Photo Illustration: Alex Kidd

How A Swedish Bird Inspired The New Future Islands Album

Indie frontman Sam Herring discusses his love for cheeseburgers and his plans to move to Sweden.

The opening track on the new Future Islands album, As Long As You Are, comes in soft with a field recording of wild birds while synthesizers pave the way for the band’s hypnotic guitars and singer Sam Herring’s signature baritone drawl. These birds aren’t just any birds though; the Glada—or the Red Kite as it’s called in English—is a bird commonly found in Southern Sweden where Herring has been spending most of his days alongside his partner, actor Julia Ragnarsson.

“They’re just these beautiful birds that swoop over the fields,” says Herring speaking about his fascination with the mid-sized birds of prey. “They don’t really ever flap their wings, they just kind of soar around. Every once in a while, you’ll see them turn and that’s when you see the flash of red on the back. I was always drawn to these birds; they’re just really beautiful to me.”

As it would happen, Glada is not only the name for these magnificent creatures, but in Swedish, it also translates as “happy.” And thanks to a serendipitous series of life events, Herring has literally never looked happier, beaming over Zoom as he speaks from a broom closet somewhere in Stockholm. He’s been camping out doing interviews all day, promoting his band’s forthcoming album and live stream. 

We sat down with Herring to find out what he’s been up to, what it’s like for him to be releasing music at this moment in time, and why every once in a while you just need to get drunk and eat a cheeseburger at 3 a.m.

What broom closet are you calling us from? 

I’m in Stockholm, at my partner’s place. Julia rents a room here. She’s an actor and she’s working right now so we’re up in Stockholm, but we kind of float between here and Malmö, which is the big southern city that’s about five hours away on the train. But I’m flying out in a couple days to start rehearsing for the live stream, getting ready for this big album launch. 

Is your partner Swedish?

Yeah, we’ve been together for three and a half years so we’ve been doing this back and forth thing. But I’ve applied for Swedish residency and I’m trying to move here; that’s the plan.

Of all the places you could be right now, Sweden seems like a pretty decent spot to be. 

It’s really nice. Julia’s family is really great and they love me and accept me as a part of the family. We spend so much time in the countryside and there’s so much nature here, outside of the cities, which is really fun. I think being from a small town, it’s kind of funny [that] I did everything I could to get out of this small town and this rural environment, and now, my most peaceful place is in the countryside and in Sweden. 

Isn’t it funny how ideals change as you get older? 

I’m a traveler; I couldn’t only be in the countryside. I need to feel the city and I need to get a little drunk at a bar every once in a while and have a little bit of fun. I need to eat a cheeseburger at 3 a.m. But, sometimes I just want to feel that warmth of the countryside.

Congratulations on the new album. Was there a particular reason why you chose to lead with “Glada” as the first track? 

I was fighting early on for that to be the opening of the record, because those opening chords, the sounds of birds, for me it’s like parting marsh grass or parting leaves and entering into a new space. And I love that as an entrance to an album—that feeling of entering into a new area. But for me, I think it also really sums up a lot of the feelings on this album, which have to do with our feelings about deserving love, acceptance, trust and the way that sometimes we can feel that we don’t deserve the best things in life. And you know, as the writer, it’s me questioning myself, fighting with my own demons to say, ‘I do deserve love,’ and I believe that all people deserve these things in their lives.

Glada also translates as happy, and you seem especially happy right now. 

Yeah, I’m doing really well. I’m really grateful for what I have. Especially given the state of the world past the pandemic, all the things, the issues, the problems in America that aren’t new, but are just happening again. It makes the world not seem bigger, it makes it smaller and it makes you want to reach out to the people that you love and really be grateful for those things that we do have in our lives. But we also have to deal with the bigger issues. I’m happy I can feel some peace and calm because a lot of things in this world make me really, really mad right now. That’s a whole other thing; I’m flying into the fire in a couple days. 

What’s it like for you to be releasing new music during a pandemic? 

Honestly, we really did not want to have to do a live stream because we were hoping that this would pass. But at this point, I’m really excited to do the live stream. I’m excited to get together with the guys and make music. We worked really hard on this record and if there’s ever a time to celebrate a record, it is with the release and sharing that with the supporters and fans who have been with us for a long time and are excited about it. 

Future Islands release As Long As You Are on Friday, October 9 via 4AD and will be exclusively live-streaming a special show from their hometown of Baltimore. Get your tickets here.