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Interview: Future Islands Talk About Their New Album 'As Long As You Are'

Interview: Future Islands Talk About Their New Album 'As Long As You Are'

Chris Cudby / Tuesday 27th October, 2020 12:10PM

Launched earlier this month to significant global acclaim, Future Islands' new album As Long As You Are is as uplifting and endearing as we could have hoped from the Baltimore synth-pop heroes. Thrust into the public spotlight by frontman Samuel T. Herring's iconic 2014 performance on The Late Show With David Letterman, Future Islands celebrated the launch of their sixth studio opus with a dazzling A Stream of You And Me livestream event, the hard-gigging gang's 1235th (!) live performance all up. We had the opportunity to chat with bandmates William Cashion, Gerrit Welmers and recent addition Michael Lowry just ahead of the launch of their first album in three years — who opened up about the frustrations and realities of not being able to tour in their Covid-imperilled homeland, the genesis of the record and more...

Chris Cudby: This is your first studio record in three years. With the current, political, everything going on this year, did you feel compelled to use the record as a way of commenting on what's happening at the moment? Or do you feel that the songs on As Long As You Are come from a more personal place?

Gerrit Welmers: I think lyrically Sam touches on some subjects that are a little more political than he's touched on in the past, for sure. 'Born In A War' for example. But I think we had this plan to release this record and we wanted to stick to the actual timeline as best we could. We didn't want to hold off any longer, it'd been so long already. It's a weird time, it's strange for everyone. One cool thing about music is that it has a nice healing nature to it sometimes. I think if you can have some new music, it's always good vibes.

Absolutely. Would you say that As Long As You Are is about any specific theme? How would you describe the ideas explored on the new album?

William Cashion: I was asked recently how I would sum up the album in one word, and I said "trust". Just the phrase As Long As You Are, it's a title of a song that Gerrit brought to the band a while back We tried to work on it for The Far Field and we tried to work on it for this album, but it just didn't end up making the cut. But the title of it came into the conversation, we were trying to figure out what we were gonna call the album. The title's just about trust.

We want to be honest with our music and trust in each other in the process. This is the first time producing ourselves, so we alway put pressure on ourselves. It didn't feel there was more pressure than normal, but maybe there was, because we were in charge of how the record would end up sounding. Just trusting each other and trusting our intuition with the whole process.

I've seen three videos from the new album so far, two of which are very lavish and visually very amazing. And then you've got the video for 'Thrill', which was shot in quarantine. I'm interested in the process that went into making that specific video, and the decision that was made to make that as well.

William Cashion: We had a video fall through for that song. The label wanted to release some kind of lyric video. We haven't figured out how to do lyric videos really, in a way that is interesting. I've seen it done interestingly by other bands... We had the idea, it was a few days before the video came out. We were just like, what if Sam, what if you just filmed yourself singing it in front of a plain wall? I'd just recently discovered, I guess all iPhones you can have them film in 4K mode? I never realised that until recently. And I was like, why don't you just use your iPhone and set it on 4K mode and we can do it? He did a couple of takes and our management helped us edit it, in a way. The only edit was the starting zoomed in and then zooming out. But I really love how it turned out, I love how simple it is. Sam gave a really great performance for that video.

Michael — you've been playing with Future Islands for a while, but this album is your first as an official member. Does this mean that you joined in on songwriting duties for this record? What was the songwriting process for the new album? Was that different to earlier records?

Michael Lowry: Yes. I think it was different from The Far Field, in that with The Far Field everything was written with the guys in the room together. With this record, we wrote some ideas in sound checks while on tour for The Far Field. We wrote some stuff in the studio. William and I came with an idea, Gerrit came with a couple of ideas. There's a song that's like an older idea that William had. We cast a really wide net and just wanted to make as open a process as possible, and not hamper each other.

Is the process that you guys come up with the music and then work with Sam in coming up with the lyrical content?

Michael Lowry: Yes... that was my experience with this record.

What's the Covid situation like in Baltimore currently?

William Cashion: ...I went to North Carolina, a few states south of here, and nobody was following the government protocol for Covid-19. When I came back to Baltimore it felt like everyone's taking it pretty seriously I thought, but hen I talked to these guys and they have a different perception of it, I dunno.

Michael Lowry: It depends on where you are.

Gerrit Welmers: Baltimore City's sort of not doing that great. I think we're coming down the other side at the moment, but it's still not great, given what the population of the city is, which is 600,000. I think 1 in 40 is positive.

That's crazy. In New Zealand it's pretty low, but we're currently allowed live shows here but only seated events [this interview took place while Auckland was still at Alert Level 2] and quite separated events, with table service and stuff like that. Are you guys allowed to have any live shows in the States?

William Cashion: Not here. There's a comedian I follow on social media. He's been touring... it's different state to state and even within each state. In Baltimore City you can't have events. But in Maryland, outside of the city, I'm pretty sure you can start having shows. From what I understand, the venues are eager to start having shows, even if it's at limited capacity, because it's been such a rough year for everybody. I think there are places that are starting to allow shows.

In Baltimore City, there's been some things where local bands have been going around, setting up in their front yard, posting on social media. And then friends or whatever will come to that address and see the band play. Ive seen that, or like they've set up on the porch. People watch from the street or the front yard, y'know DIY style. But I haven't been to one of those events, I've just seen them posted about on Instagram. Evil Instagram.

As seasoned veterans of touring, is it a frustrating feeling not being able to currently play live?

William Cashion: Totally, yes. 100 percent. We all wish more than anything that we can be out on the road touring. Under normal circumstances... as of this January the plan was we were gonna be on tour right now, we would already be doing a North American tour. That got pushed back in March, but that was the plan. We were gonna be on tour solid until the end of the year, and probably beyond. Leading up to the release and then after the release. And now it looks like... the earliest that we're going to be able to do shows is next summer, possibly. I think we have some stuff confirmed in August and there might be something in May. But we're not even sure that's going to happen. Is there a May thing that might happen?

Michael Lowry: I don't know. I think there was like a festival or something?

William Cashion: I think that's a Japanese festival, but we're not sure if it's going to happen.

When was the last (live) show that you played?

William Cashion: We did a short tour September of last year to road test the material for As Long As You Are. We'd already been in the studio working on the stuff. Based on certain things with playing it live, we went back and kind of tweaked things, or re-recorded certain things, depending on what we learned on that tour. And then last December we did a private show in Edinburgh, that was our last show. I don't even know if we count private shows, it gets tricky.

New Zealand has always loved Future Islands. I know the future's pretty hazy at the moment, but do you guys reckon you'll be heading our way once things settle down a little bit, in the hopefully not too distant future?

William Cashion: I hope so.

Gerrit Welmers: I certainly hope so.

I've spoken to a few people who had a really good time during your guys' DJ set one night in Auckland.

William Cashion: Oh yeah that was fun [laughs]. That was where we played, was it Shaggy, that got everybody dancing? That was us with Dan Deacon.

Well good stuff, thank you so much for chatting with me today.

'As Long As You Are' is out now on 4AD via Rhythmethod.


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