In this age where we are constantly logged on, the need for escapism is pressing. We’re searching for something to stop time, to make space for dreaming and disconnection from the never-ending rush of life. In Island’s music as well as their approach as a band, there is a unique combination of momentum and stillness. Their carefully crafted tunes hit an emotional nerve, evoking feelings you didn’t know you could feel, and providing an alternate reality to delve into.
It is 12 noon on a Monday as we catch half of Island in a pub in West London. Bold enough to sip beer at this hour the band’s frontman, Rollo Doherty reflects on how the group came about:
“We’d all played together in different circumstances quite a lot before we joined and formed Island.
“When we first actually played together as a collective we weren’t really doing it seriously. Then something about it just clicked. It turned from a bit of a joke to something serious overnight.”
Drummer, Toby Richards adds that: “We’ve been playing together as Island for about two and a half years now. But we’ve played together collectively for about five years.”
Island recently released their sophomore EP, ‘A Place You Like’ – a step-up from their debut ‘Girl’ EP which came out in 2015. “It’s a funny thing to bring out your second body of work. Like with albums, the second one is very hard,” Rollo ponders. “I think we’re really happy with the way it came out. It is a progression in terms of the sound and the energy. It wasn’t trying to do the same thing.”
Toby Richards: “We basically wanted to capture our live shows on the record more than we did on the first EP.”
One thing that hits me is their openness about their own progression, about finding their voice – and I mean this literally. “I think in the early days of Island, Rollo’s voice – it’s always been strong – but since ‘Stargazer’ he’s kind of found this raspy tone that works really well for him,” explains Toby.
Island just rounded up their tour supporting Amber Run with a final at the o2 Forum in Kentish Town, the biggest show the band has ever played. And though life on tour can be rough – “I’ve literally just come from taking the rental van to a repair place cause I gave it a little bump the other night”, it seems to have been a fruitful experience for Island.
“What’s great for us is that it gives us a chance to play for so many people that wouldn’t have heard us before,” Rollo says. “A lot of people have come and said to us like: ‘Why are you the support band? We actually enjoyed it’.”
Island are signed to the London based label, Beatnik, and being London-based has down- as well upsides. “It’s quite a difficult place to be a musician. It’s very expensive”, Toby admits when we touch upon the subject. “I think it’s more of a struggle as a London band, but it is great to play here. It’s good to be in such a busy place”, Rollo adds.
Following their extravagant headliner show at Scala last year, Island are now set to tackle the challenge of playing Heaven. “Playing and selling out Scala for us for our third ever headline show was weird. Now it’s a step up to Heaven. One of the strongest things we’ve got going for us are live. We can’t seem to sell out tickets around the rest of the UK, but in London people quite happily come down.”
“Fingers crossed, touch wood. Come and see us then!”
We asked why they chose to release on vinyl. “Everyone knows it’s on the rise at the moment,” Toby explained. And Rollo pointed out that “It kind of combines merchandise with getting the songs, so instead of someone need to buy a t-shirt or someone buying a CD, with a vinyl you can get the best of both of them.” Toby concluded by saying that “It’s really important for us to have a vinyl just from the aesthetic point of view.”
Being a band in 2017 comes with a different set of commitments compared to 50 years ago, and social media seem to be both a blessing and a nightmare for many bands.
“As much as social media is very positive, and you can get your music so much further than people ever could back in the day, it can also cause a lot of controversial matters. It’s very different to back in the day where you would literally pick up the phone and try and sort yourself a gig,” Toby reflects.
Rollo Doherty: “It’s something we actually write a lot about in songs. It is meant to connect the world and I think that it does definitely make people feel a lot more lonely.”
“There’s a lot of different pros and cons about social media. And for us as a band, it’s the same. It’s great that we can speak to our fans, but then also, the kind of romanticism of back in the day. There was so much more mystery around it,” Rollo ponders.
Toby: “The line between the personal side of a band and the public side is kind of gone now. Like Rollo says, the whole kind of mysterious aspect of it is gone.”
The guys continue to reflect on how social media affects music and being in a band, changing the perception of live shows as well as putting on a demand of constant sharing.
“You can’t not have social media as a band now. You’d be shooting yourself in the foot,” Rollo says, whilst Toby confess that, “we definitely tried not to get twitter. We were really against it, but our manager said we had to.” He was probably right.
Though we probably could talk about the issue of social media all day, we move along to explore the inspiration behind Island’s ethereal lyrics.
“Just how weirdly lonely people can be in this world that has so much things like social media that are there to connect everyone” Rollo explains. “Lyrically we don’t like to be too literal because the music is quite kind of ethereal. We like to keep things abstract.” So what’s the order of business when it comes to writing? “The music definitely comes first. The meaning is kind of hidden so it doesn’t distract you from the music. I think that’s the most important thing” – Rollo is firm about that.
Over 20,000 songs are added to Spotify’s library every day, making keeping up with new music easier said than done. “We’re desperate to keep up with new music as much as possible, and, linking back to social media, it’s so accessible now”, Toby says. “We listen to Spotify a lot. And you know, Discover Weekly playlists are amazing.”
Though Island listen to Spotify a lot, they still seem reluctant to rely too much on any single source.
“Word of mouth is huge. In some respects, it is going back to the old days, especially with vinyl and word of mouth. That’s still a very important part of music, because as much as Spotify can recommend you a song, if someone you know recommends it to you, you’re 99% more likely to listen to it.”
Also flagging some friends’ bands, Rollo and Toby name drop a few, such as their label mates, Palace, electro duo Otzeki, Chicago indie darlings Whitney – “There’s a lot of great things in the independent world at the moment” – and Liverpool surfer pop duo Hers.
Having only been around for about two years, Island have accomplished an astonishing amount in such short time. With almost 170, 000 monthly listeners on Spotify and a multinational fan base, I wondered what their biggest moments have been so far.
“I think playing Scala was a standout moment for all of us,” Toby suggests. “It was the first time we played to a crowd that was exclusively there to see us. We’re generally prepared for gigs, and feel quite comfortable, but that was the first time all four of us walked out and didn’t quite expect the reception. That’s my special moment,” he concludes.
“The biggest show we played early on was Paradiso in Amsterdam, and we hadn’t played anything nearly that big before. I think that was kind of the first moment that we played to such an iconic big venue. Also, that first time holding the vinyl. I think that was a really special moment,” Rollo recounts.
Looking back, releasing their first single ‘Stargazer’ also stands out. “You go from just being four guys playing guitars in a room – no one has ever heard your song, to suddenly have millions of people listen to that song. It is very rewarding.”
Though Island as a project has proven to be rewarding, being in music is far from an easy path. As I guess their motivation isn’t exactly economical, I wanted to know what music actually means to the guys.
“Our whole lives are dedicated to it”, Toby responds “So – without sounding really cheesy I do thing it really means everything to us.”
We asked the guys some other questions and you can listen to their answers below.