Frontman Mikey Carvajal goes track-by-track and shares how Brian “Head’ Welch from Korn, H.R. from Bad Brains, Spencer Chamberlain of Underoath and wrestling Hall of Famer Sting helped make album number three their biggest victory yet.
With a decade underneath them, Greenville-natives Islander have cultivated a reputation for being consummate showman, champions of the sound, and now more than ever – well-rounded songwriters.
Over the course of a couple of early EPs and now three full length albums, the collective’s amalgam of bounce, melody, and the occasional fit of mayhem has earned the cosign of a broad batch of contemporaries and accomplished luminaries alike – all of which trumpet Islander enough to not just say it, but participate.
For the band’s third and arguably their most ambitious full length effort, It’s Not Easy Being Human, Islander enlisted the help of a lengthy, diverse family of cohorts to help bring their vision to fruition. From lauded, game-changing vocalists to venerated guitar heroes and even an icon from the world of Professional wrestling – all joined the cause in helping Islander a convincing 17-song presentation. For vocalist and band architect Mikey Carvajal, the project was the culmination of some 10 years worth of sweat equity invested into the band that paid off big in terms of creative gratification.
Carvajal explains, “We included a ton of our friends on the record from Korn, Underoath, Zao, P.O.D., I Prevail, Bad Brains, Living Sacrifice, Lacey Sturm, Fire From The Gods, and Hyro The Hero. I’ve always been interested in seeing my favorite artists work together and we wanted to do that on this record and lean on one another, support one another, and just have a musical party. We even had the wrestling icon Sting star in a video for one of the tracks. A lot of rap albums have guests all over them, so we were like “why not just do that with our friends?”
Aside from the album’s impressive roster of contributing guests, It’s Not Easy Being Human asserts an equal versatility that positions Islander as one of those bands thrives in various categories. Over the course of the album’s 17 entries, dynamic songwriting creates an ebb and flow that makes for an engaging listen with no repetition.
To better explain the scope of such a personally powerful collection, Carvajal gave Knotfest a track-by-track breakdown of everything poured into It’s Not Easy Being Human. From the creative conception of the songs, to the broad assembly of collaborators, Carvajal pulls back the curtain on everything that made album number three Islander’s most accomplished to date.
Carvajal – [This track] features our friend Spencer Chamberlain of Underoath. First of all, I just want to say he absolutely killed it. From the very start of the song he screams “let’s go!”, basically setting the tone for the rest of the album. We weren’t sure how Underoath fans would feel about him being on a song with the rapping on the verses, but it really worked out great and people have been really digging it. We actually just shot a music video for it with Spencer that I’m editing now. It’s a song about not compromising your integrity. Whether it be your art, or just what you know to be right. It’s that simple.
Carvajal – Evil is a song about how I feel that a lot of things that are good are being called evil, and a lot of things that evil are being called good. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, just cause’ you call a rattlesnake a lamb doesn’t make it less deadly. The song is so fun to play live because the riff never really changes, it just keeps making heavier as the song goes along.
“It’s Not Easy Being Human”
Carvajal – Our title track is a song everyone can relate to. We know that this life isn’t easy, and as much as we’ve all heard the saying “people are dealing with their own struggles that we may never know about,” we want to actually apply that knowledge into choosing to be good to one another. It’s as simple as the title says… “It’s Not Easy Being Human”, so we hope it encourages everyone to show each other a little grace in this crazy life. Lacey Sturm came in on guest vocals for the track. We’ve wanted to work with her for years now, so when we started writing this one she came to mind automatically. We called her and she was so cool and her voice just took the song to another level. It’s a powerful song.
