Off the back of their debut album, ‘Feels Like Air’, London based four-piece ISLAND have hit the road to kick off a busy summer of touring. Forming as teenagers; they layer hypnotic, reverb-laden guitars with pulsating drum beats to present a reinvigorated brand of indie-rock. While holding tropes akin to the style championed by the likes of Kings of Leon in the mid-noughties, ISLAND’s emotionally raw and atmospheric soundscape signifies a divergence from the traditional craft. Now making waves around the underground scene, they stopped off at Thekla to inject a two-hour burst of energy into Bristol’s harbourside.
After a lively performance from their Tame Impala-esque support band, Club Kuru, the sprightly foursome immediately set the tone for the evening with opener ‘Ride’. From the offset it was clear that their music was written to be heard live, with the poignant ambience so present on their studio recordings being transformed on stage. While retaining a dreamlike sense of escapism, their live performance is distinctly more zealous and impassioned. Amidst ethereal stage lighting and an eager crowd, ‘Ride’ instantly proved their ability to make you somehow yearn for both the past and future simultaneously.
An animated execution of ‘Try’ followed. The stage lights reflected off the glorious mane of bassist James Wolfe directly into the hearts of the crowd, as he proceeded to engage in a vivacious shimmer alongside front man Rollo Doherty and guitarist Jack Raeder. Clearly reluctant to disregard their older collection, the show progressed with familiar tracks ‘Dreaming Of’ and ‘I’ve Been Searching’. Doherty, though appearing composed and unassuming between scores, produced a possessed choral performance. Laying himself bare, Doherty’s intensity created a palpable complex of emotions. His growling and wide-ranging vocals act almost as a fifth instrument; complementing airtight melodies and the well-defined beats of drummer Toby Richards.
Although lyrically anchored in wistful pipedreams, the exuberant continued with crowd-favourites ‘Come With Me’ and ‘A Place You Like’. The promising four-piece interweaved tracks with ad lib solos; shout-outs to their record label, Frenchkiss Records; and even a couple of questionable Jools Holland impersonations. Attracting a diverse crowd, couples held hands contently as they overlooked a sea of buoyant teenagers enthusiastically singing along. Such contrasting reactions is perhaps testament to ISLAND’s relatability – both lyrically and melodically cryptic, their sound allows for individual and personal interpretations. They shrewdly played with the mood of the crowd, with a number of their songs following a similar formula. Clearly masters of their craft, ISLAND have a habit of building gradual crescendos through Doherty’s softer vocal side and cascading guitar riffs, that bridge explosive drum beats onto the chorus for a euphoric climax. ‘Horizon’ and ‘All You Ever Needed Was Love’ came next in roughly this prescription, before title track ‘Feels Like Air’, and a brooding rendition of ‘Stargazer’. Choruses of “ROLLO!” rang out from the front of the crowd during ‘We Can Go Anywhere’, as the front man beamed self-effacingly to his bandmates.
As if a cue from the audience; the rest of the band departed the stage to leave Doherty alone for an unhurried delivery of acoustic song ‘Lilyflower’. The delicacy of this track triggered a brief moment of still reflection through the crowd, confirming Doherty’s knack for penning an earworm in whatever guise. Presumably after some half-time oranges and a passion fruit J2O, the full band returned to end the set with perhaps the quintessential ISLAND track, ‘The Day I Die’, and the introspective ‘Spotless Mind’. Sensing the show’s culmination, the crowd echoed unyielding cries for an encore. Doherty and co. readily obliged to one last hurrah through a climactic performance of ‘Girl’, greeted to a wave of beaming faces and cheers of adulation.
Our generation has witnessed a dwindling of the British indie-rock scene, with its contemporary vanguard bands struggling to replicate their former glories. ISLAND’S vibrant and multi-layered revision of bygone indie elements has already turned heads in the industry; their debut-album being widely praised and even earning them a tour across the pond. As the former stalwarts of the British indie-rock scene continue to fade into near-obscurity, could ISLAND be the ones to fill that void?
You’ve been playing a lot of gigs recently – how’s it been going? Any highlights?
James: Nottingham was definitely a highlight.
Rollo: Yeah in the UK Nottingham was the most recent one – that was really fun, really vibey. Before that we played a lot of new places, crossed over to Dublin a couple of weeks back
Jack: It was a classic old Irish pub with a sick venue upstairs, packed out Saturday night – lots of Guinnesses.. Lots of Guinness’ or Guinesses?
Rollo: It’s Guinness’... I actually got told off for getting it wrong. We also went to Spain for the first time – Madrid and Barcelona – and loads of other new places in Europe.
Have you found there’s a big demand for your music around Europe?
Rollo: Yeah Europe’s been one of our strongest areas.
Jack: Particularly around the Netherlands and Germany it’s really good. We played our first ever European gig at a festival called London Calling in Amsterdam – a really cool festival – and have gone back quite a few times since.
James: The venue for that first gig was this massive place! We weren’t ready for it... But it was definitely a good learning curve.
How have you found the initial response to the new album?
Rollo: You just never really know what to expect when you’re releasing a full body of work. Usually when we’re releasing EPs, you’ve got four songs – three of them are singles – so each song gets its own premiere and review. It’s interesting that when putting out an album, I’ve found that every person I’ve talked to about the album has a different favourite song. And that’s my favourite thing about it – being able to put out something that explores our own sound.
