Legendary Rock Interviews: Q & A with Islander’s Mikey Carvajal

By John Parks

Islander is a new band signed to Chicago’s Victory Records. They are best described as a mix of many influences — hardcore, metal, rock and punk, among others — and have been referenced by many music industry players as a band on the rise. The band will be a part of a big show Nov. 9 at Millennium Center on Madison Street here in Rockford, and I recently caught up with lead singer Mikey Carvajal to ask him a little about making their new EP, Pains, for Victory, among other things.

Q: Thanks for talking with us, Mikey. For those who are totally new to your band, Islander, can you tell us a little bit about what brought you guys together and how your band got its start?

A: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. We were playing in other bands or going to shows around the area and just kinda met that way. We were all in a band called Before Normandy at one point or another, and that just kinda fizzled out when we all started wanting different things in life. I ended up going to college and getting married, and some of the other dudes played in other bands or moved out of town. A few years back, everything just kinda fell back into place for us to play music. Islander has been a very organic band from day one. It’s a huge honor to play beside these guys. We’ve been through a lot together.

Q: The band is newly signed to Victory Records, which is a top indie label out of Chicago, and you already have a couple of big-name players firmly in your corner in the guys from P.O.D. and Bad Brains. How does that make you feel, and could you have imagined such a thing a few years back?

A: It feels like a dream. Most of my friends actually make the joke often that if they could go back in time and tell a younger version of me what we would be doing right now that I wouldn’t believe it. And I’m sure I wouldn’t. It’s not like we won a Grammy or anything, but it’s still exciting to interact with some of the people that influenced us musically. I’m very grateful for this opportunity. We all are.

Q: The cover art for your new EP, Pains, is a visually striking image which is thought provoking, as is your video for “New Colors.” Can you explain what inspired both from a strictly visual standpoint?

A: I was scrolling through Instagram one day and saw a picture of some of the damage from Hurricane Sandy that my cousin Joshua took. If you notice in the picture, the lights in the houses are still on, even though the world outside is crazy. It relates to the idea that even though all this craziness is going on around us, all this pain, we need to keep living. It’s powerful. We shot the music video for “New Colors” ourselves. We just wanted something that would stimulate the senses visually. It means what you want it to.

Q: Elements of hardcore, rock, metal and alternative, among other genres, seem to come into play in your music. Is it fair to say your influences are both varied and a big part of your songwriting? And what makes you the band you are today?

A: We are just a melting pot of tons of stuff. We all listen to an assortment of stuff, so it just comes out in the writing process. We don’t really try to get caught up in styles so much as we do songs. A good song is a good song, regardless of genre.

Q: My personal favorite track on the EP is the song “Glass.” Without giving too much away, were there specific things that triggered that song lyrically or musically?

A: This is an interesting question, because as a front-man, my feelings, beliefs and views are shared with an audience who then takes those feelings, beliefs and views and attaches them to the entire band as a whole. I think every band deals with this. This, however, doesn’t make the rest of a band’s beliefs less meaningful. It’s just a difficult thing for the average listener who hears someone saying something in a song and forgets that several individuals make up that one band and may believe differently. Also, I like to think of art as something people can look at and feel what it makes them feel. With all of that said, “Glass” is a song about frustration and failure. People spend so much time and money making headstones and graves beautiful to try and impress people by what is on the outside, all while attempting to distract from what’s actually happening on the inside. A group of people called the Pharisees were very vocal and influential when Jesus was on the Earth. However, Jesus called them Whitewashed Tombs. These tombs he was referring to were washed extremely well so that people thought they were clean, all the while bodies were decaying inside. He said in the same way they appeared righteous, but they were actually full of hypocrisy and wickedness. This song just deals with the battle between human nature and the new nature of being reborn. Sometimes we fall and shatter like glass. That very glass being what blinds people. Musically, we thought it sounded dope.

Q: How much did your material change from rehearsal to live gigs to the eventual outcome in the studio in your estimation?

A: (laughs) Tons! When we are in the studio, the songs are placed under a microscope. It’s like hearing them for the first time all over again. The studio is usually where the songs go through their final development. We try not to play songs live until they are completely finished. Sometimes we get really excited, though, and do it anyway.

Q: Your record is available on iTunes, but also in a super cool-colored vinyl format. Vinyl is the ONLY way I buy anything anymore, and I suspect a fair amount of your fans are also fans of the format. Are you personally a fan, and if so, what are a few of your most cherished pieces of vinyl in your personal collection?

A: I like the way they look and sound, and I own about three. I found a Johnny Cash and Beach Boys record on vinyl one time at a thrift store. And P.O.D. sent me a copy of When Angels and Serpents Dance in 2008. Andrew let me borrow his grandma’s record player to listen to it one time. I guess I would have more vinyl if I had a record player. I probably need to get on that.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to put up with me, Mikey. Last question: You are set to come to our area here (Rockford) on tour, and you are bound to make a lot of new friends along the way on the road. What are you most looking forward to about the entire experience?

A: I am looking forward to spending time on the road playing music with my bros, meeting new people, making new inside jokes with my band mates, seeing new sights, and most of all, pulling back up to the house and seeing my wife standing in the yard waiting for me.

From the Nov. 6-12, 2013, issue

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