When William Cashion, bassist and guitarist for Maryland postpunk new-wave band Future Islands talks about “the band” it’s hard to know exactly which incarnation he’s referring to. While the current lineup, releasing and recording as Future Islands, have been officially together since 2006, Cashion, vocalist Samuel T. Herring and keyboard and programmer Gerrit Welmers have been playing music since art school in 2003. When Cashion references “the band” you begin to realise that while different members and branding creates a stop-start feel in the mind of the audience, to Future Islands it has simply been one big journey.
“For a band like us, we were a totally DIY band for such a long time,” Cashion says in response to any tags of overnight success. The units of measurement for success in music are so subtle that often only the band themselves pay attention to them. Outside help for booking and promotion, slightly bigger venues, a slightly bigger font on a festival poster – these are all tiny signs that show a musician they are on the right path.
“I booked all of our shows up until about a year and a half ago. In that whole world of success you are describing, even in that world, we’re still babies and seem brand new. Yet we’ve been a band for about seven or eight years, making music for over nine. It feels unique that we’ve been working for that long and we’re only now starting to get into that sort of world.”
It’s clear that Cashion, Welmers and Herring have a sort of glue that keeps them together. Projects and people have come and gone, some in a furious fashion, but the trio have found a place of comfort as friends and as purveyors of brooding yet shiny ‘80s inspired songs of love in all of its gory glory. “It’s a good thing that we keep pushing,” he says. “Sam is always on our case to keep writing new material even when we’re on the road. Over the years, some of us have gotten into fights and I think we’ve learned how to get along better and how not to push each other’s buttons. Just ‘cause we know how to push them doesn’t mean you have to, ‘cause we’re still gonna be stuck in a van all day and there’s no reason to be an asshole.”
The allure of travelling the world and playing music is a devious one. It seems like a perfect life from the outside, particularly when spending two years to save up for a three month backpacking holiday in Europe, but when you’re playing virtually every day in a new city, there’s often not much time for anything else. “The last couple of years we’ve made it a point to take in our surroundings ‘cause it’s really easy to just see the inside of a bar and then a highway,” he says. “Let’s face it, those places look the same everywhere. We try to find out what’s cool to check out in the cities we’re in, even when we’re in the States.”
With daily gigs and a growing audience expectation for musicians to keep drip-feeding them new material, Future Islands are more than happy to embrace the new creative climate. “We spent the last few months off touring so we’ve spent most of that time focusing on writing the next record and having a lot of loose jams,” he explains. “There’s a few tracks that are creeping into the live set now. It’s so hard to write on tour; we’d rather be partying or sleeping,” he laughs.
“There are definitely songs where we can all feel there’s something magic about it but there’s a lot of other songs that some of us like more. Oftentimes those songs are thrown to the wayside or they’ll end up as a B-side. The song mightn’t fit on a record but because we’re all about releasing stopover tracks in between albums that’s where they’ll appear.
“There are very few songs we’ve written that haven’t seen the light of day. As a fan of music, I really love when bands release little things. Oftentimes there’s a band you like and it’ll be years after their last album and there’s been nothing. You think they could’ve released an EP or a 7” or something in that time. It’s equally a choice for the fans as it is for us. Not to mention it’s good for us, the 7” is a great way to test things out; there’s not as much pressure and you’re allowed to take some risks.”
Towards the end of the conversation, Cashion hints that Future Islands might be returning to Australia as part of the summer festival circuit. “We’re all gonna take some time to ourselves,” he says. “We usually take a week or two at least, the tours are always so intense so we need some space before we jump back into it. November sees us tour in the States and that’s our last push for the album. We do know that the touring season in Australia is best in December and January so we’re hoping to be a part of something then but nothing is certain. If not, the US tour will be the last tour of this album.”
BY KRISSI WEISS
FUTURE ISLANDS will play at the Northcote Social Club, Wednesday September 19. On The Water is out now through Thrill Jockey.