Coming off their performance on The Late Show with David Letterman Monday night, Future Islands took the stage at the Orange Peel with an energy that electrified the ballroom– the only people not dancing during “Balance” were working security. We sat down with Samuel, Gerrit, and William before the show to see how they’re dealing with sudden success, when, in their eyes, it’s always been about the music.
Letterman and Paul Schafer were over the moon about you guys last night, what was going through your minds when they said, “we love this band?”
Samuel: I think we were all kind of blank minded, just kind of taking it all in. It felt really good, that’s the big thing for us, just having an audience…. We were only about 15-20 yards from the first row of people, so there was that element of seeing people’s expressions, how they were reacting to it, which is a big part of how we perform. But once we were done, people started cheering, Dave was excited, and the band all had big smiles on their faces, and we were just kind of living in the moment, didn’t really think about it.
William: Kind of relieved that we’d made it through without, you know, messing up.
What was the best expression that you saw?
Samuel: I could see out of the corner of my eye, in shadow, the bopping heads of just some of the band– the Letterman band– which, for me, I had forgotten how much that show was part of my life when I was younger. When I was in middle school and high school I was obsessed with standup and watching Letterman with my dad, and catching the musical acts. I was telling my buddy after the first rehearsal the other day, how I had all these memories coming back, and he was like “did you ever think you’d play here?” and I was like, “watching the show I never thought I’d be a musician.” It’s a surreal experience.
What did you think you would be?
Samuel: At that time I was getting into art, I was gonna be the next great artist. Or, you know, a major league shortstop.
You released a music video today, for “A Dream of You and Me,” and you don’t appear in any of your music videos, why is that?
Samuel: We try not to.
Gerrit: Personally I’m not the biggest fan of having a camera in my face.
Samuel: That’s not really our style, being in the spotlight. In our performances we try to keep it stripped down to just lights. Simple lights, so the focus is more on what we’re doing, what we’re playing, what we’re saying. And with the video, why not create a whole other world…. With us, we just want to let people run free and also we think we’re kind of goofy looking. I just mean in the video sense. We want it to be serious, and it’s hard to get the three of us on video without cracking a smile.
I was going to ask about your dance moves last night.
Samuel: I was gonna say drunk, experimenting on stage. It’s just a matter of experimenting over time. It’s a mix of the Elvis and the Carlton. It’s the Carlton without the arm-swing. You add in the one leg or both legs. Really just go with the music, trying to add more energy to the live show and get people moving. If you’re not dancing, why the hell would anybody else be dancing.
What can you tell me about the new record, if anything?
William: It’s coming out March 25th [laughs] we took off all of last year to make it. What do you wanna know?
What kind of departures you’ve made from your older stuff. I don’t know if you guys read the YouTube comments on your video today, but there was one guy who said, “I can’t get used to the new Future Islands sound.”
Samuel: The big difference is probably a step up in our production…. But really, the root of it I feel like, is not really lost. There’s more of an optimism lyrically, even musically, I mean, the lyrics draw out the music. There’s three or four songs that really liken back to what we did on On The Water, there’s a lot of songs that really liken back to our first album in 2008. So– and in Evening Air– it’s actually a broader move, showing our versatility and the different things that we can do. It was just us experimenting over a good period of time, with no pressure. I feel like it comes off that way. The album is a bit more effortless because we’re less urgent. As you get older, you realize you don’t have to rush so fast. There isn’t an end time. When I was 25 I was like, it’s all over when I’m thirty, and that’s in– a month [laughs]. I feel better about it than ever, there’s so much time to make music and to continue to create, so why not do everything you can? It’s important to hear people’s opinions, but also to continue to experiment. I feel like it is just getting used to a song. I don’t want to be rude, but if you think our first record is better than the one we’re about to put out, I’d say you’re crazy, I think it’s such a more focused and mature album. The sounds are so much better explored. So you can’t really compare the two.
William: I think the first one stands its ground, though.
Samuel: It’s almost like different things.
