Cover photo by Christian Cargill
The advent of technology has made it easier for people to pursue music. You can learn for free, play without actual instruments, have one-on-one interactions with your fans, and become a famous musician without leaving your bedroom. The famous part, however, is a tough one. There is a lot of noise out there, and a lot of talent, and so it can be challenging to cut through the clutter. All that is to say that getting attention can be hard. ISLAND’s “Do You Remember The Times” caught my attention right away. It became a song that was loudly on repeat and stuck in my head for weeks.
The song is one of the early teasers for the band’s newest album, Yesterday Park (out now via Frenchkiss Records) – a solid collection of works that shows great progress of the group as artists. According to the press release when writing the record the band “considered how their understanding of past experiences had shifted through the many different retrospective lenses they have” on which they carefully reflected through songwriting and production. Unlike their previous work, Yesterday Park was finished by an outside producer Mikko Gordon (Thom Yorke), which allowed the band to experiment with more complex production, introducing new textures and techniques to their music.
Quip had a fun opportunity to get to know the band through a Q&A which you are about to read, learning more about their collaborative methods, creative inspiration for Yesterday Park, and how School of Rock had an influence on nearly each of them individually, paving a path towards a career in music.
Kateryna Topol: Hello ISLAND! How are things going in London right now?
ISLAND’S Toby: Hello Quip Mag. London is hot hot hot, and there’s a classic English mix of happiness and moaning in the air! In terms of Covid, it’s definitely not back to ‘normal’ yet – like most places things are easing up gradually, but there’s also that constant glimmer of fear that everything could get worse again. Let’s hope not…
KT: Here’s to hoping we are on the up! You’ve recently dropped a new song, “Do You Remember The Times” (fire track) ahead of the new album – these new works are quite different from your earlier work – can you speak a little about the journey to this refreshed sound?
I: (Thank you). It’s nice that you think our new material is quite different from our earlier stuff – we were definitely aiming for a progression of the sound, but usually, those changes don’t come across as drastically to the audience. After we released our last EP When We’re Still and got back from touring in Spring 2019, we decided to take our time a bit with writing the new album. We messed around with about 50 loose ideas – trying to be as free and open as possible to anything that came to us, no matter of the ‘genre’ – and then eventually landed on our theme of nostalgia, which helped us carve out the 12 songs for the album. We knew we wanted to have a mix of different moods on the record, and I guess the newest element for us was sprinkling some 90s hip-hop vibes into the drums. Obviously, we haven’t made a hip-hop album (sadly), but we hope people can hear the subtle influences of hip-hop on the tunes; and also perhaps a bit more diversity in the track selection.
I: So we had literally just finished demoing the final 12 tunes when Covid hit in March 2020. We spent lockdown in different parts of the world and used that time to go hard on the pre-production of the record. We’re talking spreadsheets – not quite as mad as Weezer – and a certain level of organization that would never have happened in normal times. After zoom dating a few producers, we built an immediate connection with Mikko and proceeded to form the recording plan for summer 2020 in London. We’d never worked with a producer before, so honestly didn’t really know what to expect – but being the DIY (control freak) band that we are, we knew we were going to have to open ourselves up to Mikko’s opinions and suggestions. Turns out a lot of his ideas were pretty good, so we did listen to him a lot! He has a very calm yet organized way of working that really suited us, and he helped us look at the bigger picture and not sweat the small stuff. Our vision of wanting to introduce the more beat-driven hip-hop-influenced vibe to the record became quickly realized thanks to his experience and production skills.
KT: From your press releases, it also sounds like your songwriting has changed a bit?
I: Our process hasn’t really changed, to be honest. The way songs pop up varies, but they’re usually born when all 4 of us are in the rehearsal room together, quite literally just jamming and improvising. Rollo tends to sing some random words at first, but then quickly finds a melody and usually a chorus line that will stick and then forms the basis of the story around that. As I mentioned earlier, we were definitely more open to bringing different sounds to the party and experimented in unfamiliar territories, but the same ISLAND writing structure still applied.
KT: Sounds very open and collaborative. You have been friends and bandmates for a very long time since you were teens, let’s look back on that – how did you meet?
I: Not very rock n roll, and we don’t usually tell people this, but we went to school together.
KT: Strong foundation. And what made you come together as a band?
