Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Hopscotch 2011: Interview with Future Islands

Greenville natives Future Islands may have relocated to Baltimore for the long term, but their move doesn't mean they've lost their love for the Old North State. They return to the Triangle this Saturday, performing at the Lincoln Theater as a part of the Hopscotch Music Festival. Frontman and vocalist Sam Herring took the time to talk to Triangle Music about the band and its upcoming new album.

Triangle Music: The big reason why we’re doing this is in preparation of the Hopscotch festival. Who are you looking forward to seeing there?

Sam Herring: Oh, man. I kind of need to pull up the whole list. Of course, I’m really excited about seeing The Flaming Lips. I’ve never gotten to see them play. William has been a big fan since he was maybe in the eleventh grade or so, so he’s seen them four or five times, and Gerrit has seen them once before. Him, his girlfriend, and William took a trip to Raleigh to see them. They played The Ritz, I don’t know if that’s even there anymore. Or maybe it was the Disco Rodeo or something that they played. They went and saw them play, but I’ve never seen them. I’m really excited, I also get to be on a panel with Wayne Coyne to speak about music. I guess I don’t know exactly what we’re going to be talking about. I’m excited to meet him.

There’s also a lot of good friends, of course, in the area. We’ve got so many buddies in Raleigh and Chapel Hill. I know our friends Liturgy and PC Worship from New York are going to be down there too, we’re going to be hanging out with them. Our new friends Titus Andronicus, who we just did a tour with back in June, we became good friends and they’re going to be down there. I’m really excited about the show with Xiu Xiu, however you say it. I really need to bring up the list. For me, I’m really excited to be at the festival and experience it. Last year we were in and out to play our show and had to leave the next day, but this time we made sure that we would have the three days off so that we could just hang out and be with friends and enjoy ourselves, take it easy.

TM: What can listeners expect on your new record? What kind of changes have you made?

SH: It’s one of those things where I don’t know if it’s the record that people are expecting, and it’s not necessarily the record that I was expecting. I think it’s also one of those things where you can’t really put those ideas out there, you just need to create and hope that you find something. I think that’s exactly what we did. I’m really excited. The album is a little bit slower in areas than In Evening Air was, definitely much slower than Wave Like Home, but I feel like with all of our albums we’ve shown both sides of that, the kind of band we are.

Ever since we first started making music, we’ve written dance songs and ballads, and we’ve gotten cleaner. Maybe not cleaner, but we’ve understood more what we’re doing and what we allow ourselves to do. I think what people maybe want is a dance album, and I say don’t give people what they want. I think in a way I kind of wanted to make a dance album, something that would really jump out at people and catch them, and I think this album works in a totally different way. I think it’s an album that’s going to grow on people. It has a great deal of honesty in it, and a great amount of beauty. It’s up to the listener--it’s always up to the listener--our job is to make music that makes us happy, and we continue to do that as best as we can. Our hope is that people will enjoy it, but that’s not really up to us.

I’m really excited for this release, I’m really anxious for this release. I want to know what people think, I want to know what they have to say. There’s a lot of heart in this album, and that’s pretty much what I can say about it.

TM: What else should listeners know about Future Islands that they might not necessarily get from the music itself?

SH: Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t know. We’re really just normal dudes. I think that’s what I want to bring across to people, and that goes to being outside of the show or being at the show. I think it’s important for people to be able to see us in our music, to be able to see where the real passion is. Then again, there’s people who don’t appreciate the live show or who don’t like the live show, and there’s people who aren’t fans of the recordings because it’s not like the live show.

I think it’s important to have that distinction where we can say, “I don’t want to be just a live band, and I don’t want to be a studio band. I want to make great albums that will last the test of time,” and you want to burn really hard for that 45 minutes onstage, and you want to give someone that piece of their life, give somebody a piece of your life. At the same time, I think it’s important for bands to share themselves with their audience past that. I’m a very private person, but when it comes to the music, I try to bring that honesty out because that’s how I want to see it done. I want the music to be honest, so that’s how I do it, even though in my day-to-day I’m pretty private. But when it comes to a show, I want to be outside. If someone wants to come and say hi, then we can talk and you show yourself you’re just a human.

Maybe this is all sounding ridiculous. But we work jobs. We went to school, some of us dropped out of school, more than half of us dropped out of school. We’ve struggled with this for a long time, and we’ve worked hard for every bit that we’ve gained. Maybe I’d like pople to know that, that we’re still working hard. This doesn’t come easy, but if you love something you keep working hard, and hopefully it’ll pay itself back. It’s coming around for us, it’s still coming around in the long term.

TM: You have a really intense live energy, do you find it difficult to keep that up when you’re touring? Do you feel like you have to maintain it, or does it just come and go?

I feel like I have to maintain the energy. It’s important to me. But it comes off in different ways. If you followed me on tour, you’d see that I do that every night. But you have off nights. It’s not only physically taxing, it’s really emotionally taxing because the songs are stories of my life, and they pull from that. But that works in different ways, sometimes that pain dulls down because this part of your life becomes a song, and you sing that song forty nights in a row and it maybe doesn’t hurt so much, it’s kind of therapy. But then you don’t sing a song for six or seven months, and then you sing it again and it’s right back there.

I try to channel that energy in every song. It’s important. It’s what helps me to bring the energy, if I connect that moment that I remember those words. I remember where I was when this happened. That’s what gives me the power, but it’s also the audience. It’s easy to perform to a crowd that is moving with you. They spur you on, they give you life. It’s more difficult when you have to work for it. Actually, I feel like I’m more intense when the room is still, but there’s something to be said for that. Sometimes the room is still because something wrong gets you, but sometimes the room is still because you have the whole audience, right there in the palm of your hand and they just want you to tell them a story. You learn about that just by being on the road and learning to see certain things in peoples’ faces, feeling it out and gaining comfort in being onstage.

It’s difficult, but I burn hard every night, and I have to. I’m not going to lay down at a show. I want every single person who sees us to get a piece of that. The problem with being known as a good live band, you have to do it, because if you don’t, people go, “Where was it?” I don’t think I could ever perform standing still or sitting down. We did some acoustic shows last year, and I was sitting down with my microphone and a stand pulled way low, and there’s some videos of me where I’m wanting to pull out of that chair so bad. Everybody’s sitting down around me, I know I can’t. The intensity is written in the lyrics, so it’s easier to perform them with intensity.

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