William: Apples and Oranges.
Where do you think the optimism for the new album came from?
Samuel: I think just the freedom to create. We were on the road for 5 and a half years…. and then we wrote and recorded 2 albums in that time as well. Mixed into that struggle is the writing and recording, that gets trapped into what you record. That urgency, that anxiety, that nervousness, fear, anger, sadness, happiness, whatever you’re going through really gets in there. With this album, because we weren’t constantly touring for the first time in 5 years, we were thinking we don’t have to tour…. we were able to step back from that, and take 8-9 months off from the road and record an album. We were all kind of in a more relaxed space.
William: Maybe we’re a little more confident in what we do. Just feeling unafraid to take risks with the writing of it, and maybe that confidence led to the optimism.
Samuel: We’re growing up in the music, and you don’t wanna do the same thing twice. With our last few albums we went in with 7 or 8 songs already written, with this album we wrote 24, 25 songs, picked the cream of the crop, and that was it. So, in a way, it had somewhat to do with what we wanted for ourselves.
I’m wondering if Jay Buim, the director of the “Seasons” video, came to you with this idea of an Americana journey, or did you guys come up with that?
William: He got sent the song, and it was totally his treatment. With all our videos we try to let the director run with their– we don’t like anyone telling us what we should do, so we don’t wanna tell somebody else what they should do. We put our trust into whoever is doing our videos. With Jay, he’s an old friend of ours, “Seasons” was his fourth video for us. We’ve known him for many years. He called me up and said he wanted to talk about the song, about how it’s a tender love song with a very masculine side to it. He does documentaries with his film work, and he was like, “I wanna do a real life portrait of a couple, who just got married, in Oklahoma.” It’s a couple that’s related to a friend, a cousin of a friend. He had a connection with them, he just called them up…. and he filmed it between Christmas and just after New Year’s.
If you guys had to pick favorites, as far as your videos, which one would you pick?
William: I think the “Tin Man” video. Because that was a really special point for us as a band. We had taken a break from touring, Sam had knee surgery–
So he could do the Carlton again.
Samuel: Pretty much, that’s kind of when the dancing changed.
William: So we had a record coming out, and we’d booked a show… so the three of us got into a van with Jay and we went down to Sam’s house first, and went around all the places– these guys [Sam and Gerrit] grew up together on the coast of North Carolina– kind of went around the town, went to Greenville, to a party there. It’s kind of a really cool road trip, we went to a small town called Windell, NC, went to Raleigh, where I’m from, to my parents’ house. There’s shots of us sleeping on the couches there. My dad makes a cameo.
William: When we were in Merkel, [our tourmate] was at the urinal, and the guy at the urinal next to him was like “so, you’re from Baltimore,” and I’m like yeah, and he says, “what area?” and I’m like, “Mount Vernon,” and he goes, “what street?” “you know, Preston,” he’s like “what house number?” and he told him, and it turned out that guy had lived in the same house, like “10 years ago I used to live there!” That’s the funny thing about Merkel. There are these fireballs that just appear, they spontaneously appear…. [apparently] those don’t happen as much anymore as they used to. There’s also the Merkel Lights, happens just outside of town, again, no one knows where they come from. [Gerrit,] what’s your favorite video?
Gerrit: “Grease” is my favorite video. The camera was on a tripod, and he’d set it up at different times in the day, if we were unpacking or just hanging out, he just filmed the entire day and it would slowly morph into the next scene.
Who is your must-see band at SXSW?
William: I’m excited about that new band Merchandise, on 4AD
Samuel: Yeah I’m curious about that 4AD showcase we’re doing, cause they’re all new signees to the label with us.
Abby: They seem like a great label, have you been happy with them?
Samuel: Everybody there is really cool, we’re definitely feeling a punch in the word getting out about what we’re doing. And that’s really we want, we don’t need crazy hype, we just need a platform. They’ve been doing it forever, and at a high level. They’ve definitely given us a platform to share what we do, and that’s all we can ask for.