I: We had a few different combos of projects before ISLAND. Rollo was mostly making folky acoustic music, while Jack, James & Toby played together in a slightly more rocky band. We decided to fuse the two bands and sounds, then played (badly) for a few years with another singer (George Taylor) and eventually formed ISLAND in Spring 2014. Essentially we’ve been playing together for 10 years.
Photo by Melanie Tjoeng
KT: What drew each of you to music?
Toby: Do you mean playing music, or just music in general? I’ll answer both lol. I got into skating and all the pop-punk/metal music that came with it when I was 7. I remember walking around the house with my CD player, tripping over my stupidly baggy jeans (shout out to Bolts), listening to The Offspring, and getting into lots of trouble for singing the swear words. Anything with a parental advisory sticker was cool, obviously. My parents actually got me a drum kit for my 6th birthday, but at the time I was too obsessed with becoming a footballer to care. Skip ahead 4-5 years to the release of the legendary film School Of Rock, and obviously, I came out of the cinema wanting to play the drums like Freddy.
Wolfe: I was one of those kids that just wanted to do what my older brothers did, so as soon as Otto started playing guitar, I knew I would too. He gave me his [Guns N’ Roses] Appetite for Destruction CD when I was like 9 and I instantly wanted to play guitar like Slash. As it turns out I wasn’t cut out for 6 strings so when I got to about 14 years old I picked up a bass for the first time and all these years later, here we are.
Rollo: I had a guitar group when we were about 10 with my two best friends and Mr. McGregor who was pretty much Jack Black but skinny and Australian. We structured our teachings on School Of Rock and I remember rock appreciation every few weeks being the tits.
Jack: My Dad was always playing amazing music when I was growing up, Neil Young, Dylan, the Beatles etc, and so I’d love to say it was that, but honestly I was about 8 years old and at a friend of my parents and there was a CD on of this very traditional Spanish flamenco, and I remember just thinking “I want to learn the guitar”, and so I did. Actually took a few years from there to get into guitar bands, though School of Rock similarly pretty mega there.
KT: So School of Rock – huge influence, that’s awesome, I hope Jack Black reads this! What’s your secret to maintaining this telepathic bandmate relationship all these years?
I: Being able to call each other a c**t and then hug it out a few mins later [laughs]
KT: Haha, fair. How did you come up with the band name ISLAND?
I: Also not a hugely exciting story I’m afraid. We didn’t have a name for years and it was holding us back from releasing music. In classic ISLAND fashion, we couldn’t agree on a name but eventually, Wolfe and Toby managed to convince Rollo and Jack that ISLAND was the best of all the options we had. We always wanted a simple one-word and timeless name.
KT: That works. Let’s talk about the music video for “Octopus” – where did the concept come from and well – what is the concept?
I: Again taking influence from 90s hip hop culture, we wanted to make a music video of us playing on a basketball court. We teamed up with Sonder Films who found this amazing court on the seaside, and so naturally we added some beach elements to the video. We’d started this kind of surrealist theme for the album artwork – i.e. us in pyjamas sitting in a nowhere living room watching TV – and wanted to softly continue that throughout our campaign. So all our single artworks feature the living room set up in strange locations, and we also brought the set and our PJs to the “Octopus” shoot, added a few strange household chores (and a bit of chess) and voila we had a nice weird music video.
KT: Amazing, I like it a lot. The shoot must’ve been pretty fun?
I: It was a lot fun, but also FREEZING. December in England… on the beach. Rollo took one for the team jumping in the sea that day, mad man.
KT: In terms of your music videos overall, what is your approach to concepting and executing those?
I: We’ve always liked to be very hands-on with our music videos and the concepts. For this album, we mostly collab’d with Sonder Films who were great at executing our vision, but it also became a nice mix of our ideas and their ideas. A lot of the concepts came from Rollo though, and he actually wrote and directed the “Young Days” video himself, working closely with some good friends of ours – Apollo Films and Deegee Production.
KT: Aside from the album release, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
I: We’ve got a couple of little festivals over the summer, and then a super intimate UK tour in October. Obviously, we cannot wait to play live again, so just keeping our fingers crossed that everything will go ahead as planned. We would also love to get back over to the States as soon as we can!
KT: Fingers crossed! What can the people expect from a live ISLAND experience?
I: It’s been a while since we played a show, 2 years actually, so it’s just as much of a mystery to us! But in general, we like to think we bring a lot of energy to our live shows – and it’s probably louder and heavier than people expect it to be, compared to our recordings.
KT: Thank you for your time!
I: Thank youuuuuuu xx