Sam Herring is in a good place right now. The shows are getting bigger both in North America and in Europe, and he’s in a healthy relationship. Since most of his lyrical work for Baltimore synth pop trio Future Islands is inspired from tortured feelings of love and loss, it’s a welcomed change for the North Carolina-born singer.
“I’m seeing someone now and that makes me really happy so I’m worried we won’t be able to write a good song for a while. My dad’s always telling my girlfriend, ‘Go ahead and break his heart so Future Islands can make a good album again,’” he laughs.
Last fall’s On the Water was a move to that peaceful place, a retrospective look at the feelings Herring wrestled with on the previous LP In Evening Air. And with a few years now between him and when those songs were written, comes the taxing experience of revisiting dark moments onstage.
“I’m really feeling that now, mainly because of the old albums,” said Herring. “In Evening Air is about a relationship I was getting through, working through those feelings, and On the Water is more about coming to a moment of peace.
“To go onstage and sing a song like “Balance” next to “Tin Man,” it almost doesn’t make sense because “Balance” is about understanding things will work themselves out if you don’t drive yourself crazy, and “Tin Man” is about that crazed feeling.”
One of the most intense moments on In Evening Air, “Tin Man” remains a staple in their live show, where Herring is known to hold nothing back. He throws himself into the performance, physically and emotionally, every night.
“When we started playing “Tin Man” it really hit me on stage, feeling lost and abandoned, and to go into that place now is kind of scary,” said Herring. “It’s difficult because I don’t want to go back to that place, I’m not mad at that person anymore.”
“It hurts me, but when you’re trying to be honest about your life you can’t hold back.”
Future Islands were in a radically different situation when writing that song, when they had trouble paying bills and had recently moved to Baltimore. Now they’re in a more stable place, feeling grown-up for the first time.
So for their latest LP, the band made things a little more pensive, most of the record sitting at Beach House-pace and recorded in North Carolina’s historic Andrew S. Sanders House. The resulting force still encapsulates the band’s dynamic vocals and new wave-inspired instrumentation, but the immediacy of the largely uptempo In Evening Air has been substituted for something deeper.
In writing On the Water the band was in a stretch of slowing down, taking a few months to recover from over three years of touring. With Future Islands able to let the songs breathe, more ambient passages arose, building contrast to the record’s climactic synthesized moments.
“We were hoping we weren’t going to shoot ourselves in the foot, but for me these songs are some of the most honest songs that we had written, and that’s what was scary about it,” said Herring.
“You have to be careful, or they’ll be like, ‘what are you doing? I was dancing and now I’m crying,’” he said about playing the new songs live. “Not that we’re opposed to people crying at shows.”
But the response has been positive so far, and as the band embarks on the next leg of their tour supporting the latest record, they have much to be thankful for as they continue their musical journey of self-exploration.
“Looking back two or three years you don’t know what’s going to happen, and being able to get to a point where you’re able to see that return is really mind-blowing,” said Herring.