Indie rock bands Future Islands comes to SXSW first time

David Sackllah

Samuel Herring, the lead singer of Future Islands, is eager to get back on the road. The talkative lead singer of the indie rock group explained that after five and half years of constant touring, the band took almost the entirety of 2013 off to write and record its latest record, Singles, set to be released March 25 on 4AD, the label it signed with in January.

Previously, the band would write and record during weeks off of touring and go into the studio with about five or six songs written, but it decided to change the process for Singles

“With this album, we wrote about 24 to 25 songs, made demos of them and picked 13 songs that were recorded in the studio,” Herring said. “That was later whittled down to the 10 on the album.”

Like every album they’ve made, Future Islands financed it entirely with money from touring and record sales, coming up with a finished product before shopping it to labels. While it added some pressure to the process, Herring viewed it as a positive thing. 

“There needs to be pressure,” Herring said. “You need to second-guess yourself so you can push yourself to your maximum potential.”

After releasing its last two records on Thrill Jockey, the band talked to a few other labels before ultimately signing with 4AD. 

“We wanted to take a step up, a step in a different direction,” Herring said. “4AD was one of the labels that was interested in what we were working on. That’s where we wanted to be, but we didn’t know if that was going to happen. We kept in touch with them throughout the writing and recording process. They really loved what they heard and it went well.”

Because of the extra time, Singles may be the band’s strongest release to date. Herring said the themes that tie the record together include childhood, memory and growing up in North Carolina.

“A lot of the songs like ‘Back In The Tall Grass’ and ‘A Song for Our Grandfathers’ are very much about North Carolina, links to the past, and seeing into the past as you look into the future,” Herring said.

Above all, Herring explained that the album primarily covers universal themes of love and loss.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Herring said. “We know that we have our own style about doing things, but we consider ourselves a pop band above all.”

So far, Herring describes the fans’ reception of the new songs as positive. 

“The crowds have been going crazy so far,” Herring said. “It’s a really great feeling to play the new songs and have people respond to them in a such a positive way when they haven’t even heard them.”

One big change for the band is that they have added a drummer, rounding out the live set. They had been using a drum machine for the past five and a half years, so adding a drummer greatly altered the dynamics and added more energy to the performances.

“Going back to the drummer was scary at first, but it grew on us really fast,” Herring said. “I think after the first show I was just like, ‘Man, this is the dumbest idea we’ve ever had. This is terrible.’ But by the third show, it actually felt really good. We just had to work out the kinks and figure it out. At this point it just feels great.”

This will be Future Islands’ first time at SXSW, and Herring is thrilled at the prospect of hitting the road and playing two to three shows a day. Herring is excited to share these new songs with fans. She describes Singles as a diverse group of songs that the group feels are honest to the band. 

“If you make music and art that’s true to you, you’ll really connect with people in a real feeling,” Herring said. “That’s always been our main goal.”