Music journalism rarely concerns itself with numerics, unless it’s counting the number of flawless records Sufjan Stevens will release, or assessing how many hours are needed in a day for Phil Lynott to perfect his moustache. Yet we’ve been hearing a different tune from Baltimore trio Future Islands as their 1000th show looms in the very near distance. With the landmark very much in mind, we dissect the mathematics behind the performances of Future Islands, the three men with four studio records and 49 songs, to give you a concise, unrelated and only vaguely accurate logarithm of the synth-rock high-fliers, from gig cancellations to how many dance moves it would take to run a marathon.
The average number of gigs Future Islands have performed each year
After two and a half years as part of the experimental quintet Art Lord & the Self Portraits alongside NY artists Kymia Nawabi and Adam Beeby formed at East Carolina University, (think Kraftwerk meets Bowie and the Cookie Monster), the trio of Herring, Welmers and Cashion split to form Future Islands with Eric Murillo.
Future Islands were formed in January 2006, some 9 years and 6 months ago. By the time their 1000th show comes around on 26 July, they will have been together for 3494 days. At the close of July this year, they will have spent 115 months together. In the nine and a half year history, Future Islands will have annually performed an average of 104.35 shows. Our thoughts go out to the audience who watched the ‘.35’ show, luck’s not on your side.
Things got off to a (comparatively) slow start in the trio’s first year. In 2006, they toured the East Coast of America, sticking predominantly to their home state of North Carolina. In total, 2006 saw them perform live 48 times, whereas since then, they have played an average of 112 times each year. That’s an average of 9.2 shows every month, 104.4 shows each year, or 1 live show every 3.25 days.
The number of shows Future Islands have cancelled
If the intensity of a Future Islands set wasn’t impressive enough in itself, or indeed the sheer volume of performances intensity considered, the dedication to seeing these performances through certainly is. Sitting alongside the 998 shows currently performed, only two have been cancelled, despite several occasions of Herring battling tonsillitis. Perhaps this guttural insistency and unwavering strain put on his vocal chords should be linked to the trademark death metal growls. If these shows went ahead, however, #FI1000 would now be complete. In a world where Morrissey cancels (other bands’ sets) for sound interference, Foo Fighters cancel for falling off a stage and breaking a leg (we’ll let them have that one), and Fleetwood Mac cancel for no other reason than not wanting to visit Birmingham, it’s refreshing to have a band dedicated to keeping people entertained. Detailing the effort and sacrifice that goes into touring, Herring prefaced a performance of 2010’s ‘Long Flight’ (from In The Evening Air) at show #991 Glastonbury with “when you’re out on the road you start to lose things. It starts off real small with your favourite t-shirt, and then you come home and you’ve got no place to stay.” Regardless, they’re determined not to leave the road, and hopefully it’s now a journey worth taking for countless new shirts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guhIwhFicWc
The average rating of Future Islands albums from Pitchfork
Despite the time on the road, the DIY ethos of band growth doesn’t interfere with recording. And is there a finer testament to a band’s consistency than that of their feedback from Pitchfork? The critics that loom above music as the righteous Gods of what is good and what deserves less shelf space than a John Green novel. One can only imagine a band’s trepidation in finding out their Pitchfork rating to be like a schoolboy anticipating a class report, only to have it handed to him in a big brown envelope, to deliver to his parents, at once. In the case of Future Islands, the Pitchfork school report doesn’t quite put them top of the class, but it doesn’t leave them far off. 2010’s In The Evening Air received a gusty 7.6, the Undressed EP streaked in at 7.1, On The Water dampened no spirits at 7.7, and Singles bought everything together breaking into 8.0. In the meantime, ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ appealed to their goofy sensibilities and was named the best song of 2014, and Singles at 22 in the website’s best albums, complete with new romantic synth-pop heartwarming stories.
“Herring acts on impulse—at no point does he sound calculated or clever—offering an open invitation to the uninhibited, to the goofy, and the sentimental.”
The number of times Future Islands have been tweeted about in the last month
There’s a small amount of irony surrounding the myth of Future Islands, as one of the few bands breaking to the mainstream with a truly organic ethos to their music. Their last project Art Lord & the Self-Portraits was designed to be that mythological band, where Herring joked during a return performance to King’s Barcade, NC in 2013 that he noticed “many of the churches had “praise the Lord” written on their sign boards… and I want to thank them for welcoming us so openly to the area.”
It remains a fickle measurement, but a small look at the Google analytics of Future Islands (how many times their name has been typed into a search engine) shows just how self-perpetuating and painfully slow word of mouth recommendation can be, raised thankfully in March with a performance of ‘Seasons’ on Letterman. It was a performance intense and catching enough to have their name spike in popular interests, elevating Future Islands from a rural farmland in North Carolina (see ‘A Song for our Grandfathers’) to Worthy Farm and Glastonbury. The myth of Art Lord shrank away and the attempt came with Future Islands to create a “normal” band. So normal, that they are now that band with the history, the honesty and charisma to be really special in the music industry.
The number of times Future Islands would have to perform Seasons (Waiting On You) to run a marathon
Future Islands were granted their eventual breakthrough to the mainstream with a performance of ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ on the Late Show with David Letterman, 3 March 2014. The track, defiantly standing as pop music’s coolest viral sensation, hit it off with the world for many, many reasons. The infectious, unwavering bassline from Cashion. The composed layering of punchy keys from Welmers. And above all, the raw, un-pretentious honesty of Herring. In particular, dance moves that tread the line of being ridiculous, yet convey nothing but brutal, unsaturated passion.
But what is it that makes Herring’s dancing such a spectacle? His gyrations are far more eloquent than Rihanna’s, far less explicit than Nicki Minaj’s, and in a genre that isn’t a few branches out from Madonna. And, all of these comparisons come while visualising a much more pleasing sound. Herring’s dancing is mesmerising, if not because it’s protruding from – embodied within – a very ordinary looking man, but because of the sheer constant movement, the never-ending exuberance.
So what if all the sidesteps danced in your average performance of ‘Seasons’ were perpetuated into a forward motion? What distance would actually be covered in one performance of the song as seen on Letterman?
First, we have to know the length of a sidestep. The internet has many things on it, but Sam Herring’s height is not one of those things. We do know, however, that David Letterman is 1.88 m (6ft 2), and considerably taller than Sam T. Herring, cashing our guess in that the Future Islands frontman stands at 5ft 10, or 1.78 metres. Estimating the length of leg, and based on comparing the leg-span of a sidestep to a guess of amp measurements on the Letterman stage (definitely not trying the dance move myself), we shall say that the average length of a sidestep is 65 cm. In the song’s instrumental outro, Herring does a series of lengthier sidesteps, which we shall call strides. These measure in at roughly 1 metre each.
In the performance, Herring makes a total of 107 sidesteps (6,955 cm), and 16 strides (1,600 cm), making the overall distance covered in the duration of the song 8,555 cm, or 85.55 metres. One marathon is 26.2 miles, equivalent to 42,194.988 metres. Samuel T. Herring would therefore have to perform ‘Seasons’ a total of (42,194.988 / 85.55) 493.2 times in linear motion to complete a marathon. The song length is 3:24 (204 seconds), meaning, were it to be performed 493.2 times, Herring would complete the marathon in 101,147 seconds, or 28 hours, 5 minutes and 47 seconds. In 2002, Lloyd Scott from Rainham, London, took 5 days and 8 hours to complete the London marathon in a 120 lb antique diving suit. Game on.
In 47 days, Future Islands are visiting us in the South West, playing End of the Road Festival, find out more here.
Tristan Gatward, Online Music Editor