The Far Field, Future Islands’ 2017 album, did well for the Baltimore-based group. It didn’t yield a viral Letterman moment like its predecessor, 2014’s Singles, but that’s a tall order. It was rock-solid nonetheless: It was their second album to chart on the Billboard 200 and critics reacted positively to it.
Looking back, though, the band has their issues with it, which they’ve addressed on their upcoming record, As Long As You Are.
As has become increasingly common in this new frontier of a world, the band — Samuel T. Herring, William Cashion, Gerrit Welmers, and Michael Lowry — hopped on a Zoom call, this time with Uproxx for an interview about the new album. During the conversation, they explained how they did things differently this time around: They worked together more than they have in the past, they didn’t let producers dictate their sound, and they didn’t give themselves a deadline, allowing the album to reach its final form on its own schedule.
Since the pandemic limits what a band like Future Islands can do in the lead-up to a new album, Herring says this chat is part of an effort “to be more helpful with things that our management takes care of” and “just being more present” in the promotional process. While everybody was on the call, Herring’s bandmates filled him in on how Baltimore is bouncing back from COVID-19: Like other places, restaurants are opening back up, but concert venues are still far away from resuming operations.
The vocalist was out of the loop as he has been in Sweden spending time with a loved one after pandemic-prompted travel restrictions kept them apart for a while. He’ll be back in the states soon, though: On the As Long As You Are release day (October 9), Future Islands will host the “A Stream Of You And Me” livestream performance. It will be their 1,236th show as a band during their 12-year history, but their only one of this year. That makes 2020 the only year of the band’s existence that they haven’t had a proper tour, which is a major bummer given how they come alive on stage, in a way that no other band really does (watch that Letterman performance if you didn’t click the first time).
Regardless, they still have an album on the way, and that’s worth celebrating. Ahead of its release, the band took time to talk with Uproxx about As Long As You Are, their dream oddball concert environment, and what pop star they’d be keen to do a Taylor Swift/Aaron Dessner-style collaboration with.
The new album is going to be your first in three years. When you guys were promoting The Far Field, the world was a much different place than it is now. How does this album lead-up feel compared to your previous ones?
Samuel T. Herring: There’s a lot less traveling and contact with the guys. This [Zoom] is how we meet now. We’re trying to do other things to promote the record. We’re doing a lot of press right now, which I think is good, just to talk about things. It keeps the four of us connected. It’s always interesting.
Sometimes you don’t really figure out what an album is until you’re done with it, and then you learn even more through the process of going through the press again and talking about things and really discovering the roots of certain songs. I was just going through the demos for the album and realizing, “Oh, that’s how that song was written,” and these kinds of things.
It’s all interesting. We were supposed to be in Japan a week ago and we missed some shows in Mexico already this year. I guess we were supposed to be going on tour any day now, or maybe we were supposed to be on tour right now. It’s really changed a lot of things.
Will, Mike, and Gerrit, you guys did an interview recently, and in it, you said that you actually mixed the album over Zoom. What challenges did that offer and were there actually any positives to doing it that way?
William Cashion: I think it was a blessing in disguise. If we’re all in the same room working on a mix, I have a tendency to just shout out, “Wait, let’s try this thing.” There’s not really any space there to think about things. The way we did it was when we were sent a rough first pass of the mix by Steve Wright, who we mixed the record with. We had his mix for a few days and then we would jump on a Zoom, and there’s a program called Audiomovers that allows us to connect his studio board. We would hear it live from the board in real time and in really high quality.
I think it just gave us a lot of space to really think about what the song needed. It wasn’t painful as we thought it was going to be. It was good. I think we realized that we could mix like that again in the future if we need to. Sam has been living in Sweden lately, so we know now that we could do the mixing process with him there if we needed to.
In that same interview, one of you said that you were not pleased with a few things about the previous album. What were those things and how have you addressed them with the new record?
Herring: I definitely wanted to see the guys creating on their own a bit more. For this album, there’s ideas that are William ideas and there’s ideas that are Gerrit ideas. Then there’s an idea that William and Mike worked together, and then there’s songs that came from the four of us jamming.
In the end, some things just worked out really well. They worked out with Steve doing a great job of working with us, really listening to our ideas, helping us find our ideas. Steve really listened to what we had to say and helped us create what we think we’re supposed to sound like, instead of in the past, even with Singles and The Far Field, when we were working with producers who had ideas about how they wanted to hear it and how they heard Future Islands. Sometimes when you work with people like that, they’re trying to create something really great, but it’s easy for the artist to get lost in that process.
This one was really about us capturing our vision and how we heard things and taking the time to do that. The Far Field was just so rushed that we didn’t want to have that happen again, that there was a deadline that decided when the album was done. We wanted to decide when the album was done.
Sam and Will, you guys stay active outside of the band with Sam’s rap stuff and Will’s ambient stuff. Do influences from those sides of your musical lives find their ways into the new album, or are those just totally their own thing for you guys?
Cashion: I was working on my solo record alongside As Long As You Are. When we would take breaks from working on the Future Islands stuff, I would book studio time actually at the same studio with Steve, working on overdubs and mixing that record. There were some things that I learned about the process and about production that we would apply here and there. It just makes sense to be like, “I learned this thing, let’s try this thing on the song. Let’s see if it works.” I think definitely it had an influence on it in an indirect way.
Herring: I did a song with DJ Shadow [“Our Pathetic Age“], right at the beginning of 2019. It was the most involved back and forth I’ve ever had with writing song lyrics, where I wrote a version and then I sent it to him, he was like, “Not really feeling it.” So I wrote a whole new version and then he was like, “I like these little things, so push that.” And then I wrote another version and then he’s like, “It’s getting better. Now push this.” And then I wrote another version.
