Music critics have pinned their sound as romantic new wave synthpop, but Baltimore’s Future Islands prefer to let their music speak for itself.
"I think we definitely have a very unique sound that is hard to describe to most people,” says keyboard player and programmer Gerrit Welmers,
“and it’s definitely been honed quite a bit.
"We’ve moved from having a drummer in more of a live set-up to relying on a drum machine and spending more time in the programming world in creating a bigger sound, so to speak.”
However you describe it, there’s no denying Future Islands have made quite the impression, with recent LP ‘On The Water’ touted as their most ambitious record yet. With surging rhythms, poignant lyrics charting love and loss, and piercingly powerful vocals, Future Islands make a bold statement on this narrative-driven album. Despite it being labelled a ‘concept’ record, Welmers says the band’s songwriting process is a natural, fluid process seldom based on conceptual framing.
“We never really write with anything in mind, we just let the music take over,” he explains. “The ‘On The Water’ recordings happened after a long period of touring, so what came from that was our release from being very busy for a long time. The theme just kind of happened. It wasn’t really a planned idea. We spent time at our friend’s house in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. We sort of recorded in the room, slept in the same room, ate everything together and spent the entire time with each other and our producer and friends. I definitely enjoyed that recording process moreso than any other recording process.”
Future Islands hope listeners can connect themselves to their music as much as they do during the songwriting process.
“There’s normally a lot of heartbreak involved with the lyrics and I think the songs are very emotional,” Welmers muses, “but at the same time you can feel pretty happy from it. I don’t know if I want them to feel anything in particular, but I just want them to feel something.”
Having witnessed the resurgence of synthpop in recent years, Future Islands feel perfectly placed in their genre, unfazed by the myriad bands climbing the same ranks.
“What we do is already kind of unique and I think we’ll just continue to do what we do,” Welmers says confidently. “I don’t think we’ll ever plan on changing anything, definitely not sonically. We just do what we do, we don’t plan.”
How does this ‘newer wave’ of synthpop compare to the sounds coming out of the ‘80s? “I guess the energy is completely different,” Welmers says, “but there’s always songs about relationships and love lost and I think that will be forever, no matter what. The sound itself has some similar ties to the ‘80s. I can’t say it’s something revolutionary but I think what you put into it is felt with the music.”
They’ve taken their tunes around the globe but Future Islands are self-confessed homebodies, relishing in the musical delights their humble city produces.
“I’m definitely inspired by the work done by a lot of contemporary artists, especially in Baltimore like Dan Deacon, Beach House and the list goes on and on,” Welmers says.
“We’re always inspired by what they do, but I’m also inspired by the amount of work that they put into what they do, and I think that’s one thing that we’ve learned a lot from these people: their idea of work, and that it’s very difficult.”
‘On The Water’ is available now. Future Islands play Queensland Art Gallery as part of Prado Up Late Friday September 21.