Samuel T. Herring is the most unexpected frontman in music. Frequently spotted in all black with his t-shirt tucked in, the slightly chubby, balding, early 30's white man looks more like a comic book nerd who hasn't let go of his goth days from his youth, which makes sense. Much like Robert Smith of the Cure and Morrissey of the Smiths, the man is obsessed with the overtly dark yet beautiful and how that juxtaposition frames our lives. Anyone who remembers the 80's knows synth-pop was the genre that could make a one-hit wonder out of any eager band. Fortunately for Herring's Future Islands
, he doesn't have to worry about that.
Four albums deep into an interesting
career, Future Islands got their big break by way of a David Letterman. What was surely the showing of a lifetime, Herring stepped up to the plate on late night television and broke out into one of the most passionate and enthusiastic performances I have ever seen. Wild eyed and beating his chest, coupled with deep ferocious growls that arrived like waves of thunder, intense hardly seems like the word to describe Herring's stage presence. Leaving Letterman giddy like a schoolboy, it is no stretch to say the band became instant stars over night. With a solid rhythm section and soaring synths as the perfect backdrop to Herring's boisterous voice, the band has no shortage of anthemic catchy tunes to soundtrack just about any happy or sad move.
The fact that the songs come from an unassuming figure like Herring is the real miracle. I first met Herring and Future Islands last summer when they came into NRP radio station WFUV where I am an audio engineer for a session. I had never listened to the band, but I had heard amazing things from my friends who told me I should be excited. Herring wasn't a shy man, but he definitely didn't give off front man vibes. He was unassuming, friendly, and treated his band members like equals (you'd be surprised how many frontmen don't). When it came time to record, Herring went and stood in the corner for a few minutes and turned around a different person. He was focused with a radiant energy. He took the microphone and an incredibly booming powerful voice seemed to arrive from a place of deep pain and emotional turmoil. Knocking out the songs in one take, he reversed back to normal Samuel and shrugged over any complimentary behavior. His humbleness only made him that more likable. Not many singers can say they translate better on stage than in the studio, but Herring definitely is deserving of that title.
I became obsessed with Future Islands. I devoured their albums at an incredible rate, finding hidden gems scattered throughout. Even before the breakout album Singles
and the instant classic "Seasons", Herring was no slouch on the pen or vocals. Offering up detailed imagery like, "You offer all amends in hopes of saving me/You never imagined I could be strong without you/You offer me a branch of peace that bleeds through/The thorns that welcomed me," on "Tin Man", you can see the care and precision Herring puts into his work. He is more than a vocalist; he is a poet. A deep thinker who will hold in his every thought until he knows it needs to be said. It's this quality that makes Herring and Future Islands so damn interesting. He isn't your typical male model looking singer or TMZ worthy paparazzi bait. In fact, at WFUV he condemned a TMZ cameraman for trying to take his picture after a long flight when he just wanted to relax and grab his bags. Herring wants the attention on his music and you can see why.
I later saw Future Islands in a true live format this year at Terminal 5. Needless to say, the set was incredible. The way Herring performs on Letterman is the way he does for the entire show. With non-stop energy, crowd interaction, and motivational speeches about overcoming the hard times it is impossible not to be drawn to this man. As I fell into a trance to the soothing music, I knew I would remember this show forever. His recent shout out to the people of Baltimore on another Letterman performance following the riots and protests that have been happening show him to be a conscious and compassionate man as well. To sum up, we need more musicians like Herring. His straightforward no bullsh** or gimmicks, just art mindset is something this publicity hungry music industry needs. Here's to you Herring and the rest of the gang.
Check out Future Islands performing their new single "The Chase" on Letterman below.