IT IS a Friday afternoon at the O2 Academy in Glasgow, and Sparks are soundchecking while members of Goldfrapp mill around the building. That is not bad company to keep for the three unassuming men who make their way into the venue’s bar, find a few seats and settle down.
Future Islands may have been the opening act on that triple-header, part of the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival, but after years of struggle, the mainstream has suddenly become a welcoming place.
Part of the reason for that still lies in singer Samuel Herring’s attention grabbing dancing appearance on the David Letterman show, when he contorted himself in an impressive assortment of shapes while performing Seasons (Waiting On You), the breakthrough hit from fourth album Singles. Having toured that record relentlessly, they are now back with new record The Far Field, and a return to the touring life.
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“I think I’ve found that I’ll never live a regular life and that’s kind of a bummer,” says Herring. “This has become our life now. As much as we wanted to get off the road in 2015, I found myself wanting to get back on it just as fast. It’s something that I love. Although it is really hard sometimes, I couldn’t do without it.”
The touring life has changed dramatically, though. Their first Scottish visit saw them play the tiny Cassette, on Sauchiehall Street. When they appear next Thursday, it will a sold out crowd at the Barrowland greeting them, and Herring acknowledges that to a lot of the band’s fans, The Far Field is essentially acting as their second album.
Following up a massive selling album means they are trying to avoid thinking about how big things could get.
“A step sideways wouldn’t be too bad,” says keyboardist Gerrit Welmers. “But really you hope to grow as a band with each record, and that’s it.”
The Far Field continues the group’s synth and new wave pop style, rousing in certain parts, confessional in others, consistently danceable. After taking a month off once touring Singles concluded, they swiftly started writing again.
This time touring drummer Michael Lowry joined them in the studio, while for the first time they left their native Baltimore behind and travelled to Los Angeles, working with producer John Congleton in the famed Sunset Sound studios.
“We were a bit apprehensive at first, because we are very much an East Coast band, and there is a different culture between East and West,” says Herring. “You couldn’t have written Seasons while living in Los Angeles. Even when talking about a music video for Seasons, we were turning down LA directors because they wouldn’t understand what the song meant.
“Our first three records were done in living rooms and things like that, and Singles was the first time we were in a real studio so that culture is still very new to us, and using a real studio is still daunting.”
The experience of Congleton, who has previously helmed records by the likes of Sleater-Kinney and David Byrne, certainly helped them, though.
“He had lots of really good ideas, and helped us realise some of the strengths of our songs that we maybe didn’t realise were strengths,” says bassist William Cashion, wearing a woolly hat that suggests he is unconvinced it is spring time in Scotland.
“There’d be things like a vocal melody or a keyboard melody, and he’d be like ‘let’s highlight this one bit and make that the focus of this section’ and that really helped.”
The producer’s contacts book helped in another way, as Debbie Harry provides guest vocals on Shadows, the penultimate track.
“Shadows had been written for Singles as a duet, but we just couldn’t find the right singer for it,” explains Welmers. “We picked it back up for this, but still couldn’t figure out a singer. At that point John mentioned Debbie Harry, and we thought she wouldn’t say yes, but she did. We haven’t met her yet though, which is the bummer in this story. She recorded vocals in New York, and emailed them over to us.”
The band have always fused pop-friendly melodies with lyrics that suggest emotional vulnerability. On The Far Field, those lyrics feature optimism however, even in dark places. That isn’t a political statement by the band (Herring mentions at one stage that the band are more concerned with “the politics of the heart” than anything else) but the group hope music can still provide an escape from day to day troubles.
“The world is really scary now, so it’s important to try and give that happiness,” concludes Herring. “We put so much into all of ourselves onstage because we want to say ‘you can do this’. It [music] is a place where you can be strong but also show vulnerability. That’s important with us, and we know that it has helped people in the past.
“Hopefully sharing that openness of spirit is where optimism comes in. We kinda need that just now.”
Future Islands play Glasgow Barrowland on Thursday, April 27.