The Final Countdown: Future Islands talk their 1000th show, this weekend in Carrboro | Music
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Friday, July 24, 2015

The Final Countdown: Future Islands talk their 1000th show, this weekend in Carrboro

Posted by on Fri, Jul 24, 2015 at 11:08 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY TIM SECCENTI
  • Photo by Tim Seccenti
This Sunday, Future Islands will throw a party in Carrboro. After four albums, lots of singles and splits, a gajillion YouTube views and 999 live shows, the band is returning to its home state with buddies Dan Deacon, Danny Brown, Ed Schrader's Music Beat, Lonnie Walker and Valient Thorr for a big afternoon concert.

Last month, the band began counting down (up?) to their 1,000th performance, the day-long celebration on the Carrboro Town Commons. The 10 performances leading up to the Carrboro party took them to faraway and often-exotic places—Lisbon, Bilbao, Ottawa and Quebec. A snap from their 991st performance at the Glastonbury Music Festival shows a sea of flailing arms tucked behind a metal barricade, and they opened for Morrissey at Colorado's fabled Red Rocks Amphitheatre for show No. 996.  

Two weeks after announcing their triumphant return to the Tar Heel State, Sam Herring posted a picture of himself in a baseball cap, casually posing beside a beaming Gwyneth Paltrow. Is this the same guy who sold me a burned CD-R out of a dusty cash box at the Nighlight in 2006? After nine years of heavy touring, inking a deal with with indie luminary 4AD, and GIF-worthy performances on Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel, even my dad knows who Future Islands are. 

I talked to William Cashion and Gerrit Welmers about juicing, touring and what it’s like to be famous. You can also read our interview with frontman Sam Herring, from back when Future Islands announced the big show. And you can listen to their full set at the debut Hopscotch Music Festival, in 2010, here. 

WILLIAM CASHION
INDY: Where are you right now?
William Cashion: I’m in Baltimore. I just got back yesterday.

And where were you yesterday?
We played Pitchfork Festival this weekend in Chicago, and then yesterday, Sam and I flew to New York to do some press, and then I took a train down to Baltimore. I got in last night at 9:30. Very busy day yesterday. We were in New York long enough to go do a radio interview, and then I went basically to the train station.

How do you know the Carrboro show is the 1,000th show?
Yes, yes it is. We went through, because I did all the booking for the band for the first six years. I kept a tally of all the different shows we played. Early on, our friends Valient Thorr and Dan Deacon had their past shows listed on the website. I used those two bands and their tour histories to go in and find out where we could play. I would just call those venues, find their Myspace page or phone number. It worked … some of the time. That’s how we got out and started touring. Those two bands really showed us early on that you didn’t have to have a manager or a booking agent. Through the years, it’s just been a fun thing to keep a catalogue of all the shows we’ve played and to be able to look back on it and be like "Do you remember this show?" 

I read that there have been 150 Future Islands shows in North Carolina.
I went through all the shows we’ve played in North Carolina, and as Future Islands, I think it’s 152 or 153. That’s more than we’ve played in any other state. I’m from a small town called Wendell, just outside of Raleigh. Sam and Gerrit are from the Morehead City area.

Do you find that playing in North Carolina towns is a different vibe than larger cities?
When you play in a smaller place, more people tend to come out because it’s not as common for bands to come to smaller, off-the-radar spots. There are a ton of bands that hit the major cities. I think a lot of those fans are spoiled with the music, and with everything, really. There’s always a show going on. Not too many bands came to Raleigh when I was a kid, and no one really came to Wendell or Morehead City. So, we’ve always tried to make a point to go to places that bands don’t usually tour. We try to play in interesting places because I think music can mean a lot to the people who are from that area. We played a house party in a basement in France once. That was totally crazy.

The first show I ever saw at Kings in Raleigh was an Art Lord show. It was very formative for me.
Who was it with? Do you remember?

Spader, I think.
That’s so cool. We still talk to those guys. We’re trying to convince them to get back together.

That would be my teenage life coming back to me. I feel like a lot of North Carolina teenagers have sort of grown up with you guys as a band, and it’s cool that you always come back, even though now you are super famous.
I wouldn’t say the word "super." Things have definitely gotten busier lately.

