In our second instalment of Cross Paths – as we have described it before, a foray into how music, movies and art can meet and what goes behind it: the artists, and how they get to work together – we get to meet Baltimore’s trio Future Islands and drawer and illustrator Elena Johnston, as their recently released third album, “On The Water”, is accompanied by her artwork to stunning results.
“On The Water”, which follows last year’s successful “In Evening Air” is the memories after the break-up album, the solitude of a longing heart licking the wounds, finding solace in recalling the past and quietly finding the strength to move on (“we set out to find something to hold/ but in seeking truth the answer is the road” – Give Us The Wind). Musically subtle and lyrically potent, it’s definitely one of the best we have heard this year, making full use of Sam Herring’s howling and vulnerable voice, William Cashion’s driven and melodic bass lines and Gerrit Welmers’ atmospheric and lush synth arrangements. Nonetheless, for a record which relies on an almost obsessive attention to details captured through all the senses (“I remember your smile, the smell of your skin/The way that you walked and laughed/I remember our room/And coming home to you” – Where I Found You), its artwork is consciously loose, as Elena goes for what could be a stream of consciousness drawing or an out of focus portrait of the “life and love and something” “On the Water” aims to sing about. Either way, it’s as confusing as the church image on The Cure’”Faith”. And, in a twist of metapop facts, the work of someone in love.
William, Sam, Elena and Gerrit while touring US.
Chapter 1: Manners first. Allow me to introduce myself.
William: Future Islands are: Gerrit Welmers – keyboards & programming, William Cashion – bass & other guitars, Samuel T. Herring – voices and words. The three of us have been making music together for 8.5 years. We’re originally from North Carolina, but moved to Baltimore, MD in late 2007/early 2008. We recently released our third full length album, “On the Water,” on Thrill Jockey Records in October.
Future Islands – Photo by Mike Vorassi
Elena: I studied Illustration at MICA and have stayed in Baltimore because the community of artists and musicians is like none-other. Primarily my focus has been designing for bands and curating shows since graduating from MICA, as well as a body of paintings and collages. I plan to continue to design, curate, and hope to continue to show my paintings and collages in the gallery setting. I’m showing new works in a group show featuring works on paper by Baltimore artists coming up at Nudashank gallery. It opens November 5th, and I won’t be able to make it because I am on tour, but it will be a great show! I’m also in a band with artist / musician Jordan Bernier, called Bamboo. We just had our first show a few weeks ago and it was awesome. I also hope to continue to develop this project as it is refreshing to have another form of art to explore, create, and challenge myself to create new ideas.
Chapter 2: You wanna hang out?
William: We met Elena back in 2008 on the Baltimore Round Robin Tour. She was selling a book called “Paper Kingdom” that she had recently compiled and released, showcasing flyers from Baltimore from the mid-80s to 2008. I’ve always really enjoyed Elena’s art. Since we met, her work has changed drastically. She used to do primarily figurative works, eventually switched to collaging, and recently began creating more abstract expressionistic type works.
Elena: I first saw Future Islands perform at Whartcape in 2008 and immediately loved their music. Since they tour constantly, It wasn’t until the Round Robin tour a few months later, where I was selling a book that I had published on Baltimore music poster art, that I met William. We started dating soon after and have been together since. All of the dudes are super awesome and great people to work with, and I have designed multiple merchandise pieces for them in addition to, On the Water, such as apparel, buttons, tour posters, and a 7″.
Future Islands / Lonnie Walker Split 7-inch, “The Ink Well” / “Love Turn”
Out November 2, 2010 on Friends Records. Find it HERE.
Tour Poster Future Islands, 2010
Polaroid of limited edition Future Islands t-shirt design, purchase through Thrill Jockey Records
Chapter 3: Hey, I like you!
William: When it came time to choose art for our new album, Sam suggested using some of Elena’s work, and originally a piece entitled “Rugs” was going to be the cover. The more we thought about it, though, we wanted the cover to be non-objective and loose… The piece we ended up choosing seemed to fit the vibe of the record, and we used excerpts from “Rugs” in the album art as well. Elena also did the hand-drawn lettering on the back cover of the record. We were going for a “Cure-ish” kinda feeling with the text, and I think she did a great job on this. Elena has also done several t-shirt designs for us, posters, buttons, and a 7″.
Elena: In regards to the On the Water album art…They initially wanted to use a different drawing that I had made a few years ago, but I had been working on a series of non-objective paintings and collages that I was excited about, so I approached them with a few ideas. My close relation with the band allowed me to listen to the tracks that would become, On the Water, before the album came out, and I would listen to it while in my studio. It sort of made sense they chose the piece for the cover since it was directly inspired by the album. I also created the hand-drawn type for the track listing on the back of the album, which is one of my favorite things to do! The original painting was cropped to fit the square format of an album, but has made it onto the tour t-shirt as a 5-color screen-print with hand-drawn tour dates, on the back. They also asked me to travel with them on this tour to sell merch, which I have also done for other Baltimore bands as well. it’s been super fun so far!! I think the album is amazing and I’m flattered to be a part of it in some way.