The album seems to flow nicely between tracks, and to me sounds like more of a collective body than your earlier EPs – is that a fair assessment?
Jack: Yeah definitely, that’s what we tried to do.
Rollo: It’s an opportunity to do that really – on an EP it’s tricky to do.
Jack: We were just thinking, we’ve got four songs and yeah they all work together that’s fine. But once we signed to our label it took a while in the writing process to figure out what we wanted it to be. But once it did, the songs came pretty fast. There are a few other unreleased demos, but basically we had a whole set of songs that sat together really nicely.
Rollo: It was all about how they sat together. It all came together so quickly – we wrote and recorded it in a couple of months – it just clicked.
Jack: We’re lucky enough to have a great label that allows us to put out what we want – they give us a lot of freedom.
What was the concept behind the video for ‘The Day I Die’?
Rollo: It’s funny – we don’t really know. It’s nice to have something that just quite weird and confusing out there. But it comes from we met up with this director Claes – who also did our video for ‘Horizon’ – started talking about the song, and the idea of the day you die being the day you get an iPhone and succumb to the new digital age – and you do seem to lose life through all of these things.
Did you have much of an influence on its production yourselves?
Rollo: For the background yeah. We loved talking about the concept and developing that, but then we left it in Claes’ hands. All the visual side of it was his call, and then we got back involved for the editing. For a band I think the edit is really important, because the flow of the song really dances with the visuals so we like to get more involved for that part of the process.
Jack: Rollo has a background in film, so has been much more hands on in the whole process generally. But for this video we all took more of a step back and let him actualize the idea once we had it there.
A big theme on the album is driving, and this sense of being on a journey – do you think your future work will continue in that vein, or explore a new direction?
Rollo: We’ve been starting to feel around and write some new stuff, everything feels quite still. So it’s perfect that we’ve gone down that route and explored it and now after that whole writing period, naturally we’ve just started making music that’s a lot sleepier and still. I don’t think we’re likely to go with driving as a theme again, because that all came about because we were touring a lot and writing on the road. We were thinking at the time what’s this album going to be? When it was just in front of us – that was the theme.
Jack: For new music we’d like it to be a new step in another direction. If we come out with another driving album it’s probably gone wrong.
James: There will definitely be elements the same though, with the reverbs and delay on the guitar – we’ll still stick to the same instrumentation but just play around with it a bit more.
Rollo: The driving theme has acted as a mechanism for us to give us some direction when we’re writing. Maybe if we hadn’t had that thought of driving it would’ve ended up quite similar, you never know. But it was what spurred us to grind it out and write all these songs in a short period of time. The nostalgia it brings for us about that time is one of my favourite things about it – it was such a specific time. It’s like how smells remind you of a certain time.
James: We could do an album of smells, leave the music behind.
Rollo: The Brown Album...
If two artists created a musical lovechild and named it ISLAND, who would they be?
Rollo: Great question – shall we ask the label?
Jack: We’re really bad at answering questions…
(deliberation with management)
Band’s management: Early U2 – U2’s first five records.
Rollo: Before U2 went a bit, ya know…
Jack: Then who does U2 meet?
Rollo: Shall we go with a bit of Peter Green/Fleetwood Mac?
Jack: It’s not that though – production wise, maybe third or fourth album of Kings of Leon too.
Rollo: If there was to be a third – a musical orgy – maybe we could plug a bit of Antlers? I really don’t know what we sound like is the problem.
James: Its’s a great question but a terrible answer.
Rollo: Maybe Foals. Let’s whack in some Foals.
Jack: But they came in last minute, uninvited to the threesome…
How do you occupy yourselves while you’re travelling around on tour?
Jack: I’ve read a lot which has been nice.
Rollo: We’ve been getting into this podcast called ‘Song Exploder’. Each episode is about 20 minutes long, and they get artists in and talk through how a single track was made. So they’ll break it down and talk about where the track started – and that might be a guitar line or a drum beat – and talk through the process how it was produced. There are all sorts of genres on there – Grizzly Bear, MGMT etc.
James: If you want to check out a strange one have a look at the episode for Weezer – it’s really bizarre.
What’ve you been listening to on the road?
Jack: We’ve got a big tour playlist that we’ve smashed through a lot.
Rollo: Toby’s normally driving so he’s pretty much in charge.
Jack: He’s been playing a lot of female-fronted Americana at the moment – that’s his jam. A lot of Courtney Barnett and Angel Olsen. We’ve also banged the new War on Drugs’ album a lot.
Rollo: Also a lot of Club Kuru, who are supporting us tonight.
What can you tell me about Club Kuru?
Rollo: Tropical sexiness. With a hint of a GTA vibe – they’ve just got that synth sound that reminds me of GTA.
James: A more sexual, mellow Tame Impala.
So you’ve got a pretty busy summer coming up – any shows that you’re particularly looking forward to?
Rollo: Well going out to the states in September is really the one – that whole tour. It still hasn’t really sunk it yet.
Jack: That’s the second leg of the album tour really. As we haven’t played there before, it’ll be us taking the record over there and showing them what we’ve got.
James: We thought we’d only get a handful of gigs out there, but we’ve got 17 or 18 shows booked.
Rollo: We’ll be out there for a month and are getting an RV – roadtrippin’! Breaking Bad style.
Jack: Aside from that tour we’ve got a load of different festivals coming up.
James: And in our downtime we’ll be trying to keep writing – we like to keep it ticking over.
Learn more about ISLAND at islandislandisland.com