When I call Future Islands bassist William Cashion, the first thing I tell him is that they don’t generally send a lot of bassists my way and that it’s not all too common to have one be so focused upon. He says simply, “I don’t feel like I’m the focus.” But really, he kind of is.
Since the early aughts, Cashion and crew have slowly but surely built one of the largest fan bases today, no small part of which must have something to do with his clever bass work. "I originally started out playing guitar when I was 13, but I wanted to play keyboards," he tells me. "But when I went off to college and me and [Future Islands singer] Sam [Herring] wanted to start a project, the original idea was to do a kind of Kraftwerk performance project."
Which, by the way, they did.
"That was our jumping-off point," Cashion continues, "but at the house where we practiced, there was a bass guitar, and I picked it up for practice. We wrote some songs, and when we played a show, the one song with the bass, there was just something really cool that worked with the drum machines, the keyboards, the bass—it made it a little more dancey and gave it a little more energy."
Future Islands would hone that sound, a dreamy mix of poppy synths and '80s-esque melodies that still do recall the likes of Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and other heavy-hitters of the time, but with a more contemporary indie-rock bent. They often produce universal songs of loss and heartache hidden behind upbeat melodies, danceable beats and, yes, kick-ass basslines—a damn near perfect intersection for fans of hurt-so-bad love songs and the electronic music set.
In March 2014, a performance on David Letterman catapulted Future Islands to super-stardom; before that, they lived in vans, slept on floors, played in basements and for handful-sized audiences. After the late-night foray, however, everything changed. Cue the festival circuit and headlining appearances at Hopscotch and Coachella.
"We're definitely getting more used to the bigger stage," Cashion says, "but we always said we wanted to be a band that could go back and forth from playing to 10 or 20 thousand people one night to three or four hundred the next night." Cashion says this meant never giving up on non-traditional music venues such as art galleries, house parties and public parks, and mid-level and smaller clubs are still peppered throughout their tours to this day. "We grew a lot as a band in those rooms," he recalls. "We still love playing those places."
Still, Future Islands holds onto the small-band mentality. Cashion even divulges that recording in professional facilities is a newer concept to them. "We're only recently getting more comfortable in the studio," he says. "It's always been more about getting out there and playing the songs." Indeed, early recordings found the band crowding around a single microphone in the middle of a room, with Herring positioned closest for the clearest possible vocals, recording without overdubs or multiple tracks. "The first album was the most 'live,'" Cashion reminisces. "We would write the songs, move the amps closer or further away from the mic; we … never called them 'demos,' but we'd record them kind of quick."
This is a far cry from The Far Field, the band's fifth and most recent album, released in April by British label 4AD. If the idea of the highly-anticipated rock album (non-Taylor Swift category) isn't dead by now, it comes in the form of Future Islands. "It wasn't until we signed with 4AD that we realized the sort of rocket power for reaching people," Cashion explains. "It's been surreal reaching the audience—and it was growing steadily over the years, but it seems like it's grown so much more exponentially than we ever imagined."
So, Future Islands' upcoming Meow Wolf show should be on your radar. Yes, the music industry is a heartless bitch that churns out hot nonsense based on surgical levels of marketing research designed to pluck your heart strings in just the right, albeit hollow, ways; Future Islands, though, is the authentic exception to the rule. Given their straight astronomical rise of the past three years, it also might not be so long before they can't perform in smaller venues, even if they want to.
And if that kinda science doesn't grab you, do it for Cashion, the very definition of regular guy who happened to hit it big. "We try to keep it real," he says. "I think a lot of people forget. … I was talking to another musician recently at a festival—A Plus from Hieroglyphics—and he was like, 'A lot of people forget that all musicians are huge fans of music.' We all love music, it's why we got into it in the first place."
8 pm Friday Sept. 15. $25.
1352 Rufina Circle,
Editor’s note: The show sold out right before press time, but check stubhub.com for tickets. Godspeed.