Basically, I was losing my mind on the first two or three revisions. By the fourth and fifth, I was completely resigned, in a positive way, to being like, “My job is to help him find his song. This isn’t about me. I need to strip away my ego about, ‘I feel hurt because you don’t like this,’ but being like, ‘Okay, I’m going to help you. If you like these things, I’m going to push these things and then I’ll try to find other things. Do you like this? Do you like this?’ And keep bringing things.” When he was like, “This is great,” that felt really rewarding. Through that process of giving and stripping away, it really taught me a lot about the process of writing.
The most important thing he taught me was not to be afraid to completely throw away a song if need be. Maybe I write something that I completely love, but then maybe the guys won’t like it. In the past, I would maybe pout, like, “Oh, come on. I want that song so bad.” But now it’s like, “No, it’s fine.” These things are all a part of the exercise of music. The most important thing that, for me, in the writing process and working with the guys with this record, is really being able to feel free to experiment and let go again if that’s what it comes to. It’s all beneficial to just writing and pushing yourself. Just exploring is really beautiful.
I think also with the rap stuff, it’s pushed me into some more political places that I haven’t gone with Future Islands too much. When I’m doing solo rap stuff, I can say whatever I want. That’s the raw ego unabashed, like, “This is actually how I feel,” because it’s not reflecting on the guys.
Speaking of being more open to collaborating, I’m sure you saw that Aaron Dessner had a big hand in Taylor Swift’s new album [Folklore]. Do you guys have any thoughts about what big pop star you could work well with?
Herring: I like this question! Who do you got, Gerrit?
Gerrit Welmers: I don’t know. I feel like I’m pretty out of touch with the pop world. Who’s a pop star right now?
Herring: There’s probably a lot of stuff we don’t know. We could write a jam with Rihanna any day.
Cashion: I was going to say Rihanna. Rihanna or Cardi B would be dope.
Herring: Oh yeah, that would be dope. Let’s get both of them on a track. Can you hook us up, Derrick?
I don’t think my contacts list is as deep as you might think, unfortunately.
Herring: [laughs] Rihanna’s voice makes sense, I think we could bounce off each other a little bit. Maybe I’ll sit this one out and you guys can make a track for Rihanna or Cardi B. I’ll chill over there.
Michael Lowry: Is Solange a pop star? It would be cool. I really dug Seat At The Table and that tour. We did a bunch of shows with them. We were sort of following each other for a while and her tour was amazing. I think it would be cool to do stuff with her. Or SZA. I feel like SZA has a cool voice, too.
This one’s for Sam: I saw on Twitter recently that somebody sent you a photo of their wedding rings and they had your lyrics engraved on them. How does it feel that your words resonate with people that deeply, and do you have a favorite lyric off of the new album?
Herring: It’s definitely amazing to see our music reach people in those ways and become a part of people’s lives. It leaves you a little stunned and it’s really beautiful. We’ve been getting pictures of people’s tattoos for years and you’re like, “Oh man, I hope that you like us forever. Hope you don’t change your mind.” I’ll never forget the first time somebody got a tattoo, it was years ago. It was a song from our first band [Art Lord & The Self-Portraits]. That stuff is really amazing, to be able to become a part of people’s lives and a part of people’s stories. That’s one of the things that keep us doing it.
— Akruti Amin (@Akruton) August 29, 2020
There’s so many great lines on the new album. I’d probably take something off of “Glada.” There’s a bunch of lines in that one: “New canopies arise from the crumbling frameworks, the remnants of fire, and you came as you are.” And, “They said heaven’s a mystery unless you’re a star, unless you have a crown, but they’re wrong.”
There’s a line in that song that is from a dream I had years ago. I was in an astrology class and we were in a planetarium, and the teacher was speaking. When the class was over, everybody cleared out, but I went down to ask the teacher a question. I don’t remember what I asked him, but his answer was, “We are the prey that we seek in the dark.” And it always stayed with me in this weird way. I was just like, “What is it?” That’s the line: “You came from the stars and you said, ‘We are the prey that we seek in the dark.'” We are the prey, bro. [laughs].
You tweeted at Elon Musk in 2018 and you told him that your biggest dream was to be the first band in space. It’s funny, because now would be the perfect time for a concert in space given that you can’t get on an Earth stage now. Space is about as socially distant as you can get. Aside from space, what’s your dream unconventional concert environment?
Lowry: Underwater, in a sea lab or something. Just find the deepest spot and get James Cameron to sink us. Get him to film it. We could even have us going to the stage in those big suits, jumping off an aircraft carrier or something and just sinking to the bottom, then turning the thing and then going in and rocking out.
.@elonmusk Yo Elon!! Our biggest dream is to be the first band in space. We're both in the business of making dreams come true. Let's see what we can do… 🤗✨🚀💫👨🚀👨🚀👨🚀👨🚀
— Future Islands (@futureislands) May 5, 2018
Cashion: We got asked about doing a show at a dream location for some television show that was filming a couple of years ago. One of the places that we said was Antarctica. The idea was that they were going to fly us or get us and a film crew down there and we’d perform, basically just for the cameras in Antarctica. I think that would be pretty wicked.
Herring: For real?
Cashion Well, that was one of the places that we talked about. Obviously it never came to fruition.
Herring: Oh, okay. I was like, ‘Why didn’t anybody tell me about this?’ [laughs]
As Long As You Are is out October 9 via 4AD. Get it here.