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Foreign Islands
island hopping to the beat
by: David Aaron - August 6, 2007

"Bi-Polarity without any meds" is one of the phrases that Foreign Islands use to describe their band. Itís a decision thatís both interesting and admirable. Admirable because itís a refreshing departure from stock, "I donít know- we donít sound like anybody" approaches to band-characterization, and interesting because itís so accurate and completely wrong at the same time. There is plenty of mania on their just released "Restart Now!" EP, but there arenít many hints of the sluggish melancholy typically associated with depression. The heart of Foreign Islands likes to beat fast and hard, and the resulting pulse is intense and insistent, rarely letting up except for the occasional breakdown or quick intro. Itís catchy but physical; it would soundtrack really well to "Gone in 60 Seconds 5" or whatever hyper edited, edgy but cute movie Guy Ritchie cooks up next.

The raucous five piece has been slowly building a buzz over the last two years with their post-punk tinged, dance-friendly sound first gaining traction in the UK by virtue of a series of 7 inches released by the British label Nude Records. Perhaps thatís why the band is commonly referenced alongside UK rave-rock flag bearers, The Klaxons, despite the fact that they donít share any substantial aesthetic values. Sure, the drums sound sort of electro and hit the stereo with that crisp, propulsive "thwump", but Foreign Islands is mostly a rock band innocently exploring the steady energy and reliable propulsions yielded by electronic production techniques. Front man Mark Ryan sneers into the mic with an attitude that is sassy and confident, kind of like the young, funky Anthony Keidis or one of the young, rowdy Beastie Boys. Behind him, dueling guitars slash across the stereo field like highly caffeinated, Les-Savy-Fav-loving Samurais, while fat basslines deliver the bulk of the songsí melodic calories. Overall, itís a speeding vehicle with the bass humming like a motor in the center while the guitars are windshield wipers blistering up front at the highest click, punctuating the snare in percussive syncopation. This sonic recipe might not shock the ears, but the meticulously arranged, thoughtfully produced tracks should satisfy those who value craftsmanship over ambling experimentation. Songs like "Ghost Story" may share a strong resemblance to a certain French Kiss bandís "Weíll Make a Lover of You" and work with proven angular grooves, but other tunes like the excellent "Fine Dining with the Future" pump along to amped up Reggaeton beats and call & response vocals to give post-punk an end-of-the-decade update. Foreign Islands come with well rehearsed, well written songs, and thatís hard to accomplish no matter how long a band has been together or how many fringe acts can be recited as influences. Either way, audiences are loving Foreign Islandsís thrilling shows and it looks like the recorded goods will be embraced with equal enthusiasm. I got a chance to catch up with Mark on the phone after a wild tour highlighted by some high profile SXSW shows.

How was South by Southwest and the rest of the tour?

South by Southwest was great. We had a couple of really great shows like the one with The Presets and Matt and Kim. Another one with The Black Lips Ė a Fader show that was really good. Yea, then we had some problems. Our van died about three hours outside of Austin on our way to Las Vegas, and we got stuck in a small town for a couple days. We were able to find something to finish the California dates, but then we wound up having to come home a week early. It was a little Ė whatever- lot of mental work, us calling a billion places looking for vans. We exhausted every possibility. Aside from all that it was really cool, we had some really cool shows, met some really cool people.

I know you DJ, at least on Thursdays at the Beauty Bar for Singles Going Steady. Does the DJís perspective influence the way Foreign Islands works?

For me it does. You know when you DJ you sense when youíre losing energy, when there needs to be some sort of shift in the way things are going. It helps you put songs together in a certain way. You notice, "Oh thatís kind of boring" a little more. When you DJ you can just tell, you can see when they get bored sometimes. I think that kind of influences what we think of when weíre in the songwriting process - keeping things excited. Iím kind of a fake DJ. Iím not like Boys Noize or something. Iíve been doing parties for years and people have been having fun. Some people really know how to mix and match beats, but I donít know how to do all that stuff, and you donít want to pretend. I donít know what really qualifies what it means to be a DJ. Iíve seen people that are really good DJís, but you go to the party and no one is having fun. Theyíre more interested in showing off, kind of like a guitar player that wants to put a guitar solo.

People are seeing Foreign Islands and placing it in various dance categories: New-Rave, disco-punk, and so on. Does that seem natural or appropriate to you?

Um, yea, I donít know. Iím not really crazy about any labels, you know, especially a lot of labels that I really donít get what they mean Ė itís kind of weird. Most of us in the band did grow up with punk and stuff, and Iíve always liked dance music. I really cringe thinking of us as a disco punk band. I think it helps people to hear "oh this band is also likeÖ" Whatever, Iím not going to be all whatever about it. I donít ever know what to call us. The word punk, I mean, who knows what that means anymore?

Your songs have a lot of energy and intensity. Is there a yet to be published side of Foreign Islands that is slower or more meditative? The other side of bi-polarity without Meds?

Weíre definitely going to try and work on slower stuff. We just want to make sure. Weíve written a couple of songs that weíve thrown out, which have been pretty good. Weíve just got to make sure it all flows together. Make sure we donít have a song that sounds like Interpol come in out of nowhere. Weíd definitely like to have one or two slow jams. We just still havenít written the right one yet.

How did you start working with Nude Records in the UK?

The A&R guy got in touch with us, I guess he heard of us through someone. They just kind of expressed interest. We really like that label; we were really excited. When we started, we werenít sure what label weíd be a good fit on. Originally, the first label we thought weíd want to be on was French Kiss, but they werenít really into it. I like that aspect that it came out in the UK first, just from that music geek perspective. We also really wanted to put out 7 inches, and thatís not always a possibility with every label anymore Ė a lot of labels would be like, "we canít afford to do that."

Is the ultimate test for a Foreign Islands song to see if it engages people in a live setting or if it translates into a memorable recording? Are you focused on one more than the other?

Weíre trying to see if we can do both pretty equally. The guitar player, heís like a producer; he did the first two Hold Steady records. He really works a lot on these songs. The recorded stuff is really importantÖtheyíre both really important. We try and kill it live. Itís two different things, but we try to figure out what can translate live. We try and strike that balance. It kind of sucks when you do something thatís impossible to recreate live. I think were into both processes and both things.

Youíve been putting out 7 inches and now this EP. When can we expect a full length?

Weíre starting to write a full length. I donít know what the date is going to be, but weíre trying to put it out ASAP. That was like our first batch of songs that we wrote, but now that weíve been playing together for a year and a half or a little more, we have a little bit more of an idea of what we want to do. Our new songs our coming out really cool; itís really fun writing right now. Weíre going to concentrate writing an album that has a flow beginning to end instead of a bunch of songs that are kind of just thrown together.


"I really cringe thinking of us as a disco punk band. I think it helps people to hear ďoh this band is also likeÖĒ [...] I donít ever know what to call us. The word punk, I mean, who knows what that means anymore?"

Foreign Islands

listen to "

what it is

Danceable Rock with lots of Ďtude