Interview with Future Islands

von Moritz Stellmacher


We met with Future Islands, before they just recently, after seven years of hard work, had their spectacular network tv debut on David Letterman’s Late Show. The Baltimore indie synth pop trio played their new single seasons. It is published on the 4AD label where bands like Grimes and Deerhunter are signed. The videos and songs, mostly with romantic topics, have a very clear language, polished by years of collective experience. Samuel T. Herrings performance is one other thing which make this band stand out, check it out:

Could you introduce yourself?
Gerrit: I’m Gerrit..
Sam: I’m Sam, i’m the singer.
William: I’m William, i play the base.

Do you remember the moment when you fell in love with music?
Sam: I used to sing a lot with my mom, as a kid we had a piano in the house she would play from sheet music at christmas time. Me, my brother and her would sing. We were just little kids but that was something early on which i really enjoyed and then we would sing in school and stuff. Yeah, so singing with my mother.

Was there a specific band or song?
Sam: I heard “Through the Grapevine”, from The Temptations.
A lot of those songs, also going on the road with my mom listening to oldies. Like 50s, 60s music on the radio and she would always sing. She loved to sing, so i sang a lot with her, but i think my first cassette tape was Marvin Gaye.

And you?
Gerrit: I had seen the Four Tops and i was inspired.
William: Are you asking about music, that made us inspired to make music?

Yeah, something where you realized that music is more to you than to other people.
William: For me it would be “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” by the Smashing Pumpkins, I got that when I was twelve or thirteen and I got obsessed with that album. It made me want to get a guitar and learn how to play music, so that kind of started me doing that path. My first concert though was Jimmy Buffett.

Can you each tell a story about each other, that reveals his character?
Sam: These guys know way too much about me.
William: Sam really is a people person, he always remembers people’s names whenever we meet someone. That’s a thing which i could never do. But now i think he just cheats with Facebook.
Sam: The thing about Gerrit is, Gerrit is really stoic. But he is also the funniest person in the world. So Gerrit would be very quite and then would have something to say and it’s so wet with truth. Gerrit is somebody i always looked up to, because I say way too much and he doesn’t have to say a lot.
Gerrit: William is Mr. ideas. Like when i first met him, he had a tiny cd with all his music he made with his four track, “Check out my ideas cd.” It was awesome what was it called?
William: Computers.
Gerrit: It was the most awesome thing i ever heard of.

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It was music made on a computer already?
William: It was made on this program called Synth Rhodes, when i was sixteen, seventeen.

Oh that was really early.
William: Ya i was just programming stuff, it was really weird.
Sam: I got a good story. Me and Gerrit went to high school together. We were like friends all through high school and then William was my first friend when we got to college and Gerrit wouldn’t really talk much around William because he didn’t know him. William was like “I think Gerrit hates me”. I said, “No dude no, Gerrit doesn’t hate you.”
And i asked Gerrit: “William thinks you hate him, do you hate William?” and Gerrit said: “No he is pretty cool”. So that was the beginning of our friendship together, the three of us.

You funded this album by yourself?
Sam: Yes all the albums. So you have more control, you are not in other people’s pockets. If somebody gives you money, they expect something. But if you do it yourself, you can do what you want.

What was the biggest lesson you learned as band?
Sam: I would say, that hard work pays off. You do what you love and there are different degrees of success, but we have been able to live off our music for four and a half years now. And being able to do it for a living is amazing, if you don’t have to work on other jobs and you can completely just live of your art, to me is success. We have reached that point where we can do what we love. It took a lot of work to get there. It took seven years of work to get to that. So yes, hard work pays off, and that’s something my parents tried to teach me and i never listened. They said: “You got to work, you got to work.” and said “Nah, i don’t wanna work.” Finally when the three of us realized, we were all probably 23 at the time, that music was what we wanted we went for it really hard.

You practiced a lot and played a lot of shows?
Sam: Yes you don’t have to practice, you just have to play. Get out and play shows. Playing a show is better than practice, when you gonna practice three times a week, you might as well play three times a week. Just practice in front of people, see what it’s like to be on stage and then do what you do.

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Was your city big enough for this?
Sam: No you have to leave the city.
William: You have to play regional, you can drive an hour, play somewhere like in potsdam. Also be patient with yourself, when you working really hard and not seeing the results fast, just be patient and allow things to have time to grow.

But you also had other jobs to pay the bills?
William: I used to work in a mexican restaurant, i gave people chips and salsa.
Sam: I used to work in construction.
William: Gerrit was a bartender.

All the classics.
Did you always know or hope that you would get to the point where you are right now?!
William: The dream.

