The future is now

A new wave of pop music set sail from England in the early 1980s, captained by bands like New Order, the Happy Mondays and Echo & the Bunnymen. Quickly crossing the Atlantic Ocean, it hit the eastern coast of the United States about the time Sam Herring was born in the coastal town of Morehead City, N.C.

Now he’s 23, and the band he sings for, Future Islands—which makes one of its regular appearances at Asheville’s New French Bar this Saturday night – is proving that even if you were too much of a baby to take it in the first time, New Wave is hardly something of the past.

Herring lives in Asheville; his three bandmates live in Greenville,  N.C., closer to the coast, as he did before moving here to live near his brother Joel in the summer of 2006.

Now Future Islands is riding a swelling wave of its own. Going the DIY route at bars and house parties all over the state and venues around the eastern seaboard, the band is weighing record-label prospects while packing in an ever-growing fan base of mostly 20-somethings who come to dance and sing along.

Accompanied by most of the musicians who backed him in his last outfit, Art Lord and the Self Portraits—which made its mark as one of Eastern Carolina University’s unabashed party bands—Herring sings, with William Cashion on bass, Gerrit Welmers on keyboards and Erick Murilo on drums.

“From the beginning, it was all about creating a statement,” Herring says. “And I can’t tell you about Future Islands without telling you about Art Lord. It’s almost the same band, but Future Islands has a little more straightforward approach to the songs, because we know what we’re doing now. With Art Lord, we were just trying to make a social commentary on how we as humans treat our pop idols and how they allow themselves to be assholes – and that it’s OK, because we still love it. … But as we progressed, we became more about writing real songs about real emotions.”

Herring says that while he grew up wanting to be a free-style rapper—and may well return to that mission one day – a chance encounter with Cashion in the early days of college at ECU set him surfing the New Wave. “He played Joy Division for me for the first time, which was an extreme turning point,” Herring says. “William brought all that s**t to me.”

Still, Herring says that each band member is buoyed by a wide range of influences, and that his are all over the place as well. “I’ve always said that my vocal style is somewhere between Elton John and Danzig.” True that – he’s got one of those voices that alternates between gravy and gravel with ease.

But seeing Herring perform, he comes off as more a mix between the Pixies’ Frank Black and comedic actor Jack Black. He writhes, thrusts his arms about and shuffles through urgent facial expressions. Reading about it, you might assume he brings a B-52’s-style campyness to the band’s interpretation of New Wave—but you’d be wrong. There’s whimsy at times, but never a trace of irony or contrivance in their recordings or shows.

Future Islands’ new, self-released album, Wave Like Home, finds its sea legs well before the eighth track, “Beach Foam Baby,” but the aching, seamless song ranks as one of the band’s sturdiest offerings.

It was born, Herring explains, on a late-night trip to a Carolina beach after a young friend’s funeral. “There was foam like a foot tall, in two or three straight lines, coming in all along the beach as far as you could see,” he remembers. “What ‘Beach Foam’ is all about is is being really sad, standing on a beach alone, wanting something that you don’t have.”

After a lengthy intro that’s as warm as the beach in summertime, the song ventures into cold waters but ultimately returns to the shore:

“Standing on a beach somewhere / Looking for something to see
As the beach rolls in, I swear / It’s bringing something to me
Maybe one day I’ll have what I want / Someone to stand next to me
But until then I’ll just wait and watch / As the foam rolls into me
Beach foam baby, be my baby.”

who: Future Islands
what: The new New Wave
where: The New French Bar
when: Saturday, Nov. 10 (10 p.m., 225-6445)

About Jon Elliston
Former Mountain Xpress managing editor Jon Elliston is the senior editor at WNC magazine.

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