A lot has changed for indie-pop stalwarts Future Islands since the release of their last album, 2017’s The Far Field. For one, drummer Mike Lowry is now a full-time band member. Frontman Samuel T. Herring, one of the most vibrant live performers in modern music, is engaged, and writing about the fulfillment of love in his lyrics. And new album As Long As You Are, out Friday (Oct. 9), is the first that the band has co-produced… and the first that was mixed over Zoom, due to the pandemic.
Yet Future Islands also sounds as comfortable as ever in its own skin, the members translating their life changes into lively new details of a formula they’ve perfected for over a decade. The result is the most well-rounded, personal project from the group since 2010’s In Evening Air.
Ahead of the release of As Long As You Are, all four members of Future Islands — Samuel T. Herring, Mike Lowry, keyboardist Gerrit Welmers and bassist/guitarist William Cashion — answered Billboard’s questions about its creation, the fundamentals of their artistry and their karaoke go-to songs, among others.
1. What’s the first piece of music that you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
Sam: I bought a CD when I was probably 9 or 10, and it was a compilation CD from Kmart and it was called Frat House Favorites. It had songs like “Wooly Bully” on it, like 1950s Animal House track types.
Mike: Off The Wall, Michael Jackson and the soundtrack to Ghostbusters on vinyl.
Gerrit: Four Tops Greatest Hits cassette tape from Kmart.
William: Nirvana Unplugged In New York CD.
2. What was the first concert you saw?
Sam: I was 15 and my brother snuck into 18+ show to see GSE, they were an Asheville, North Carolina rap group.
Mike: In Baltimore in a church basement, like a punk show. It was this local Baltimore band called Red Dye Number Nine and then another band called the Fifth Column.
Gerrit: Four Tops and the Temptations at an autumn festival in Kingsport, Tennessee.
William: Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefer band at Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh, N.C., on the Banana Wind Tour.
3. Who made you realize you could be an artist full-time?
Sam: I got accepted into this specialist school they have in North Carolina. I think they have it in a few states in America, it’s called The Governor school. One day, our art teachers took us to this warehouse, which still exists, and basically showed us, “Hey, there are all these people that live in this converted warehouse, and they paint and they sculpt and they make music and they run a little copy shop,” and it completely blew my mind. That was when I already knew that I wanted to be an artist, but it’s when I realized that you could live this kind of artist’s life, even in North Carolina. You didn’t have to run out New York City, but being a kid from North Carolina, it seemed like a distant idea. But that summer 2001 was when I realized that I could do it too.
Mike: When I was 14, my first drum teacher was the one that encouraged me to go into music full-time. I’ve never really been good at anything. All of my friends were better at everything than I was. And I sort of started playing drums because my friends started a band, and we’re like, “You’re gonna play drums.” I didn’t even know if I was going to be good at drums, and I guess I was picking it up pretty quickly and about three months into lessons my teacher said, “You should consider doing this as a profession.”
Gerrit: Shortly after moving to Baltimore, I guess it was kind of a Hail Mary. I decided that I have got to give this a real try. We went on tour for quite a while, and then slowly but surely some people started to build up in these living rooms that we were playing. I was like, “Wow, we played for 15 people in that living room last night, made $30, we can get gas and go to the next city.” We were soon able to pay rent. We all quit our jobs and didn’t have to work a regular job and just toured. And I think that’s when I decided that it was a possibility to make this my life.
William: I always wanted to pursue art and music. Specifically, I wanted to pursue music. I wasn’t quite sure how to do it. Our friend Dan [Deacon], he can really showed us the way. Showed me the way he was touring so hard all over the country and he was doing it all himself. He was able to make it work. He took us on our first big tour, and just kind of showed us how to how to do it. I think it gave me the confidence that we could also go out there and do it, just kind of life on the road and make the band full-time. I would say, Dan Deacon.
4. What’s at the top of your professional bucket list?
Sam: To get to 10 albums. Keep doing this.
Mike: Play a show at the Pyramid.
Gerrit: Doing this when I’m 70, or 80, or 90.
William: I’ve always wanted Future Islands to be animated in an episode of The Simpsons.
5. How did your hometown/city shape who you are?
Sam: I grew up in a really small community in Newport, North Carolina. It’s the kind of a place where you know everybody, and that teaches important lessons just about treating people with respect, no matter if it’s the mechanic or the mayor. Those people end up becoming a part of your life. They become people that you see every day. I think it taught me a lot about respecting people not for what they do or what they have, but because they are people. That’s the way it should be and the way that I always want to be treated. I think that came from just being in that small town.
Mike: Been here [Baltimore] my whole life – I can’t even answer the question. It’s so wrapped up in who I am. I can say I wouldn’t be who I am today if I wasn’t from here. I’m so close to the city that don’t even know how to begin to answer that.
Gerrit: I moved around quite a bit growing up, so I wasn’t in one place. I mean, I guess I spent the most time in two general locations, both of which were small towns. I think just moving around quite a bit to sort of let me see the broader scope of things.
William: I’m also from a really small town in North Carolina. As a touring musician, it makes me want to go to places that touring bands wouldn’t usually go to. Where I’m from, it was hard to go see the bands that I wanted to see. It was usually about an hour drive. So, it’s made it a point for us, as a band, to focus on playing these smaller regional shows and playing towns that don’t usually get these kinds of concerts. We always make that a point, whenever we can to go to new places and the idea of being established regionally instead of world domination.