Do people ever notice you? Like, do they recognize you from the internet or from TV?
Every now and then, yes, we’ll get recognized. I think people tend to relate to the singer, and I find that I do that myself, because you feel like you know the singer, like they are talking to you, singing to you. With the other members of the band, you may not feel that same connection. It’s just something that I’ve noticed. So I tend to get the "Do I know you from somewhere?" thing. If they don’t know that I’m in the band, I don’t usually tell them. I’m too shy.

On another note, I hear you’re really into juicing these days.
I love juicing, but I’ve moved on to smoothies now. There’s so much cleanup when you juice. There were a couple times when I did some juice cleanses for 10 ten days at a time, and there were times when I was making juice and I found myself choosing a new artist that I didn’t know much about. I would just listen to the entire album while I was making juice, because it takes so long to prepare the veggies, juice and clean up. It’s like an hour! So I’d be looking into the whole Pink Floyd discography, or every Iggy Pop album. Those are two that I totally dove into their career, their entire catalogue of stuff that I’d never listened to, that I knew on the surface that I didn’t know enough about. Juicing definitely helps me get more into some of those classic artists. But I can make a smoothie in 5-10 minutes. I think I believe that smoothies are better for you, because you get the fiber as well as the nutrients.

I know there’s a debate there. I’m kind of in the juice camp, myself.
They say that there’s nutrients in the cellular wall of leafy grains, and you can’t get it unless you chew the food super finely, which most people don’t do. But when you use the blade of the blender, it unlocks the nutrient potency of the veggies. From what I understand.

But also when you use the blades, the heat of the centrifugal force is heating up the nutrients and frying them.
I see where you’re coming from. I tell people I’m an amateur nutritionist. With other bands, we’ll inevitably start talking about juices or smoothies, and I think I blow people’s minds.

How do you maintain a healthy lifestyle when you’re constantly touring and moving around?
I try to find a juice place wherever I am. I’ll ask at the venue if there’s a hippy-dippy place around. They’ll have the best food—the most organic, healthiest food. Or I’ll ask for a place where I can get a crazy salad. I’ll say, "I want to get the craziest salad money can buy in this town. Can you tell me where to get that?" For the 1,000 show, we’re going to have a bunch of food vendors, and we found a place that does fruit smoothies. So we will have fruit smoothies at the show. I’m pretty pumped about that.

Do you have a most memorable show?
We played early on at a house party in Chapel Hill, and this dude started playing Gerrit’s keyboard. Our drummer at the time just stood up and punched the dude. That totally shocked us, because we didn’t know that he would do that. 

Playing the keyboard was unsanctioned?
Yes. We were playing a song, and this dude just kept hitting keys. Gerrit stopped playing, and that’s when he got punched.

We played a show once in Cincinnati. There was a big fight going on in the band. This was in 2007. We played about two and a half songs before our singer stopped. Our drummer was playing the songs intentionally wrong. And Sam was like, "Maybe our drummer can tell you why this isn’t working today." And he handed the mic to the drummer, who just said into the mic, "Future Islands is done!" He threw the mic down on the drumset, and the show was over. For a long time, that show really stood out. We sold the most merch of any show on that tour, because people thought that we were really breaking up.

Our first time in Europe, we flew from London straight to Berlin, and we were taken straight to the venue that had an apartment in it for the artists to sleep in. We were just dropped there. Nobody told us anything or gave us any Euros or anything. We just slept and were like, "Nobody is going to know who we are." It was a tiny club, and when we came down, it was packed wall-to-wall. This was right after our first album came out, Wave Like Home. We played our set, and the promoter came out and talked to the crowd in German. He was like, "They want you to play more, play more." So we eventually played every song that we had, and he kept hyping up the crowd, so we played two or three encores. We even played some of the songs from the set again. The crowd was just flipping out. We had just written a bunch of songs that would become In Evening Air, so we were road-testing "Tin Man" and "Apology" for the first time. That was a very special show for us.

I just made a poster that we’re going to have this Sunday. It’s all the tour dates, with all the shows and all the cities. As I was writing it, it was a meditation on touring. I was going through every show, all the different memories of each one. There were periods in 2009, 2010, where we would tour several weeks non-stop, without a day off, just straight. I don’t know how we did that. 

GERRIT WELMERS
INDY: I just talked to William, and he’s in Baltimore. Are you in Baltimore as well?
Gerrit Welmers: I am in Baltimore, yes.

So you’ve got a couple days at home?
Yes. I guess the guys flew to New York yesterday to do a little radio thing, but I came back to get some old songs in order for the big show.

