For longtime Asheville music fans, it might still feel that Future Islands is a local band. The group got its start in Greenville, N.C., as members of the lo-fi new wave act Art Lord & The Self-Portraits, and, after relaunching as a trio under the Future Islands moniker, briefly called Asheville home before relocating to Baltimore. The group has continued to play fairly intimate venues here, with its last show taking place at the hipster dive bar Broadway’s.
However, on Tuesday, March 4, Future Islands returns to Asheville on the heels of a European tour and sold-out shows in Los Angeles, New York, London and Paris to headline the 1000-plus capacity Orange Peel, signaling just how much they have ascended the musical ranks. Recently signed to 4AD Records, the home of such prestigious recording artists as The National, Deerhunter and Bon Iver, and set to release Singles, its most polished and grandeur album yet on March 24, there is a definite sense that the band has graduated to the national top tier of indie-rock bands.
Mountain Xpress: Although you guys are more often affiliated with the Baltimore scene where you are based, what role has the North Carolina community played in your music and your success?
Samuel T. Herring (vocalist): North Carolina plays a huge role in the heart of each and every one of our songs. That love of the South is evident when we speak about the natural elements and introspection of the past. The warm-hearted, romantic elements in our music are a symptom of how and where we were raised. Getting back to North Carolina. is always a recharge for us. Seeing friends and family and realizing how far we've come is still inspiring. I don't think that will ever change.
There's always been an element of the grandiose and of widescreen theatrics both to your songs and to your performing style. Now that you are on these bigger stages, does it seem more natural, or is there more pressure that comes with higher stakes?
Herring: The key at this point is to continue to bring a sense of intimacy to the larger stage. The bigger stage lends itself to a larger range of motion, but it's still important to connect with people in a visceral way. It's important that we put the same amount of pressure on ourselves ,whether on a big stage or in a small room, and continue to perform at our highest potential no matter the size.
It's obviously tempting to think of your upcoming Singles record as a bit of a break from your earlier, North Carolina-recorded efforts given producer Chris Coady's involvement. It sounds more accessible and even more pop-oriented than you have been in the past. How did Coady's production affect or change your approach?
William Cashion (bassist and guitarist): Well, everything about this record was approached differently. When we started working on what would become Singles, we decided early on that we wanted to take our first big break from touring in five years to focus on writing. We wrote about 25 songs, played some shows to road-test the material and then went into the studio, whittling it down to 11 songs. This is also the first album we ever recorded in a proper studio … so we had access to the studio's expensive microphones, amps, pedals and various noisemakers. Chris brought in his collection of vintage synthesizers, which we used a lot on this new record. This record also marks the first time we've incorporated live horns, and the live drums are much more prominent in the mix this time around. We took ourselves out of our comfort zone for this album — we tried something different, literally every step of the way.
Calling this album Singles seems like an odd move since it is likely to confuse any new fans you’ll gain from the wider distribution of this record. Is this because the album represents a definitive distillation of the band?
Herring: We like that element that catches people off guard. We do believe in the strength of each and every song, though, and feel it could be that kind of album. We wanted a title that couldn't be pinned down to a theme and also shared a sense of confidence that we have for the album as a whole. The word in itself has a certain lyricality and roll of the tongue that we all admired, too. It just sounded right.
who: Future Islands with Wye Oak,
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat opens
where: The Orange Peel
when: Tuesday, March 4, at 9 p.m.
$16 advance/$18 day of show