Future Islands hails from Baltimore by way of North Carolina. Three members of the original band were part of Art Lords & The Self Portraits—Gerrit Welmers (keyboards and programming), William Cashion (bass, acoustic and electric guitars), and Samuel Herring (words and vocals)—and reformed as Future Islands in 2006. Synthpop might be the easiest way to describe the distinct sound of their compositions, but the Herring’s lyrics and vocals are a world unto itself. Their new release, “On The Water,” is Future Island’s most critically acclaimed yet. Ahead of their Sunday, Jan. 29, show at JJ’s Bohemia, The Pulse’s Zack Cooper spoke with Herring about the band and their music.
The Pulse: I watched the Future Islands performance video on the npr.org’s “Tiny Desk Concert.” Perhaps it was the intimate nature of that setting, but it really highlighted your lyrical style. Do you approach your lyrics from a pure musical place? Is it storytelling, poetry or a combination of those forms?
Samuel Herring: It’s always in flux, really, but where I am now with creating lyrics is telling a story or bringing a central idea into the work, like the transformation of a central character, then bringing that idea or story to an end. One of my favorite Smiths songs, “This Charming Man,” has all of this great imagery in it but never brings things to a close. My lyrics have always been more plain and blunt.
The Pulse: Future Islands is fairly prolific in producing video to accompany the music. Are there specific songs that that you think, “I have a concept for the video for this song, or I want to visually tell this story?”
Samuel Herring: We really don’t think about it, actually. We have had a lot of creative input from friends, often close friends, who make our videos. Our thing is to tell a story without visuals. I think our music lends itself to a visual element in a way, but we don’t place controls on what their creators do with them. With the video for “Give Us The Wind,” Mike Anderson said he wanted to make a black-and-white video. That was about all we knew about it and the outcome was great. We just wouldn’t want to restrict an artist any more than we would want to be restricted ourselves.
The Pulse: The band is from North Carolina and then migrated to Baltimore. Why the move?
Samuel Herring: We all sort of ended up in Baltimore on our own. There was never a moment where we said, “Let’s move the band to Baltimore.” Prior to my moving up here, I thought Future Islands was done making music. But when we all came back together in Baltimore, we gained that spark again. Through friendships with other bands and collaborations, we were in a place where making music was happening. It wasn’t a grand plan, but it worked out very well.
The Pulse: “On The Water” is propelling Future Islands to new heights of recognition, but it retains the raw, emotional elements and the lyrical style you are known for. How do you produce new material while keeping the core sound in tact? Is that even important to you?
Samuel Herring: I would love to say it doesn’t matter. That would be cool, but I think we have a core sound and that comes from us being a three-piece band. We certainly have changed in different ways from the days of Art Lords & The Self Portraits. Art Lords was considered a dance band, so when we started doing ballads that seemed like a departure to some, but it was always part of us. We just started exploring that further.
The Pulse: You are touring around the Southeast for a few more dates before crossing the pond to Europe. Is there new material in the works? What’s next for Future Islands?
Samuel Herring: I’m going to get some sleep! Ha! We really just want to settle into things from the new release. We just want to keep performing, writing and making music because we know that’s when our best work will come. Who knows? We might just debut some new stuff in Chattanooga.
9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29
JJ’s Bohemia 231 E. MLK Blvd.