Why Carrboro for the big show instead of Baltimore?
We wanted to have the show close to where it started. The original idea was to be in Durham, but that didn’t work out. We enjoy the idea of Carrboro, and the venue seems like a good fit.

Do you remember when you first played in the area?
I think our first show as Future Islands was probably at the Nightlight. Either that, or a house party. I’m sure William will remember. He has a list online, and I go on there every once in awhile and say, "Oh yeah, six years ago we were in this really pretty place, like, sleeping on a floor."

What’s the most memorable show you’ve ever played?
Wow. I guess there have been many types of shows. Definitely house parties in Greenville. We were playing in this space, the Turducken House, a duplex with bands playing on either side. During the set, we kind of noticed that everything turned into a trampoline. We were swinging back and forth, and Sam was in the crowd. Somehow, he started bouncing up and down higher than he was before ... and we noticed that the floor joints had snapped. Everyone in the living room was jumping up and down like it was a trampoline. I forget how many of the joints actually snapped. Luckily no one was hurt.

I feel like Future Islands shows used to be a clump of people, and then a mass of people, and now it’s like a sea of people. And they’re all moving and they’re all sweaty.
Yeah. It’s interesting to see how fans have changed over the years. We have people who have known us for a while, they’ll be more up front. And then you have this ring going around with the more intense crowd, and then there are people who just want to sit back and watch.

Have you noticed a change in the type of people attending the shows after your television debut?
I think one of the biggest changes is the age difference. There will be, like, kids in the front row, singing all the lyrics.

Like, kids-kids?
Yeah, like kids, 10-year-olds, like it’s possible for an all-ages venue to have. Part of it is parents getting into it, and showing their children. And then the kids get into it, and they let them go up front. We’ve also had an older crowd appear, which is really cool. It’s interesting going to different places. We played a show in Liverpool, where a few of our idol bands are from, and it was an older crowd who came to a show maybe to re-live something they used to enjoy in the '80s. That was cool to be a part of.

That’s awesome. My mom and dad were both big Depeche Mode fans, and my very first concert ever was going to see Depeche Mode together, two generations. We both did our hair.
Definitely. That’s awesome that you got to see Depeche Mode.

I’m curious about your idol bands from Liverpool.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is a band we’ve been compared to a lot. I didn’t even know this band existed until later on, and then fell in love with them after the fact. I should probably double-check to make sure that they’re actually from Liverpool. (Editor's note: It's where they played their first show.) That was our second show in Liverpool. EAR PWR were doing a tour with us in the UK, and it was really a strange venue where the venue was downstairs, and there was a bar upstairs, and no one would go downstairs and see the show. There were hundreds of people upstairs, and we were kind of bummed about it. But Andy of OMD came to the show, and we got to meet him and talk to him. That was very cool.

How does it compare playing shows in these exotic locations to back home, places like Carrboro?
There are similarities always, Ut varies per region. There are a lot of differences, for example, in Germany. The country is split up into different regions, more conservative regions, more Western regions. That’s one thing. But we kind of just do the same thing every time. I think we can break down any barrier that’s in place. A conservative crowd might be a little standoffish in the beginning, but hopefully by the end we’ve taken that barrier down and everyone can be on the same page and enjoy themselves. I hope that’s what we can do, at least. I guess there are also differences with playing festival shows or club shows. It’s such a large audience playing a festival show, and it’s also not your audience. You’re playing to a lot of people who maybe haven’t heard your music. You hope you can get some sort of reaction.

You’ve played Hopscotch, of course, and you just recently played Pitchfork Festival. I’ve always thought of you as a club band. 
This summer, we’ve pretty much been playing only festivals, which is sort of a first for us. We’ve done a few here and there, mainly in Europe, but we’ve been doing more US festivals now. It’s a different beast, a totally different vibe. It can be a little stressful at times. Sometimes I think playing the intimate shows with like 10 people can be more nerve-racking, because you can make eye contact with all of them. And one mistake can be heard. At the same time, with the small audience, it’s super special. You don’t always get that at a festival with a sea of people.

How did you pick the people who are going to be accompanying you on Sunday?
It was a group decision. We wanted to showcase obviously friends who have been with us or around us, influenced us. We also wanted to showcase bands with powerful frontpeople. They all have very different ways, very different music. Herbie [from Valient Thorr], for example, is like one of the greatest frontmen, I think. Everyone just showcases a very different style of performance. Even with Danny Brown and Brian Corum, it’s very different, but still very powerful. 

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