Sam Herring grins down the zoom-line – a serene Swedish morning glowing through the window behind him – he says he’s relieved to finally be back in the land of ABBA and meatballs.
“I’m very happy to be where I’m supposed to be,” he says, explaining that a recent revision of Sweden’s COVID-related laws meant the American musician would be allowed into the country – once he’d proven his relationship with Swedish actress Julia Ragnarsson was long-term. “I’ve already applied for residency in Sweden, so I have a big folder of papers with all my info, and I made a photobook of our relationship. I kept trying to show this photobook to people because I spent so much time on it – ‘Look! Look at it!’” he mimics himself with a hearty laugh.
There’s another very good reason for smiles on the faces of Herring and his Future Islands bandmates William Cashion, Michael Lowry, and Gerrit Welmers: the arrival of their majestic new album As Long As You Are this month. Herring says that unlike previous records, this time the band decided they were “going to give [themselves] as much time as possible to try to allow for new sounds to come through.”
Sometimes, however, you gotta back to the old to give life to the new. “I used to have this brick of a tape recorder that I’d bring to practices in 2010, 11, 12, 13 – before I had a decent computer – and I brought it in the studio this time, to play around with these sounds,” Herring says. He describes an experiment the group conducted via control room, live room, and vocal booth, wherein the tape recorder’s inclusion lent a sense of a “lost melody” to the album’s closing track Hit The Coast. “When you’re crunched for time, you don’t get a chance to think about things like that – to go deeper into those concepts,” he says. “We allowed ourselves the time to go past and then pull back to find those things. That’s the way we used to make records – a record that moves, and flows, and is linked with what we call ‘ghosts and dust’ – we always follow the little bits of things in the song.”
The song he mentions, City’s Face – which contains a fascinatingly warped synth line which reveals little cosmic squawks hiding behind sweeping synth-strings – is about how being hurt by a person can stain a location, in your mind. Herring agrees that it’s also possible to see a location as so rose-tinted that you’re blinded to toxicity in others. “Oh yeah, for sure – I think people get stuck in all kinds of ways because of certain comforts,” he says. “The thing about that song: it’s about a relationship I went through in 2010-2012, but it took me ‘til 2018 to write about it, when I found myself one year into a relationship that made me feel great amounts of love, and trust, and patience, and all these things that I thought I deserved but I’d never really gotten before. I was like ‘Wow, this is what it’s supposed to be like.’ At 34 years old!”
The expression of that total trust and love finds its way into single For Sure (“I will never keep you from an open door/ I know you know/ That’s how much I feel in everything you are”), while the beautifully poignant Plastic Beach sees Herring contending with other deep-set demons. “That song’s about my fight with insecurity and issues with my body image, which I’ve had since I was a child, that are only exacerbated by being in a musician in the public eye,” he says. “’I love that bald guy. He’s a really good dancer.’ ‘Thanks. I appreciate your love and respect!’ I mean I’m making fun, but that’s something that we deal with in this industry. And I’m a white man for all intents and purposes – I can’t image what it’s like for females in this industry to deal with those same people,” he says.
The song is both an affirmation (‘Sometimes you have to sing the song to manifest it in yourself,” Herring reflects) and understanding the old double-standards we often hold for ourselves. “It’s about accepting one’s self, but also accepting the love of the people around us,” he says. “That line in the second verse is the one that still gets me, which is like: ‘The only thing that kept me going… I saw my mother, my father, my brother.’ We give love and trust to our friends and family, we say ‘You’re so beautiful to me’ – but when they say it to us, we can’t accept it. Why do you not accept the word of the person that you love and trust the most? Because they’re the people that matter.”
As Long As You Are by Future Islands is out October 9 via 4AD.
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