Future Islands is one of those few bands whose bizarre name is actually very indicative of the kind of music they create. The group has become known for their unique post-wave synthpop sound, centralized around the haunting vocals of Samuel T. Herring, that makes you feel as though you’re stuck on a cold and deserted island filled with alien technology. Getting their start in North Carolina as fellow art majors at East Carolina University, Future Islands ultimately moved to Baltimore to become regulars of the indie community there. However, for their recently-released album On the Water, the band made a pilgrimage back to their roots both physically and musically. To tell us about this voyage back in time, vocalist Samuel T. Herring and guitarist/bassist William Cashion took some time to take us inside their creative process and how they were able to incorporate outside elements into their latest work.
OS: You’ve described On the Water to be a concept album about “two parallel journeys—one physical and one psychological”. Does this tie into your own experience as a band or as writers?
SH: Well the concept came secondary to the writing and recording of the songs, a definite afterthought in finding the common thread that tied the songs together to form the album. I do believe in those parallel journeys, however, in that this album moves us through a landscape while also on a journey for something internal from that external change. It definitely ties into my personal experience. Those songs are of my life, and my own questions and hopeful answers. I think it’s pretty indicative of our writing process too, creating first and finding the meanings later. Instead of over-thinking, and putting process before inspiration. The journey is inherent.
OS: The opening track starts off with ambient sounds—is this intended to set the mood for the entire album? Where did those sounds come from?
WC: I have a fancy little hand-held digital recorder, and one night Chester and I went “sound hunting” around Elizabeth City. The sounds at the beginning of the record were recorded across the street on the docks.
SH: We all had those recordings in mind and set aside for that purpose. It may seem redundant for some, but for anyone that grew up near the water or had a dock close to home that they would walk down to, it’s an essential form of nostalgia that sets the tone for the album.