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Baker's Dozen

Future Islands Discs: Samuel T. Herring's Favourite Albums
Patrick Clarke , October 14th, 2020 08:40

From teenage years spent amassing an arsenal of underground hip hop CDs to his first forays into jazz, post-rock and indie, Future Islands' Samuel T. Herring picks thirteen records that soundtracked his coming of age

Photo: Justin Flythe

For his Baker’s Dozen, Samuel T Herring of Future Islands, aka the rapper Hemlock Ernst, decided to pick the thirteen records that soundtracked his late teens, that crucial stage in the development of one’s taste where unabashed adolescent obsessions – in Herring’s case with underground hip hop – begin to broaden and expand, where a maturing mind finds myriad new avenues to explore, in this instance towards indie, post rock and modern classical. At times, it feels like I am in fact speaking to a college freshman. Herring excitedly reels off the names of artists, labels, tracks and albums at dizzying pace, and habitually raps bars – sometimes entire verses – word for word in order to illustrate the nuances of a particular MC’s flow.

Growing up in the sparsely populated coastal Cartaret County, North Carolina, the most enduring influence over Herring’s taste was his older brother Joel, three and a half years his senior. “Joel had a buddy Jason who always had these crazy death metal shirts and whose dad drove him six hours to a Pantera concert when he was 13,” he remembers. I think Jason was a big link for Joel, and then Joel found his own way and started kicking all these things back to me.” Thanks to Joel, aged nine or 10 Herring would arrive at elementary school wearing Morphine and Danzig t-shirts. “Somehow teachers didn’t tell me to go home immediately,” he says of some merch for the latter which featured an enormous image of a cow’s skull.

Later on, Joel introduced his younger brother to hip hop. One recommendation, Gravediggaz’ 6 Feet Deep “exploded my mind when I was 12 years old,” he remembers. Shortly afterwards, his brother bought him De La Soul’s Buhloone Mindstate, Channel Live’s Station Identification and Digable Planets’ Blowout Cone for his 13th birthday. “Then I started going through the liner notes, reading all the shoutouts and studying the names.” While his father was looking for old tools in pawn shops, Herring would scour the used CD bins for albums by Prince Paul, Brand Nubian, Kool DJ Red Alert, Eric B and Rakim, Divine Styler and Freestyle Fellowship. “There were two military bases nearby that were quite close together, army and marines, so there were a lot of kids with money who would buy stuff then just get rid of it and then I would reap the benefits, I built a crazy CD collection through pawn shops.”

They were also the nascent days of the internet. “There was this website called Sandbox Automatic, a huge underground hip hop catalogue,” he remembers. “You could download these 30 second RealPlayer clips of a track, they’d have two for each album. I’d get 20 dollars at the beginning of the week for lunch money, but I just started stealing my lunch and getting mail order tapes blindly from the internet. I started writing at the same time. I was pretty alone in that maybe until I was 17 or 18, then I had more friends getting into similar things.” When Joel left for college he left behind some vinyl records, including Tortoise’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die and Misfits’ Collection 2, which broadened his taste further. He was also trading records at high school and later college with future Future Islands bandmate Gerritt Wilmers, among others.

The result is a Baker’s Dozen that runs all the way from underground hip hop to modern classical. He did his homework, listening back to all his picks in the days leading up to our interview; “I was cramming for a test over here!” he jokes. Some of them aged well, and continue to influence his writing today. Others, like Misfits, “I haven’t listened to in 15 years. I was listening to it yesterday driving down the road,” he starts headbanging, “like ‘This is awesome, but kind of terrible too! Did I even pick right?’”

Future Islands’ new album As Long As You Are is out now via 4AD. To begin reading Samuel T. Herring’s Baker’s Dozen, click the image of him below.