The Baltimore-based band Future Islands kicked off the tour for their new album The Far Field with a release party at the Ottobar on Friday, April 7, followed by an additional three night residency at the venue.
William Cashion, who plays bass and electric guitar, has been deemed Future Islands’ “not-so-secret weapon” by Consequence of Sound. He has also been compared to bassist Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order.
This week, I had the opportunity to discuss Future Islands’ arduous path to success, what the Baltimore music scene has meant to them and more.
After the group formed in Greenville, N.C. while attending East Carolina University, Future Islands relocated to Baltimore around late 2007 in hopes of engaging in the growing art scene.
“We were going up largely because of the music and arts scene. Dan Deacon opened that door for us and introduced us to that whole world of Baltimore,” Cashion said, “I remember playing shows in Baltimore in 2007, and it really felt like something was happening in the city. It felt different and real, and we wanted to be a part of it.”
The band was pleasantly surprised by the warm hearted, collaborative atmosphere they encountered upon arriving in Baltimore.
“The best part about Baltimore is the people. We were used to a more competitive environment from the North Carolina scene and in general,” he said. “At the time that we moved there, Baltimore was getting a lot of press for the music scene, and we didn’t want people to think that we were jumping on the bandwagon.”
Cashion explained how the Baltimore community subverted their expectations.
“We felt like we had to really prove ourselves, and we were met with open arms from the scene, which was really encouraging” he said. “That’s something unique about Baltimore: All the artists and musicians in the city really lift each other up and try to help each other out in any way that they can, whereas in a lot of places it’s the opposite.”
According to Cashion, the Ottobar shows were a unique opportunity to mark the beginning of a new chapter for Future Islands and to give back to the Baltimore community.
“I think those shows were really special for us. In a way, it kicked off The Far Field tour. It was a really cool way to stamp the beginning of this new album,”
he said. “It was awesome because for Singles we didn’t do a big album-release show in Baltimore. For On the Water and In Evening Air and even for our first album, Wave Like Home, we had a big album-release party in Baltimore. So it felt good to get back to kicking things off there.”
Future Islands’ fan base has grown exponentially since their viral Late Show performance of “Seasons (Waiting On You)” off of Singles, enabling them to play for much bigger audiences and book them top-tier spots on lineups for summer festivals such as Coachella and Bonnaroo. However, the band strives to stay true to their roots, maintaining the same strong work ethic and attitude.
“We’ve always considered ourselves a punk band in the way that we do things on our own and in our own way. I think our goal is to just stay true to who we are as a band. We don’t want to change.” Cashion said. “There are bigger stages and larger audiences, but we’re trying to keep our focus the same. The same thing goes with the new record and the way we wrote it. We just want to keep going the same way we always have without changing too much, at least at this point.”
While there are a couple of standout dates that Cashion is looking forward to playing in North America during the coming tour, he and his fellow band-members are most excited for the places that they haven’t had the opportunity to travel to before.
“We’re playing Bonnaroo this year. I’m really curious to go there because we’ve never played it before, and I’ve been hearing about it for years and years. So I’m really curious to see what that’s all about over there,” he said. “Also, we’re playing in Asheville at The Orange Peel. I haven’t been there in a while, so I’m pretty excited to play that show and any new places… We’re hoping to get to Asia and South America at some point on this tour. Nothing has been booked yet, but that’s what we’re really excited about, trying to get to those places.”
Future Islands may be known for the intensity of their spirited live performances, but Cashion emphasized the vital role that the audience plays in maintaining those high-energy levels over the course of countless shows.
“A lot of the energy of the show comes from the audience. If the audience is putting off energy, we’re able to bounce it back” he said. “It’s like a feedback loop. If the audience is there with us and they’re giving us their energy, then it’ll be easy for us to find it.”
Cashion’s favorite song to perform live off of The Far Field is the melancholy yet pulsating “Black Rose,” which he associates with the early part of the band’s creative process.
“I really like playing ‘Black Rose’ a lot. When we first started writing the album, we went down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We got a house in January, so there was nobody there but us and the beach … We wrote for about five or six days, and ‘Black Rose’ was the last song we wrote,” Cashion said.
He continued to describe how the process behind writing this song influenced the way he feels about it today.
“I remember taking a break, and Garret [Welmers] and I ran down to the beach. I ran in the water even though it was freezing” he said. “That song was written that same day. It reminds me of that time, being down there working on the album, the beginning of writing this record. The whole vibe of the song really surprised all of us. Playing it live, it really comes across well; It has a good strut to it.”
As for what he is currently listening to, Cashion has been interested in an eclectic mix of throwback groups.
“I’m listening to this band called The Congos (they’re an old reggae band) and their album The Heart of the Congos. I just got into Strawberry Switchblade. They’re an old eighties band from Glasgow,” he said. “They’re almost like if Beach House was a band in the eighties. They have one song that sounds like that at least called ‘Go Away.’ I’ve been listening to a lot of Stars of the Lid as well.”
With regards to his advice for students interested in pursuing a career in music or a creative field, Cashion believes that it’s all about empowering yourself to take action and gain as much experience as possible.
“My advice would be to get out there in any way you can, whether it’s visual art or performance or music,” he said.
Cashion described how the band enacted this advice themselves.
“The way we started when we were in college was we got a keg and threw a keg party, and we made ourselves the headliner at the house party. We would ask friends to open for us,” he said. “I think a lot of times people convince themselves that they need to wait to get a manager or booking agent or a record label, but you learn so much by getting out there and doing things. We did two full U.S. tours before we had a label behind us.”
Cashion also emphasized the importance of having a tenacious and uncompromising passion for producing your art.
“You have to be kind of stubborn also. You have to just really want it and go for it no matter what,” he said. “There were many tours where we came back with less money than we had when we left, but for whatever reason we all just wanted to do the band so badly that we kept touring.”
After this point in their career, however, Cashion said things turned around for the band. He advocated persevering through these kinds of struggles.
“It’s really hard to go into, but if you stick with it, I think anyone can do anything they want,” he said.