WHAT’S UP | FUTURE ISLANDS
Baltimore-based trio Future Islands have announced a return to Australia to play a headline tour and a handful of festival sets off the back of their steamy Splendour set. With six albums under their belt, the band are no strangers to the pressures of life on and off the road—their music a deeply emotional exposé on the trials and tribulations of being.
Ahead of their return, we chat with bassist William Cashion to talk about touring, viral success, and how to score free tickets to their gigs.
[Aside from this interview] what are you up to at the moment?
Well right now we’re in Gothenburg, Sweden, we just got off stage about thirty minutes ago. We’ve been here for two nights, and it’s been good! Both nights were sold out. It’s the end of the first week of the European leg of the tour, and when this part of the tour is over we’re going to head straight down to Australia. It’ll be the same tour, but it’ll be a different leg. We won’t have gone home and recharged.
You’re pretty well known for being constantly on tour, does it ever get to a point where you feel like you’re over it?
Yeah! Sometimes it’s like, do we really wanna be doing this, touring this much? And with every album we say that we’re going to tour less and we’re going to tour smarter, but when we take a break from touring, and by the time the next record comes out, we’re all kind of itching to get back on the road. When we’re planning the tours, usually we’re not on tour yet, because these things are planned way in advance, and so were like “We gotta do it. We gotta get out there, we gotta work”, but when you’re in the middle of it, it can be really overwhelming at times for sure. We do love it, and we have been doing it for 11 years now, almost 12. It’s kind of crazy to think about how much time has gone by, how much time has been put into the project. Over the years, all the work that we’ve put in.
Future Islands go pretty hard on stage, how do you bring that energy to every single set?
It’s important to remember that for a lot of people in the audience, it’s their first time seeing these songs live, and it might be the only time they ever see us. There are some fans who will have seen us before, but I feel like for the majority of people it will be their first time, so we wanna put our best foot forward, so to speak, at every show. And every show is important to us. We booked ourselves out for our first seven years, and we would play warehouse spaces, people’s living rooms and basements, art galleries, and random clubs that would book out-of-town bands and make us work the door ourselves, and it would just be the regulars at the bar watching. We played to very intimate crowds all over the world, and I think that has something to do with us trying to win people over at every show. Even back then, we were thinking maybe someone who saw us tonight will go home tonight and tell their friends, and hopefully they’ll like it enough to let us sleep on their floor.
As a fan, that’s one of my favourite things to hear, that bands are playing every show with the intention of winning the crowd over. Because if an international band tours Australia, whether it’s a good or bad set, you often won’t get the chance to see them again for a few years.
Well Australia has been really good for us lately, we started touring there in 2012 for the first time, and we came back again on the Singles tour. And we came back to Australia two or three times on that tour. We’ve already been to Australia once on this tour, so we’re getting more used to being down there, which is crazy to us. We feel like regulars.
Does the setlist for each leg of the tour change much?
We try to change it every night. Because we have a lot of instances where we’ll be in the same city for two or three nights, so when that happens we try to drastically change the set. When we first started rehearsing for this tour we probably had between 30 and 40 songs that we were rehearsing. Our setlist is somewhere between 20 to 25 songs a night, so we have a lot of things we can move around and change. There are certain songs that we always play, but there’s a big chunk of songs that we can mix around. We have some deep cuts that are all 7”, or that are not in the digital world, and so we like to throw those in sometimes. We definitely change it, there are certain things we like to have, that adds some flow to the set. For us there are certain peaks and balances, certain songs that signify different places in the set.
The band’s popularity has been dramatically snowballing since the appearance on Letterman, did you guys have any idea the performance would have such a huge reaction?
No, not at all. We thought it would just be something special for us and for our families, friends, and fans. ‘Cause you know, generally TV performances don’t make the rounds like they used to, things have kind of changed. Even our team around us had told us that television doesn’t have the same attack that it had twenty years ago. When the video kind of started gaining steam and getting out there, further and further out into the world, we were on tour the whole time. People around us kept telling us that this thing was getting a lot of views, and it was a really big deal. People were writing think pieces about the performance and stuff, and it totally shocked us for sure. We didn’t expect that at all. We were super nervous and mostly worried that we would mess up. The most nervous I ever am is when we play on TV. I think that’s true for all of us. There have been many times that we’ve done it now, but we get so nervous going in front of a camera, because the first time we did it, it reached so many people. We now know that it has the potential to reach that many people. We knew that it could, but we weren’t overly conscious. I think we were the least nervous the first time we did it, because of that, because we didn’t fully understand how many people would see it, and continue to see it now. But it definitely opened a lot of doors for us.
Since the momentum gained from Letterman, have you felt much pressure to keep bringing something bigger and better with each album?
