are like behind the curtain. “We didn’t get a chance to meet either,” he says. “Still, that’s alright. You know what they say – sometimes it’s good to not meet your heroes.”
It’s been roughly 18 months since the release of Singles, an album that – ironically, given its title – holds up remarkably well as a full-length collection. Future Islands are incredibly proud of what they have been able to achieve with the record, with Welmers himself pointing to a change of pace as the key to its success – at least as far as the creative process was concerned.
“We took a lot more time with it,” he says. “The time between [2010 second album] In Evening Air and [2011’s] On The Water was quite short – it wasn’t an extremely difficult process, but we definitely felt rushed. This time, we wanted to make sure that we had more than enough songs before we went in. It worked really well for us. I think that we’ll try and mirror that process for next time. We’re gonna start from scratch and see what happens.”
November will see the band return to Australia for the third time in just over a year, this time attached to another big-scale opening slot: supporting former folk revivalists turned arena rockers Mumford & Sons. “It’s definitely a challenge,” Welmers admits. “That’s sort of why we accepted it – we’re two very different bands with two very different followings. We’re really excited to show people what we do [who] normally wouldn’t ever go and see us. A lot of people go and see a band and just expect the opener to sound exactly the same as them. I think the element of surprise is always great at a show like that – audiences really tend to enjoy it a lot more.”
Although a fair share of Future Islands’ audiences these days has discovered them in the time since that Late Show appearance and the release of Singles, it’s worth noting that they’ll celebrate a full decade of being a band next year. Their supposed overnight success took four albums and a considerable amount of effort put into mere survival. That being said, Welmers is far from bitter about having a new flock of believers in their proverbial church. As far as he’s concerned, the more the merrier.
“There are so many bands out there that go from zero to 100 so quickly. They have no idea about what touring is like or how much work goes into making a band work. I think we laid down a pretty strong foundation for our band by playing for a long time and building an audience naturally. Having a strong fan base going into this that had already supported us made it a lot easier to adjust to playing those bigger shows and having more and more people know who the band is. I think it’s helped us to appreciate it a lot more, rather than be confused or upset by it. We wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Future Islands play at Gentlemen Of The Roadin The DomainonSaturday November 14, with Mumford & Sons, Jake Bugg, The Vaccines, The Jungle Giants, Meg Mac and Art Of Sleeping.