For the brothers Carvajal, Mikey and Chris, there has never been any wavering when it came to fully investing themselves in their band, Islander.
Over the last decade, the band has gone from a regional standout in South Carolina, a groove heavy amalgam of aggressive rock rooted in punk rock ethos - to the one of the most promising prospects in the space. Cosigned by the likes of Korn and Papa Roach, islander's initial trajectory positioned the band to be among the leaders of rock music's emerging class - convincing fans one city at a time.
As circumstance would have it, the rigors of being in a touring band would become compounded with a series of unanticipated roadblocks that hindered the band's momentum. From record label politics, being unceremoniously booted from the Vans Warped Tour in 2018 and facing a historic stall with a unprecedented pandemic, Islander were forced to assert the same resilience they champion in their music - pivoting to ensure they remained on point.
Opting to share their story, Islander have compiled a concise documentary in Devastate the Masses that offers an accurate, earnest account of the band's progression. Sourcing footage from the last decade, the portrayal offers a first-hand account of the highs and lows that have galvanized Islander and the brothers Carvajal.
Islander frontman Mikey Carvajal discussed the decision to present such a revealing, intimate look at the band and how that sense of honesty has long been part of the DNA of the band. he also spoke about the family dynamic that has been integral to Islander - both in their relationship with their fans and the shared journey of the frontman and his brother and mentor in Islander bassist Chris Carvajal.
What was the onset of this project? What prompted you to tell this story?
Carvajal - It was a natural thing. Ever since I was in high school, I’ve always had a camera around because I wanted to document every little thing. My friends probably thought I was weird for filming us playing video games or even filming myself sleeping.
When Islander started I just did the same thing. I kept a camera around because I figured one day we would want to look back on our journey and laugh and cry. I also wanted people to see our hometown of Greenville, SC and had started filming footage to show people some history of our local scene years ago. A lot of the footage in the documentary took a whole team of people to compile it all though. So many wonderful videographers came together and let us use footage they had of us from over the years.
Did you have a narrative in mind when the cameras started rolling or did the direction of the film reveal itself to you as you watched the footage?
Carvajal - That’s what was so cool about how this came together. While the documentary was being filmed, we really didn’t know about it because it was just footage from over the years of us being ourselves, along with interview footage and audio being used as a lot of the narrative.
There is even a shot of myself and my brother walking into the first show I ever went to. My brother took me to see MxPx and Nintey Pound Wuss at a venue called the powerhouse in the mid nineties. Someone was randomly filming footage for the venue and we stumbled upon it years later and were like “oh my gosh, that’s us.” So yeah, it was just cool how this came together.
Were there any instances where you reconsidered giving fans such a revealing look at the band? Did you have to think twice about peeling back the curtains?
Carvajal - Never for a moment. Honestly, if anything, we’ve wanted to be more open with our fans for years about some of the behind the scenes stuff. Label politics and stuff of that nature always stopped us from being able to say and do certain things.
Now that we are independent, we can do anything we want at any moment. I think part of what our fans have always liked about us is that we don’t put on a facade. We aren’t a gimmick band and we don’t care about being rock stars. So to let them in on the inner workings of the band is just something we’ve always wanted to do.
Putting your own band under the microscope for a film can put you in a very vulnerable spot. What did you discover about Islander that you weren’t aware of prior to this process?
Carvajal - I can only speak for me personally, and I believe the thing that I learned is how much of my brother Chris’s story hasn’t been told yet. He’s the bassist of the band and really the first domino that fell to knock everything else into place for us. He was the original bassist of this band before we started recording years ago, and now he’s back where he belongs.
I wouldn’t be in this band if it weren’t for him introducing me to music. Taking me to see bands like P.O.D., Deftones, MxPx… I was in the 5th grade and he was over here trying to show me what all this stuff was about. So yeah, I think Chris is really where this story starts and I am glad people can see that now.
If the idea is to progress and evolve with the release of each record, how do you feel like this film has impacted your growth as a band?
Carvajal - Like it states at the beginning of the doc, 'we finally remembered WHY we are.' I think after all the politics of industry stuff over the years, it’s easy to just get lost in it all and forget that being in a band is supposed to be fun.
We forgot to have fun for a few years because we were trying to play the industry game. Now we are just being us again. We are recording our album in the basement where this band formed, and we are no longer being told to “not scream too much” or “don’t be too heavy.”
I think our fans are going to be pleasantly surprised at how heavy we got for the next album. We are literally in the studio and crowdfunding the album at the same time. So hopefully this works. Either way, we can fall on our faces with all of this independent stuff, but at least we can sleep at night knowing we wrote our own songs and did it our way.