Bands don’t get famous because of late-night TV anymore, but somehow, back in early 2014, Baltimore-based indie outfit Future Islands broke out into music stardom after their memorable appearance on “Letterman.” It was the first-time people could experience what a Future Islands performance could be like, and now Baton Rouge is gearing up for their concert at the Varsity Theatre on Monday, Sept. 11. DIG sat down with Sam Herring, William Cashion and Gerrit Welmers to talk with them about the band’s early history, their upcoming concert and how many times Sam has ripped his pants on stage.
Can you give me a bit of the band’s background? I read that you all met in art college?
Cashion: Yeah, me and Sam met the first week of college, and we had a bunch of art classes together. By the end of the first semester, we had talked about starting some project. In January of 2003, we started a band called Art Lord & the Self Portraits. And Garret joined after and then we started writing songs together. So, the three of us have been writing songs together for 14 years. Art Lord broke up in 2005 and Future Islands formed in January 2006. And the rest is history pretty much.
How does your sound now compare to your music when you first started? Were the changes conscious, or were they more of a natural evolution over time?
Cashion: I think it was more of really organic growth. We’re using the same instruments for the most part. Bass guitar, keyboards, drum machines, and voice are the core of our music. Live drums are a larger part of our sound now than they’ve ever been before. We’ve kind of had the same core elements for a long time. I think all of us are improving at what we do, what we bring to the table. Over the years we’ve honed our craft. The biggest thing that’s changed is mainly production.
How would you describe your music?
Cashion: I usually tell them we’re a new wave band, but that’s just what I would say. Rather than a punk band, instead of a guitarist, we’ve got a keyboard and a crazy lead singer.
Who are some of your primary musical influences?
Cashion: Some big influences on us are Joy Division, Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, Magnetic Fields. We all have varied musical tastes, but those are some groups that we all overlap on all throughout the band. We’re influenced and inspired by our friends that we’ve grown up with like Dan Deacon. He’s a good friend of ours from Baltimore…These are like friends and peers who we see how they do it. And people like Dan Deacon, he showed us the way and showed us that we could just get out there and book our tours, and do our own thing. We’re just really influenced by those people as we are by the bands whose legendary status is etched in marble already.
What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened during one of your performances?
Cashion: Sam’s ripped his pants about 30 times.
Herring: I think it’s more like 50 or 60.
Cashion: Probably more like 50 or 60 times.
Welmers: We’ve crowd surfed a few times. While playing the bass that’s always fun.
Herring: Getting like 50, 60 people to rush the stage and dance on stage with us.
Cashion: The secret is we love when that happens. We can’t really tell the audience to do it because security will get mad.
What was your very first performance like?
Cashion: Our very first performance was at a keg party at a house, a small, three-bedroom house. We threw a party, bought a couple of kegs, made ourselves the headliners. It was awesome.
Can you dive in a bit on how ‘The Far Field’ was made?
Cashion: ‘The Far Field’ was made just with all three of us in a room, jamming just with keyboard, drums machine and bass and with Sam in there writing with us. We started writing it on the outer banks of North Carolina. We were down there for about a week, and then we came back up to Baltimore, and we finished writing it over the next maybe five or six months. Pretty much the first six or seven months of last year we’ve been writing. Just taking concentrated periods of writing for like a one, two, three-week writing sessions. Then we’ll take some time off, and we’ll get back together. Kind of like that until we have more than enough songs for the album. Then we pick the songs we most agree on.
What can fans expect from a live show?
Cashion: I’d rather people just come to the show without expectations and just come and check it out, and hopefully we’ll turn some heads. We hope to see you guys at the show in Baton Rouge.
Photo courtesy of Tom Hines