Future Islands: “I love causing genre confusion, it’s part of my art”

by James Hendicott
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The product of members from disparate musical backgrounds, hard-to-summarise Baltimore synth rockers Future Islands are psychedelic, poetic, entrancing and particularly known for their spellbindling live performances.

In frontman Samuel T Herring they have a man with his roots firmly embedded in hip-hop, but who performs in a style akin to a lyrically focused, soulful, funk rocker telling stories from the heart.

“I love causing genre confusion. It’s part of my art,” Herring says. “Future Islands have been around nearly half my life now. In art, I think, having felt like I didn’t really fit in early in life, before I got into art and became more sure of myself, those things became part of me… if you see me one way, be sure I’m going to do something else.”

That’s filtered into both a live unpredictability, and recordings that follow some patterns, but not the ones you might expect.

“Those performances… Still to this day, people don’t know what to expect, and that’s the hope. To make people feel, to stir something up,” Herring says. “That confusion is what it’s about. I was a hip-hop head, Gerrit [keyboards] was a metal and punk kid, and William [bass] was into 80s synth music, so William won, he got to be in the band he wanted to be in,” Herring laughs.

“The stew of different genres and loves for different kinds of music did create something different for us, though, and I think that persists. We sound like us.”

“I’m a purist with hip-hop,” Herring continues in explaining why that side of his music doesn’t tend to transfer over into Future Islands. “I’ll sing on rap songs, but not in a Future Islands way. It’s more like Bill Withers as a hook. And I’ll never rap on a Future Islands song, though fans sometimes ask. They’re very different art forms to me, and I keep my hip-hop seperate.”

The songwriting process has also taken on a distinct method. “I don’t pull from a journal entry or a sketch anymore, I write to music,” Herring says. “The songs are personal to my life, and I don’t want to bring an agenda to the table. I want to hear what the guys feel from the music, and see what that pulls out of me. That makes for a more natural, organic song than trying to fit music to words, or words to music with an idea already in mind.”

“Letting the music lead you places can lead you to an unexpected feeling and an unexpected conclusion or theme. That means exploring different themes than we’ve done before, and that’s because the music went to new places that we hadn’t been to before, too. You ride the beat that you’re given, and it leads you to unexpected outcomes. It’s serendipity.”

“The new album is done,” Herring throws in, adding that a few tracks might appear as part of the forthcoming Dublin show. “We haven’t finalised a date for the album. We’re going on tour, then we’re going to take three or four months with it, then it’ll probably drop early next year. We’ll take our time with it and make sure it’s just right. It’s an intense album, classic Future Islands. Basically the album you could imagine Future Islands would write after the whole world goes into existential crisis. The trouble and strife were great for songwriting,” he concludes.

Future Islands play The National Gallery, Collins Barracks in Dublin on Thursday 24th August as part of the Wider Than Pictures concert series. Support is from Just Mustard and Sprints. Tickets, priced at €62.45 including booking fee, are on sale now from SingularArtists.ie and Ticketmaster.ie

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