Future Islands has come a long way since its first show in 2006 at an anti-Valentine’s Day party in Greenville, North Carolina. Now based in Baltimore, the indie synth-pop group—composed of frontman Samuel T. Herring, bassist/guitarist William Cashion and keyboardist Gerrit Welmers—has busied itself touring the world and selling out countless gigs, including a show at the Jefferson on Tuesday.
The Jefferson Theater
Cashion says the band’s growth was gradual before a performance of “Seasons (Waiting on You)” on the “Late Show with David Letterman” in March 2014, which made Future Islands a YouTube sensation. The rest is history.
The band’s fifth album, The Far Field, was released in April and is a follow-up to 2014’s successful Singles. Some of the tracks emerged during a winter trip to NC’s Outer Banks, while others were written in Baltimore and then recorded in Los Angeles. Prior to hitting the road with the new album, the group played a series of secret shows, linking up with North Carolina-based act Jenny Besetzt for opening sets under fake names such as The Hidden Haven, This Old House and Chirping Bush.
“We just wanted to be able to play all the new songs without any expectations that we were going to play old material,” says Cashion. “We went to places that we knew friends would find out by word-of-mouth and come out to the show, but we didn’t want to announce it online and make it into a big thing because we were still figuring out how the songs were going to work.
He explains that there are always alterations on songs when they’re played live: “The biggest thing is the way that Sam sings the songs changes drastically from when he demos the songs to when he’s in front of an audience, and based on what Sam does, that will influence how the drums interact with the vocals and have an effect on the way I’m playing the bass, just trying to give different emphasis to the dynamic of the song.” Cashion says that when they first played “Seasons (Waiting on You)” live, they quickly realized the chorus needed to be heavier.
“We just wanted to be able to play all the new songs without any expectations that we were going to play old material.”
For nearly all of the unanounced shows, Future Islands’ cover was blown by folks who knew the band. Cashion believes the best-kept secret gig was held in Arlington, Virginia, at a small bar called Galaxy Hut, where they played in front of only 50 to 60 people who offered feedback between songs. At another show in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, the band’s debut performance of the single “Cave” was so embraced that the audience was singing along by the end.
“That gave us more confidence and revealed the strength of the song that we didn’t necessarily know,” says Cashion.
The group looked to its sophomore effort, In Evening Air, for eliciting a deeper raw energy feel on The Far Field. Both album titles reference work by poet Theodore Roethke, who has been an inspiration for Herring lyrically, and the two album covers were designed by the same artist, Kymia Nawabi, who played keyboards and tambourine with Future Islands in its early days.
Thematically, The Far Field takes several twists and turns. To the band, it feels like an album that’s best experienced while driving.
“It really lends itself to a long road trip. A lot of it is reflecting on our history as a band,” says Cashion. “When we play our song ‘Ran’ now, Sam says it’s a song of a thousand shows. He’s referencing how just a year and a half ago we played our thousandth show down in North Carolina. We’re starting to write songs about writing songs, and we’re referencing ourselves and our own experiences as a band and the hardships of it.”