As they transition to the label life, Islander is already a success story. An interview with Islander frontman Mikey Carvajal.
So tell me a little about Islander and how the band got started.
We’ve been playing in bands together since about 2006, 2007. Eventually, we started doing our own thing. I ended up going to college, getting married; the other guys moved out of town. It was 2011 when we started talking about getting a band together. Just for fun, we really didn’t have anything in mind but just playing some crazy riffs, and we were talking about how we wanted to be this crazy band. We then started practicing a few times, and (when) our bass player Chris Zeus joined the band, he was the one who pointed out the obvious: We wanted to play catchier music.
There were all these bands that we still found to be fun, and a lot of the other stuff we were into – like, some of the bands – sometimes their fans can be overly pretentious. But we ended up just writing songs and thinking it was just for fun, and somewhere along the line we started taking it really serious.
What else have you recorded?
This is actually our second EP. We recorded an independent one. It’s actually a funny story. They’re both independent, but right after we finished recording this newest one, Pains., that’s when the Victory Records deal went through, so they’re going to put that one out. There’s another one called Side Effects of Youth, and we had guest artists on that one like Sonny Sandoval from P.O.D. and Zach Riner from Sent By Ravens.
Personally, I think that we’re just trying to make good rock music.
You’re getting a lot of comparisons to Deftones and Rage Against the Machine. How would you describe your music?
Personally, I think that we’re just trying to make good rock music. We love Deftones and Rage Against the Machine. We grew up on, it for sure. We understand the influences there. But we’re definitely not out to be the new Deftones or the new Rage. Those guys are still doing their own thing, and they’re playing rock music better than a lot of other bands. We’re just Islander. We’re not trying to be those bands, but we understand where people are finding those comparisons. Honestly, it’s more of an honor than anything to even be mentioned in the same breath as those bands. We’ve got nothing but respect and love for them.
There are only so many bands playing their actual sets without backing tracks or computers, but the bands that do that – like Deftones, P.O.D., The Chariot – that’s the kind of band we are. We’re the band that sticks up the instruments. We kill it every night. We’re not trying to play to a click track.
I feel like a lot of bands are like pro wrestling now, where everything is pre-planned. We’re friends with some of those bands, and I’m not hating on them as people, but it’s just not for me, musically. That’s not what we do.
Why the choice to release an EP instead of a full-length?
It was really the timing. We had just finished recording the Pains. EP, and as soon as we got signed to Victory, it was either this thing could be shelved or they could release it. We ended up working out a deal for them to release it.
We’re excited about it; it would have been a shame for nobody to hear the songs. There’s one on there that features H.R. from Bad Brains, on a song called “Lucky Rabbit”; that’s one of my favorite songs we’ve ever written.
I was actually going to ask you about that, it’s some sick stuff. What was it like working with him?
Oh man, working with H.R. was amazing. A lot of hip-hop artists do that, they bring in guest appearances, and we think it makes it more fun. Not only for the fans, but for us, as fans of these bands. We just start throwing names out, as far as who – if anybody – could guest on a song. H.R. was one of the ones we had talked about. It sounds impossible when you first say it, but we figured, all you can do is ask. If you ask somebody, they can just say no. Or they can say yes. And in this case, he said yes.
He actually had some recording time booked in California with the drummer of his solo band, but he skipped his flight to play a show with Fishbone. I totally respect that, but he missed the recording time, and we were trying to figure out what to do because he wasn’t going to be able to get into a studio in time.
So I found an app for the iPhone that you can record calls with, and we talked to him about it, he was totally down for it. So he actually recorded all his vocals through a cell phone. He just laid it down right over the phone. He knew what the song was about, and he heard it, we went over it a couple of times and he killed it.
Speaking briefly about guest stars, is there anyone you’d absolutely freak out to have on a song?
Yeah man, Bjork. Probably Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode. Maybe Dan Weyandt from Zao for the heavier stuff.
You guys shot, edited and directed the music video for “New Colors.” Tell us about that process.
That’s actually the third music video we’ve done together. We didn’t really have a plan on how we wanted to do it or what the video was going to be, we were more just about getting cool imagery. We wanted a big white room. … We bought a GoPro video camera and a white bucket, and we put the GoPro in there and starting squirting food coloring into it! Just random stuff. But that was the third video we shot, and Victory released that one, too. Again, it was with the timing, the video was done and ready for Victory to release. We had the video and the EP and we were just sitting on the stuff. Then we just started promoting.
That’s something I really respect about Victory Records, because they still have the DIY mentality, more than any other label that I can think of. As far as we’re concerned, we’re grateful.
I’m curious as to how Victory has helped you guys succeed. You know, in this day and age, bands are staying away from labels.
Well, you can definitely be your own record label these days. That’s what we had been doing. We had our own booking agent that we put together, and we were booking tours through that. We shot three music videos by ourselves. We were putting out EPs featuring major mainstream artists. I totally understand and believe in that, as far as a band being their own label.
