Herring's profuse perspiration is an understandable side effect of his performance style: the singer spends most of the Baltimore indie-pop band's shows dancing wildly, beating his chest and making the veins in his neck bulge. Calm and affable away from the microphone, Herring turns into an animal behind it.
That's one of the reasons why the band, which released its fourth album "Singles" on Mar. 25, captivated David Letterman when it made its late-night TV debut on "The Late Show" on Mar. 3. Blazing through a typically sweaty take on "Singles" opener "Seasons (Waiting On You)," Future Islands made Letterman grin unabashedly and shout "I'll take all of that you got!" following the performance, creating a meme along the way. The official video of the performance has earned over 1 million views over the past month.
"I remember before the show, looking at some of the previous 'Letterman' performances online and how many views they got, and I was like, 'Oh that's cool, 5,000 views or so!'" Herring recalls. "None of us own TVs, and it's been forever since we watched a late show. We didn't really expect that it would become something, because nobody thought that performance would get that reaction."
One week after the performance, Future Islands headed to Austin and played seven South By Southwest shows, leaving the festival as one of the most buzzed-about "new" acts, despite having already released three full-lengths. "Singles," the band's first release on new label 4AD after releasing their previous two albums on Thrill Jockey, is also the band's most accessible release to date, with the lurching anger of 2010's outstanding "In Evening Air" reconfigured into the wide-eyed pop of songs like "Sun in the Morning" and "Doves." The new album debuted at No. 40 on the Billboard 200 last week, the first time the three-piece has appeared on the albums chart.
Herring says, "It does seem like we're receiving more attention from a bigger label, and because of all the hard work we've done. People have been clamoring for new music for two-and-a-half years now."
Guitarist William Cashion notes that "Singles" was written and recorded after promotion for 2011's "On The Water" ended, when he, Herring and keyboardist J. Gerrit Welmers all felt that they needed some rest from the road. "We just decided to take a big break from touring, because we were basically on tour from 2009 through 2012," says Cashion.
Working with producer Chris Coady, Future Islands also decided to change up their creative process: for the first time, the group wrote way more songs than they needed to fill out a track list, and worked in a proper recording studio. After "Singles" was mastered late last year, the band scored a deal with 4AD, which was officially announced in January.
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Later this week, Future Islands will play Coachella for the first time, and then continue an international tour through June 8. There will also be more late-night TV, after the Letterman breakout. "I'm kind of worried, because maybe it won't be as good, and people will be like, 'Ah, flash in the pan,'" says Herring. "I don't really think that, but it's like, we have to step up our game on TV again."
Future Islands' next TV performance probably won't catch fire online like their "Late Show" show did, but they ultimately view the viral success of the Letterman clip as a positive. "The way our culture is meme-obsessed, it becomes more about the look of things, but that's something we've always challenged," says Herring. "It's become a polarizing thing on the Internet, and that's a good thing, because we want to spark a reaction with our music. We want to be that band that you instantly fall in love with, or you don't give a shit about."