For more than a decade, Baltimore-based indie rockers Future Islands have been crafting oddball synthpop. On its latest release, the forthcoming Singles, singer Samuel Herring simultaneously channels Morrissey, Bryan Ferry and Matt Johnson. Along with pulsating synthesizers and bass, his voice defines the band's sound, making Future Islands into a band on the precipice of exposure to a mainstream audience.
Between their incredibly well-received appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman earlier this month, their upcoming performance at Coachella and their move from the small but mighty Thrill Jockey to the esteemed British label 4AD, it feels like it's only a matter of time before mentioning Future Islands at a party will no longer be perceived as an attempt at pretension.
"We've always sort of aimed for the stars ever since the beginning," says bassist William Cashion. "We've been really excited about every record that we've made, and this record just feels like the next step for us."
After the Letterman appearance, Cashion noticed an uptick in the number of people at the shows the band played.
"There have been people at almost every show who came out because they had seen the Letterman performance and they were curious," Cashion says. "It feels like our music is reaching some new ears and that's really exciting for us. We want our music to reach as many people as possible."
The material on Singles very well may be an apt introduction to Future Islands, as it sonically resembles the rest of the band's discography and also somehow manages to be more widely accessible than anything else the band has released. The album was recorded at Dreamland recording studios in upstate New York with an entirely new crew producing and mixing the final product. Dreamland is a converted church exactly 100 miles from New York City that features unique accommodations, which allow band members to live in a house near the studio.
Every one of the band's albums outside of Singles was recorded while the band was on the road with portable recording equipment. This recording style continually left the band short on songs by the time touring ceased.
"For every album we've done, we'll record while on tour, doing two or three songs here and there between shows until eventually we have like five or six songs and at that point we would always go into the studio and record those songs and make ourselves write another three or four songs to finish up the album," Cashion says. "For this record we really wanted to write more songs than we needed."
In order to achieve that, the band took most of 2013 off, a huge change from its relentless touring schedule. Before heading into the studio, Cashion, Herring and keyboardist Garrit Welmers wrote about 25 songs. For the album, the band then selected a mere 11 or 12, which they worked on in the studio with producer Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear, Beach House) throughout the 16 days the band recorded.
"Chris brought a ton of vintage synthesizers, and he encouraged Garret to try and replace some of the sounds he had built on the computer with real live synthesizers," Cashion says, explaining some of the diverse sounds on Singles. "He had me playing through different bass amps and different bass guitars and played most of the record on this custom, built-by-hand bass."
Dreamland supplies musicians working in the studios with quite a bit of equipment, some of which is very unique, including the microphone used to record Herring's aggressive vocals. Between the equipment brought in by Coady and the gear provided by Dreamland, Future Islands had an entirely new set of tools for recording Singles. Instead of frantically recording between shows in a house of a friend, the band was living at a legendary studio supplied with classy equipment to make a record they had been writing for months. If that's not exactly what most touring bands really want, what is?
As far as the other exciting events the band is taking on and the new influx of excited fans, Cashion says that the band is just living one day at a time.
"I guess it does kind of feel like something is happening," he says. "It's just like we love the record and every record is like a little baby to us, so we don't really know what to expect."
Future Islands with Ed Schrader's Music Beat, 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 24, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $12, grogshop.gs.
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