With us and where we were in our lives, Victory was our best option. They could get our music out to so many more people than we could on our own. That’s just where the deal came in. I think one of the things that attracted them to us was the fact that we weren’t in need of a record label. It was more, “We’re already doing all this stuff; do you want to partner with us?” It’s more of a partnership than getting signed to a label.
With us and where we were in our lives, Victory was our best option. They could get our music out to so many more people than we could on our own.
We never expected someone to do everything for us. It’s always been, “How can we do this DIY?” and I feel like that’s what’s cool about Victory. There are no egos. They listen to us. They hear our opinions. They like us, and that’s cool. We really appreciate what they’re doing.
That’s great to hear, especially since all we really hear is the doom and gloom about labels these days, and people trying to get out of deals.
That’s the thing. A lot of these bands that are complaining, they don’t know the full story. I know we’re still fresh to the market, but a lot of the bands we’re hearing complain, they wouldn’t even get to complain if it weren’t for the label. We wouldn’t even know who they were. I’m just saying most of them owe their careers to record labels like this.
Let’s go back to the record. My first initial listen, it sounded very raw, production-wise, compared to other bands these days, (instead of) that polished and produced sound. Was that something you went for?
That just comes naturally. It comes from our influences. Growing up listening to bands like Deftones and P.O.D., it’s just a natural thing. We’re not one of those bands that are pre-planned. A lot of times, when I hit the studio, I haven’t even finished all my vocals yet. Some of the stuff I do in the vocal booth wasn’t particularly planned. We rewrite parts in the studio. We have the basic structure down, but if something sounds good, we’re more of a free-flowing band. We like that raw energy.
So what about the songwriting process? How does that look for you guys?
Our guitar player does most of all the riffs, and he’ll bring them to practice. He’ll show them to us, and we’ll tell him what we like, what we dislike. I’m really into synth-pop music, with bands like Drums, Joy Electric. I’m really into their melodies, and I write things at home as well. I’ll bring those in to him, and I always tell him he kind of “Febreeze’s” it. He’ll fix the things— I can’t really play guitar that well, but I can show him things that I come up with, as far as choruses go. I’m into a really good, catchy hook. The whole band, we have chemistry together. Most of the time, we just jam it out and see where it goes. Some of our songs, we can’t remember a certain point where we wrote them, because it was more of a natural, organic thing.
What is your mission, as a band? At the end of the day, what does success look like for you?
Honestly, I feel like that would be for each person in the band to answer. For me personally, when I was in high school, all I ever wanted to do was play a show. I knew I was into certain bands, like Bad Brains and P.O.D., and I thought it would be so cool if one day I could be in a band where they were on a song. Then all I wanted to do was go on tour and be in music videos. That was my niche; that was where I belonged. I loved being involved in that. I always tell people my favorite vocalist has guested on one of our songs. We shot a music video with Sonny.
I think most of the success happened even before we got signed. For me, it was that I’m doing what I love. I think that’s what also caught people’s attention with us. We’re loving what we’re doing. Whether people are paying attention or not, we love what we’re doing. Success is just being able to do it.
We never expected someone to do everything for us. It’s always been, “How can we do this?
Working with Sonny, what have you thought of P.O.D.’s constant pushing the envelope within the constraints of a Christian band? We all know about the cursing on their latest record, particularly in one song. What are your thoughts on all of that?
I’ve spoken to Sonny about that, and I’ve seen interviews. Honestly, I think it comes down to convictions for people. I don’t feel like P.O.D.’s ever set out to be this Christian band, but they’ve always been an honest band. I feel like because of their Christianity and their faith in Christ, those things have come out in their music. They’ve been very blunt about that kind of thing. Just like a chef that cooks food, it just happens that some chefs are Christians. That doesn’t make their food Christian. I feel like their music is made by Christians, and I feel like they’re just people who’ve come to a relationship with Christ. They’re just like everybody else, trying to live in this crazy world.
From just knowing Sonny and their hearts, them using that word? It’s not even a curse word anymore, the way that it was used. The kids that hear that song – that need to hear that song – they don’t even hear that word. It’s all the other stuff they’re naming in the song. That’s what’s real. That’s what people are going through.
I think if people just want to know Christ, all these things are getting in the way. If anything, I feel like that song was completely out of love. Sonny’s said that he’s prayed about it, and when he’s saying it in that song, it’s not the same word Lil’ Wayne uses.
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
I might have a different answer if you ask me again sometime. But right now, I’d like for there to be more honesty. I feel like there’s a lack of honesty in the music industry. That’s why things like Sonny using that word in this artistic song become an issue. Christian music isn’t being honest. They’re trying to put a front up and I feel like everybody needs to take their mask off. I think there’s a lack of truth and honesty in music.
Islander was posted on October 7, 2013 for HM Magazine and authored by Justin Mabee.