We try to continue writing songs the way we always have, we’ve always written very on-minute music that’s honest to us, and that speaks to us. So we don’t don’t mess with the formula too much, but we always put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we’re always trying to write the best songs that we can write. Singles was the first time that we wrote more songs than we needed for the album, and that was a good thing because we were able to edit out any songs that didn’t fit necessarily. We did the same thing for The Far Field, we wrote about, for both albums, we wrote about 25 songs per album, and then we could go back and choose which ones would make the cut.
Singles was a huge album for you guys, having written three previous records, did you get the feeling that there was going to be something different about that record?
We had no idea. When Singles came out, that was our fourth album, we had already put of three records and toured around and we felt like [our second album] In Evening Air was a bigger record, and we were bummed that it didn’t get out there in a bigger way. We really believed in that record, and we really believed in [third album] On The Water, and we felt like that record would help us reach a larger audience. In actuality, that record sold less than In Evening Air. When we did Singles, we just hoped we could match the amount of records sold as In Evening Air, hopefully it’ll reach the same amount of people. And with On The Water, we really experimented a lot of that record, and pushed ourselves in different ways, and tried out some different textures that we hadn’t tried before. We came back to wanting to write concise, strong, pop songs, and it had gotten mislabeled as a concept album, and the press all said it was a concept album. It was never in our minds to be a concept album, so we thought we wanted to make an album of single short stories, where nothing was necessarily connected, each song would be strong on it’s own.
Can we expect more songs from In Evening Air and On The Water on the Australian leg?
Yeah, we try and pull out songs from every album in our shows. People can expect everything, because anything is fair game. There are some songs that we never really play live very much, there are some songs that we’ve only done a few times here and there, that haven’t really been successful, or they’re just too intense for us to play emotionally. We’ll play stuff from all five records, from different 7” and EPs.
What’s the plan post tour?
We’re going to New Zealand and Japan after Australia. We’re really going for it right now. But after that we’re going to take some time off. We’re gunna try to work on writing some new material. We’ve been writing on the road, and after soundcheck we’ve been writing. We’ve never written on the road, it’s been really hard for us, but recently, because we’re touring on a bus, because we have more time during the day, at the venues to settle in. So we’ve taken this opportunity to try to write for the first time on the road. We have a bunch of ideas that we’re working with and one song that we’ve gone from testing it out at soundcheck to playing it live, figuring out how it works. It’s pretty cool because that’s how we used to write ten years ago: we’d write a song and then that night or the next day, we’d play it on stage. We’d write really fast to have songs to tour with, so it feels cool to write a song and play it live the next night. It’s been really energising for all of us.
You guys like to hide tickets to your shows around the city you’re playing in, how did that start?
Alan, one of the guys who used to work with our management, and he would tour with us back on the Singles tour, and I were just trying to figure out different ways to give away tickets. I wanted to do something on Twitter or Instagram, but I don’t like doing giveaways on social media because I don’t know how to work it in a way that feels cheesy to me. So anyway, Alan recommended hiding tickets, because he had done it with another band that he had worked with previously. So me and him went out and hid some tickets, it is through social media that we announce the hidden tickets, but it’s in real life, it’s not like some kind of a weird trivial thing with some kind of hashtag, and we chose a winner. We started doing it at the end of the Singles tour, and we decided that when The Far Field tour began we would do it again, we just did a huge North American tour for six weeks, and I’m the one who does all the ticket hiding. Sometime our tour manager Nick will help, but usually it’s me. And it was a true testament through it, to hide tickets every single show. There would be certain shows where I just wouldn’t have time, and people would be pissed off, being like “where are the tickets, why aren’t you hiding them today?” I’m kind of flacked on the ticket hiding now, I want it to be a bit more sporadic. I hid some tickets a few days ago, in Finland, and they weren’t found. It was a true test, every night, for six weeks, but I’ll probably do it in Australia. Do you think I should?
Definitely! Like you said, it’s turned into bit of an expectation. Even if I’m not in the cities you’re playing in, I’m still curious to see where you guys are hiding tickets and how capable I would be of finding them.
OK, well I have to do it now [laughs].
You can catch Future Islands, on their national headline tour and at Fidelity, Fairgrounds, and Meredith Music Festival this December.
Future Islands Australian Tour
Tuesday 5 December | Metro Theatre, Sydney
Saturday 2 December | Fidelity Festival, Perth
Wednesday 6 December | Triffid, Brisbane
Friday 8 December | Fairgrounds Festival, NSW
Saturday 9 December | Meredith Music Festival, VIC
Monday 11 December | Croxton Hotel, Melbourne
Tuesday 12 December | Croxton Hotel, Melbourne