So how about now then, is it how you imagined it?
Sam: I don’t know, i think i wouldn’t have even imagined this far. I also live life with low expectation, so you’ll always be happy. Like William said, be patient, but if you want something you have to work for it. I wish i knew that, i wish i listened.

Did you all study art?
Sam: Yes we went to art school, William is the only one who graduated though. I met William through art school. But i knew Gerrit when i went to university. Me and William had like three classes together, our first day at school and William used to wear these really cool glasses, from back to the future and i used to have this really big ass sideburns, these massive sideburns, so we saw each other twice a day in class. I was sitting on the steps of the library smoking cigarettes trying to be cool, freshman in college, and then William walked by and i said: “Nice shades dude.” and he said “Nice burns.” We were such dorks, two cool dudes. We started talking: “I saw you in class, whe’re you going now?” and than we realized we were going to the same class. We went to a studio and William’s friend Brian was there and the three of us all sat at the table. And then shortly after that, William and Brian came to my house. This was the beginning in 2002.

What were you doing painting?
William: I was painting.
Sam: I was getting in the sculpture program.

What was the last thing that really inspired you?
Gerrit: Our friends just did this Gene Clark cover. Do you know Gene Clark?

No
Gerrit: He started the Byrds. He put out this weird album and a bunch of our friends covered the album. I would say that was my last inspiration.
Sam: There is this guy, Ben Mirov. This guy is inspiring me the last few months. I love this book, its a book of poetry and i think it’s fucking new and hilarious and strange, I never really read another writer who writes like this guy. I’m a fan of poetry but, i usually don’t get into contemporary poetry because i think it’s usually pretentious and kind of bullshit. Contemporary poetry is just referencing references of other people’s poetry.
This guy is a writer i’ve been reading and i’m loving him so much. I read one of his books, a shorter book and i got about eighty pages left in that. Knut Hamsun, he wrote the book “Hunger”.

Oh ja the Norwegian.
Sam: It’s so beautiful, he actually reminds me of Gabriel Gracia Marquez’s “Hundred years of solitude”. It feels like hundred years of solitude but in this cold mountain setting. It’s very romantic about the Earth and people. He is talking about people very freely, not painting people in a bad light, he understands that people hurt each other, but they’re just people. So thats almost an unbiased opinion.

How is Ben Mirov different?
Sam: It has a certain humor in it. Let me read you this, “Dove Life”.

Sam: There is a bit of romance to it, but its also full of imagery. It reminds me a little bit of Charles Simic.
I like good poetry. I like short verses because it’s almost like a mediation, you can read it over and over and over again. I probably read this book twenty or thirty times in the past six months.

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Like songs?
Sam: Yeah, exactly. It’s just like little tiny phrases. He plays with the language a lot.

And your last inspiration?
William: I guess last recent thing was the other day in paris, i went to the louvre and got to see a bunch of old amazing art work. I really love just getting lost in art museums, walk around, see a lot of old classical paintings. The old holy scenes and the greeks, the romans, sculptures, the human form, really beautiful stuff.

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Was there something specific?
William: No i think its a combination of all of that. I got like a museum high.

What is one thing that really sets you apart from all the other bands?!
Sam: That would be discounting what everybody else does. (laughing)
We have a really weird group of influences that define what we do.
William: We still believe in the old school touring. I think the whole mindset with touring, the way that bands are doing things, has totally changed. If we would have been a few years younger, maybe we wouldn’t be so hungry for the road. The internet is changing things. I think the touring culture is becoming less and less important to musicians. And I’m proud of that, i’m proud of the fact that we are still holding on to that. Maybe I’m totally wrong but people keep talking to us about how no one is touring anymore.
Sam: Well i guess that there are other bands that still live by that, but with the internet you don’t have to really tour to get your music out. Before that you had to tour, so people could, by chance, see you.

I think that’s coming back, you have to tour again, because you don’t really gain money from anything else.
William: We also make it a point to play in smaller towns that a lot of other bands don’t usually go to. We are proud of that also. We are all from small towns. No bands ever came to our towns, so we wanna go to the small towns as much as we can.
Sam: It happens that we play for a thousand people and then we play for forty people somewhere and it’s just as important.
William: I think it means more to people. It meant more to me when I would see a band in my town than having to take a road trip to a big city to see a band. If they came to my town I was like, wow i can’t believe this band came here. There were bands like that when I was a kid. I remember it, it stuck with me. We’re trying to return the gift.
Trying to give it back in a way.

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Interview: Moritz Stellmacher
Fotos: Alessandra Hager

Moritz Stellmacher

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