Interview: William Cashion of Future Islands

As you might guess, I’m a pretty big fan of Future Islands. I became aware of the trio’s existence just before their LP, In Evening Air, came out in 2010. Their consistent touring habits and push to create and release interesting, uniquely styled, emotionally driven, danceable, electro-gelled tunes keeps me on edge, and has rightfully earned them some good recognition over the past couple of years.

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to check out the sights and sounds of the Athens scene. The icing on the cake was seeing Future Islands perform (only the second time for me) at Caledonia Lounge. That treat was prefaced by another – the chance to shoot some questions William Cashion’s way. The following is what he had to say about writing, touring and vinyl Smashing Pumpkins records.

TST: Thanks for taking the time to chat, first of all. I know you’re extremely busy this week, with the tour starting back up and you guys getting ready to go to Europe in a couple of weeks, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. First off, how’s the reception for On The Water [LP, released October 2011] right now?

William Cashion: The reception seems to be pretty positive for On the Water so far.  I haven’t read too many reviews of the record, so I can just base it on what I hear from people at the shows, and their reaction to the new songs.

TST: Didn’t you start touring last fall before it came out? Is there a major difference between people knowing the songs now… being more familiar with the material?

WC: As far as touring, we’ve sorta been constantly touring for the last three years… The touring for In Evening Air basically overlapped with the release of On the Water. I think we’ll give ourselves more of a break in between albums and tours in the future.

TST: So you’ve got quite a list of European dates set up this time around. How many tours or stints of tours have you done in Europe? What’s the reception like there?

WC: This will be our fourth proper European tour and our seventh time overseas (we’ve also done a tour in the UK, and some random short jaunts). We’ve had a really great time in Europe, and the response seems to get better each time we go over. The greatest thing about touring in Europe is that they treat you really well; the people have great respect for the arts.

TST: Since I talked to you last time – well, actually, maybe it was just before the new record came out – I downloaded your Daytrotter session. It was fun; I’m a big fan of what they do. How did you all choose the songs for that? Were you immediately satisfied with how things came out, did you redo anything or did you have a laissez faire attitude about it?

WC: We recorded that Daytrotter session during a tour we did with Lonnie Walker back in November 2010. At the time, the only song we had written for what would become the new album was the song “On the Water,” so knew we wanted to record that song with them. The tour we were on was to support our split 7″ with Lonnie Walker, which features our song “The Ink Well,” and that’s why we chose to do that one.  The other two songs are some of our favorites from In Evening Air and the In the Fall EP that came out earlier that year.  We thought they had shelved our session until they released it a year after we recorded it!

TST: It’s my opinion that the songs from On the Water are more structurally concise than In Evening Air, but I love some of the new, fresh sounds. So, (a) was there a conscious effort to simplify aspects of this record?

WC: When we started writing On the Water we found that the songs tended to be slower than usual, which I think is just a response to playing loud, fast songs for several years on the road. We didn’t really have a plan to slow things down, or to simplify aspects of the music.

TST: Okay, (b) did the band try to stay on the same path, sound-wise? Did you use the same guitars, analog keys, digital toys/effects as last time? If not, what specific elements were brought in that made these songs sonically different?

WC: Well, we didn’t want to write another In Evening Air – that was for sure.  But even so, all of the songs are written in the traditional Future Islands formula of synths, bass guitar, drum machine and vocals. We brought in a bunch of other sounds to try to make the music sound more organic and alive. We’ve used Chester’s acoustic guitar (that used to be his mother’s) on all of our albums, mainly used as a percussive overdub. Both Gerrit and myself played electric guitar on a handful of the songs for [On the] Water. Chester wrote the violin and cello parts for the album, which were played by our friends Victor and Kate. Our buddy Dave (from Dope Body) played marimba on a few songs. Denny Bowen (of Double Dagger and Roomrunner) played live drums and percussion on most songs on the album. He also played additional drums on In Evening Air. We also brought in a variety of field recordings, which we’ve done with all of our previous work, to give the sound a space to live in.

TST: I’ve lately gotten more into vinyl. Particularly, I’m interested in 7” and 10” records that are available only in vinyl. Future Islands is a culprit of this, aren’t you? What’s your take on the importance of vinyl? Was there ever a cost factor for doing runs of vinyl in the early Future Islands days? Does it sell well on tour? Can I get a copy of Before the Bridge or Feathers and Hallways at the show this weekend?

WC: We’ve always wanted to release 7″s – for years before it actually happened. I first fell in love with 7″s back when I collected Smashing Pumpkins releases, and each single from Siamese Dream was a limited run and pressed on colored vinyl (their Rocket 7″ actually inspired the peach color for our split 7″ with Lonnie Walker). I used to get so excited about the B-sides on these releases, the ones that weren’t available anywhere else. It’s a bummer that the internet has basically ruined that aspect of it. This is also why we didn’t include a digital download of our Before the Bridge 7.” The B-side, “Find Love,”  is officially only available on that 7.”  Sadly, we’re sold out of both the Before the Bridge and Feathers and Hallways singles, and they won’t be at the show.

[For the record, I ended up getting a hand-numbered copy of the “Post Office Wave Chapel” 12,” a record that features remixes by Pictureplane, Javelin, Jones (with Victoria Legrand of Beach House) and Moss of Aura (with No Age).]

TST: Has Future Islands begun writing for a new release yet? How do you balance touring and writing? Do you guys keep those things in separate places, or do you work on material on the road?

WC: We have slowly started writing again. I think we tried to write on the road once or twice, a long time ago, and it doesn’t work for us. We’ve always tried to make a point to tour with at least one new song – and as we play these songs on tour, they really solidify. So, while we’re not actually writing on the road, we’re all figuring out little nuances in the songs that we’ll change as we continue playing.

TST: Well, thanks for taking the time to chat. Are there any other bits of news or info that you’d like to share?

WC: Ed Schrader’s Music Beat is releasing their debut album, Jazz Mind, on Load Records this March, and we’re all really excited for its release! We’ve been lucky enough to hear it already and it’s a really great record.

Future Islands is William Cashion, Samuel T. Herring and Gerrit Welmers. For more information about the band, visit future-islands.com.