"We all trust each other, but no one is afraid to say what they think..." Future Islands talk going it alone on new LP As Long As You Are
Though they’d been plugging away for almost a decade, North Carolina wonky pop types Future Islands only really came to prominence in 2014 with their hit single ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’.
The album it led, Singles, was a big hit, selling over 60,000 in the UK alone, while frontman Samuel T. Herring's 'unique' stylings during performances on Late Show with David Letterman and Later... with Jools Holland made the videos go viral.
It would have been easy to think they’d hit upon a formula, but, for As You Long Are, the band’s sixth full-length effort, which is out today (October 9th), they’ve moved on.
Self-producing for the first time, with the assistance of engineer Steve Wright, the new album is also the band's first with drummer Mike Lowry as an official member and songwriter.
The album is a more ambient collection, with the glossy pop of Singles taking a back seat.
As the album hits shelves, we spoke to Lowry, keyboardist Gerrit Welmers and bassist William Cashion about how the LP came together…
When did you start putting this record together? Do you write on tour or do you need to be home and decompressed?
Mike: "We started this one on tour. We'd tend to use soundcheck so we'd take the last 20 minutes of that and jam a little bit. You go through it when you're off the road and that's the first thing."
William: "You can't write on tour. On The Far Field tour, we tried to come up with new ideas, which was new. We'd figured out just how much time we spent on the road compared to how much time we actually spent being creative and it was frustrating. Little chunks of time in the day are enough to keep you sharp. You only need little seeds."
Mike: "We wanted to roadtest things a bit more. We wanted things to be written and to feel exciting. Then you'd know it was worth pursuing. It gave us a headstart on the record."
Does that mean you come home with a lot of stuff to go through?
Gerrit: "There was a lot. An awful lot."
William: "You get these long instrumentals. Sometimes Sam would be singing, mostly not. It's just something to build on."
Mike: "Sometimes nothing is useful except for a bassline or a tiny part. You're just collecting. We jammed back at home too. We knew that we wanted to have a lot of time to work. We wanted this record to be honed and everything to have been given its chance."
There's no producer on this album. Was that a choice you made at the start or just the way things worked out?
William: "Our experience on Singles and The Far Field was working with producers who were both very sought after and their schedules were both crazy. If you don't finish the album in the time you've got, you have to wait for more time or you're screwed. The Far Field was recorded, mixed and mastered in five weeks."
"We didn't have to live with any of the recordings. We felt rushed and we didn't want to do that this time. The idea was we'd record ourselves and we'd get them as good as we could and then we'd get someone in to mix the record. We tried a few different mixers on the songs, but ultimately the ones we made ourselves were the best. We just wanted to take a lot of time. We started work in January and we were working constantly. We were able to sit with the music and really make sure we were happy with the results."
Did you miss the presence of a producer at all? Some to say 'That's enough, we need to move on'...
William: "Not really. We're all critical people. We all trust each other, but no one is afraid to say what they think. If we were, Steve was there, he stopped us if we were spiralling."
Mike: "It's weird to have your art, your ultimate expression, for that to be on someone else's time. You feel at the mercy of someone's schedule and you've got to live with the record that follows. It'd be great to lock someone in for six months, but most of us can't afford it."
William: "We did it in blasts. We'd do two or three weeks in the studio and then we'd stop for a month. We'd reconvene, do more and dissect what we'd done. It wasn't a year in the studio. We worked as and when we needed. Sadly, we had to mix the record over Zoom, because we'd hit lockdown. But it worked out okay."
Does that mean songs went through long journeys and lots of changes?
William: "There are one or two where we've got lots of different versions of them. But it's mostly subtle things. You speed up, you change in the drum fills, the arrangement is always shifting."
For the past two records, you've toured very heavily, are you writing with an eye on how you can recreate a track in the live arena?
Gerrit: "Sort of. I'm very guilty of that. I can't escape that, I'm always thinking about how we'll do a song in our show. But we did try to break out of that on this record and to try and think of it as a piece of art that exists in its own right."
William: "With The Far Field, we wanted to make sure we could do every song live, in the past we've had songs that just don't work when you take them out of the studio, but with this one we wanted to be comfortable we wanted to go back and have less of a focus in making sure they work live."
Is there a song on the record that took a long time to get right?
William: "There's a song called 'Cityspace'. That song mutated more than once. There was a time where it had a drumbeat and handclaps and a big chorus. Now it's this floaty ambient synthesiser soundscape."
Conversely, is there a song that came together in an afternoon?
Mike: "'Hit The Coast' and 'The Painter' came together really fast. Sam had the lyrics very quickly. We just had to arrange it."
What kind of record is it lyrically?
Mike: "It's a reflective record. That's the vibe I get. But there's an optimism to it."
Gerrit: "Sam's said before that he didn't feel like The Far Field was honest enough. He ended up having a problem with that on the record. This is much more honest."
When did you decide that As Long As You Are was the right title for the record?
Gerrit: "It took a long, long group text. Thousands of names that eventually dwindled down into a small pile. Then it grew into a larger pile again. As Long As You Are was a song title that we wrote back in 2015. We tried to pull it together for The Far Field, it didn't happen, we tried again for this record, it didn't happen, so decided to turn it into an acronym, so the record was ALAYA for a while. Then we went with the full name."
William: "For our first record, Sam just said 'I want to call it Wave Like Home'. Then he did the same for the In Evening Air. Every album after that has been a struggle."
Gerrit: "Singles was pretty easy."
William: "Was it? You've probably tried to forget. That took some time..."
This being 2020, you can't tour for the foreseeable future, how is 2021 looking for you guys?
William: "We have tours booked, they just keep getting pushed back further and further. We were supposed to out in Europe and the States now, but it's been pushed to early 2021, now that looks doubtful. We're talking about starting to write again. We're really bummed. We really touring. We get so much out of it as well as it being our livelihood. It'll be the first year in the band's history that we haven't done a single show."
Mike: "Dan Deacon, whose a good friend of our's, he'd just started his tour with his new record, and he just had to stop everything. It's better to be ready to go rather than halfway done."
William: "We're doing a live-streamed show. But as far as touring, who knows? Maybe we'll have another record out by then..."