6. What’s the last song you listened to?
Sam: “Charms” by Armand Hammer.
Mike: “That’s Entertainment!?” on Psychoanalysis by Prince Paul.
Gerrit: “4” by Aphex Twin.
William: “The Serpent (In Quicksilver)” by Harold Budd.
7. If you could see any artist in concert, dead or alive, who would it be?
Sam: James Brown.
Mike: Jimi Hendrix & The Band of Gypsies.
William: Double Dagger opening for Joy Divison.
8. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in the crowd of one of your shows?
Sam: So there was one time that this guy came up to us before the show and asked if we could dedicate this one song to him because he wanted to propose to his girlfriend during this particular song. Before we could even play that song, I saw this guy punch a person in the face, and then he got punched in the face, and then I jumped off the stage to stop this from happening. The guy swung around about punched me and then he realized it was me and didn’t hit me. And I asked him, “What are you doing?” We found out that he actually dated this person three years before, and they were not in a relationship anymore. You think, Oh, it’s going to be such a special show, he is going to propose to his girlfriend, and then you find out it wasn’t his girlfriend, and she hates him. And that’s the story.
9. How did the pandemic affect the way that the new album was finished?
William: We mixed the album over Zoom, instead of in person. We were able to connect with this program called The Audio Move, connected to the studio directly over the Internet. Each of us could listen in real-time to adjustments that Steve [Wright], the engineer that we worked with, [made] to make the record. We could hear what he was doing and it [was] really high-quality. I think we all enjoyed it. It was a good process.
10. Sam, how much of this album was informed by the changes in your personal life since 2017’s The Far Field?
Sam: I think it was very informed, even the songs that aren’t necessarily about my relationships are very much me looking at them from a perspective of being in a healthy relationship the first time in my adult life. So I think being in a healthy relationship has allowed me to look at my path in a very different way, to see where maybe I was wrong in places where I put all the blame on myself. Also where I was wrong. Where I had actually been not been a good partner as well. So I think being in a healthy relationship really gave me a new perspective, while also me trying to come to terms with not feeling that I was deserving of love or not accepting myself or who I am. Having someone who accepts you as you can make you start to question how you treat yourself. My relationship has had a great impact on me in a positive way.
11. How was it decided that Mike was becoming a full-time member of the band? Was there some sort of ceremony?
Sam: I mean, I think we all just felt that Mike had earned a place at the table. The big thing is having him be a part of the interviews, press shots, the writing process. He works so hard and I think we really wanted him to know that we value him. I hope you feel that way, Mike. it would be awkward when we’re not taking pictures with him or he’s not a part of interviews like, we just wanted to be him to be in this thing with us and feel that. That was important for us, to present that to Mike.
12. What was it like for the band to co-produce an album for the first time?
Sam: Chill. It really relaxed the process to explore and push the songs as far as we could, instead of thinking about the things we didn’t do. We feel really satisfied. If there are regrets we can blame ourselves.
13. Which song on the album was the hardest to finish?
Sam: We recorded “City’s Face” so many times. I probably did like, I don’t know, 25 to 30 takes of that song, because the song kept changing. So I kept re-recording the vocals over the new vibe. So I guess It was a little difficult.
William: “Plastic Beach” was focused on the bass tone, was driving me crazy. “City’s Face” is one that kept changing as the year went on. That song pretty drastically changed.
14. A half-decade removed from “Seasons (Waiting On You)“ becoming a breakthrough for the band, is there any self-consciousness about re-creating its effect?
Group: There was that fear maybe in writing The Far Field, but not now. We’re at peace.
15. How do you plan to spend the day that the new album is released?
Group: We’re going to play a show and order some Chinese.
16. What’s your karaoke go-to?
Sam: “Love Her Madly” by The Doors.
Mike: “Steppin’ Out” by Joe Jackson.
Gerrit: “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed.
William: “The Girl Is Mine” by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.
17. What movie, or song, always makes you cry?
Sam: “Gone For Good” by Morphine, and Click.
Mike: The OG Muppet movie, every time. Recently, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Gerrit: “True Love Will Find You In The End,” by Daniel Johnston.
William: The beginning of Up.
18. If you were not a musician, what would you be?
Sam: Broke sculptor. If art didn’t exist I’d work in a hardware store.
Mike: Some kind of writer or actor, or PA work.
Gerrit: I would most likely be working in some sort of hospitality situation.
William: I’m curious about construction, I’d like to learn how to build houses. But I’d probably work at an art supplies store.
19. What’s one thing about you that even your most devoted fans don’t know?
Sam: Tuesday is pasta night. Tonight is triple lasagne, there’s going to be three lasagnas. That’s what people don’t know. Pasta Tuesday has become a thing in my house. And you have to make your own pasta. The pasta, homemade sauce, and salad straight from the garden.
20. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
Sam: Don’t stress, it’s just anxiety, it’ll pass.
Mike: Don’t take that acid.
Gerrit: Keep skating. I really wish that I could still skate.
William: Don’t be so hard on yourself.