Future Islands finally gets its moment after a decade of waitingBy Matt Miller | August 20th, 2014 | 2 comments
On stage, Future Islands’ Sam Herring will shove his fist in his mouth as if he’s pulling his heart out through his esophagus. He’ll throw his arms behind his head and thrust his hips like no one is watching. Dripping with sweat, Herring will growl and pound his chest with his fist. Looking eerily like a young Marlon Brando, the frontman/singer brings to life the music of Future Islands, a synth-pop band that has been dramatically balancing dance with electronic-punk and rock for nearly a decade.
And until recently, few people were paying attention.
“We had this belief over the years that one day it’s going to get better,” said Future Islands bassist/guitarist, William Cashion. “We always believed that if we played a show for 10 people that the next time we come through those 10 people would hopefully come back and bring their friends.”
Since forming in 2006, the band plugged away, playing small clubs, house parties, art galleries and basements throughout the country.
“There were definitely times that we would go on tour and lose money. We were just so broke for years,” Cashion said. “Everyone was like, ‘You guys should get a real job,’ and we were like, ‘Let’s just do this.’ We kept pushing ourselves. We have this unwavering confidence in what we do.”
Then, in 2014 everything suddenly aligned for Future Islands, Cashion said. The band signed with the powerful indie label 4AD (Bon Iver, Iron & Wine, the National), released the polished fourth album, “Singles,” and its live shows started becoming the stuff of hipster folklore.
But the key moment for Future Islands came on March 3 during its late-night debut. Performing the single “Seasons (Waiting On You)” on David Letterman, Herring — all theatrics and hips — did what he’s been doing for years, and knocked Letterman off his feet. The performance, the dance moves, the song, Letterman’s reaction, and the term Future Islands were instantly viral.
“When we recorded that we just thought it would be something fun we would do for our family and fans, and it kind of gained its own life out there,” Cashion said.
Three weeks after the Late Night performance, AEG Live Rocky Mountains announced Future Islands’ Colorado show on Aug. 27 had moved from the Bluebird Theater to the larger Gothic Theatre “due to popular demand.” As of earlier this week, nearly half of Future Islands’ August shows were sold out, including the Gothic Theatre date.
“It can be overwhelming at times, but we’re all just making a point to take it one day at a time and not think about the fact that we’re booked through next March now,” Cashion said. “We worked really hard for a long time.”
After years of DIY touring to small venues and modest crowds, all Future Islands needed was the right stage.
“We’re not like fashion models. Our music is honest and we go about things in an honest way,” Cashion said. “There’s something real about that, and we think that people can feel that and relate to that.”
From the direct lyricism to the bold synth melodies and Herring’s passionate growl, the honesty on “Singles” is powerful while never unapproachable. And this translates to Herring’s unconventional presence on stage.
“I think it’s his response to the music and trying to not only sing the words, but show the words through physical movement. It’s something that’s always been there,” Cashion said. “Sam’s a natural performer. It’s definitely not an act or a put-on, it’s very much coming from a real place.”
You’ll see pain in Herring’s eyes on stage as he reaches for an imaginary object above the audience’s heads. Then he’s back to dancing — his legs like rubber.
“A lot of people will have big smiles on their face, other people will think it’s funny, some people will look really concerned, sometimes there are people crying,” Cashion said. “It’s a full spectrum. I think it’s cool to get any reaction.”
Looking past the sudden burst of fame and booked schedule, Future Islands is already talking about the next album, but leaving a timeline out of the conversation.
“We try not to give ourselves deadlines anymore. We’ve done that in the past and it just makes things too tense,” Cashion said. “We’ve already put so much pressure on ourselves in the studio and writing that it’s just not a good environment.”
Until then, Future Islands will focus on touring, and Herring will keep dancing.
“The truest form of what we do is when the three of us are on the stage,” Cashion said. “That’s when we’re most excited.”