“Lookin’ For Love”
Carvajal – This is about a love hate relationship. I wrote it as a metaphor about my relationship with music sometimes. Sometimes the things that we love can be the things that hurt us the most. I always want to remember to have fun in my relationship with music and not let the business side ever get the best of me. Interesting fact, Jacoby Shaddix was actually supposed to be on the song. He wrote his verse and sent it over and it sounded absolutely amazing. Music industry politics kept the original version of the song from coming out, but hopefully someday people can hear what we intended. Honestly though, with the track not being what we originally intended and me writing a second verse in place of Jacoby’s verse made the songs meaning even more proof that sometimes the business side of things can get in the way of the fun side. So if it is looked at with that perspective, it’s really even more meaningful. But yeah… we want to still release the real version at some point.
“Lights, Camera, Action”
Carvajal – …is a song about how I’ve seen the entertainment industry chew up and spit out my friends left and right. It’s about remembering that we are people before we are entertainers. It’s so important to stay down to earth. We’ve done a few songs with Sonny from P.O.D. jumping in on guest vocals with us before, and every time we hear his verse it blows our minds. He’s a real lyricist and not some pretend rapper dude. It’s insane the stuff he comes up with. But yeah, the song is a vibe and the bridge always makes me feel like i’m in an arcade at a mall in the 80s. It’s a vibe.
Carvajal – Skin Crawl is a song about how trippy it is just to be alive. If you really think hard about life and death… I mean REALLY think about it, it will hurt your brain and make your skin crawl. When we wrote this song, we had Brian “Head” Welch listen to the riff and he wrote the coolest lead part behind what Erik (Shea/Guitars) wrote. It just made it even heavier. Also, Jasen Rauch (Breaking Benjamin) engineered Head’s part in the studio if you want to throw in another guest. We wrote and recorded this song in my brothers basement. While writing it we were like “what if we throw some more of our heroes/friends on this track?” So we had this idea to have Dan Weyandt from Zao and Bruce Fitzhugh from Living Sacrifice come in and round the track out with guest vocals. We did a co-headline show with Zao and we setup a makeshift studio in the back of our trailer. Dan came in and did what Dan does and then we sent that to Bruce and Jeremiah from Demon Hunter engineered his part. When the whole thing came together we were amazed to hear all of them on the same song with us. The song has done extremely well on Sirius XM Octane and has been picking up steam at active rock radio right now. It’s strange because we weren’t expecting one of the heavier songs with those kind of vocals to be accepted on mainstream radio… but here we are.
Carvajal – This one is about me watching some of our peers buy into the “rock star” dream and wear a mask that they never take off. The mask eventually becomes their face and they can’t even remember that it’s a mask anymore. There was an old wrestling angle in the early 90s where a guy named “Black Scorpion” played mind games with Sting for months. Finally, Sting got him in the ring and it turned out to be Ric Flair. So yeah, that’s where the title and metaphor come from. That’s one of my favorite choruses on the record. It soars and makes me feel like I’m floating every time it drops.
Carvajal – HR from Bad Brains has been a guest/friend on a couple of our old songs as well and has always been a pleasure to work with. We were in West Virginia on tour (I think that’s where we were), and there was a piano in the venue. Before doors opened, Erik sat down at the piano and just started playing random stuff. I recorded it on my iPhone just to have. Once we were writing the song and decided to put that in it, we knew that HR would be perfect for the track. HR listened to it and just did his thing in the studio. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record as well as to play live. I shot the music video in my brothers basement on my iPhone and also had our friend James that filmed a documentary about HR send us some unused footage from that film. I edited it on my phone and that’s how the video came about. How dope would it be if skateboards grew out of the ground like flowers?
“What Do You Gotta Lose?“
Carvajal – This is about hoping for a better tomorrow. I’ve personally dealt with suicidal thoughts in my life and I’ve met a lot of fans that have as well. If suicide could save our lives, we’d all have done that by now. It doesn’t. It only ends the possibility of it getting better. This song is a plea to anyone that hears it to hold on. Joy comes in the morning. We teamed with To Write Love On Her Arms for the release and raised money to help promote suicide prevention efforts. We sent our manager a plaque from Spotify when the track hit a million streams to thank him for always standing with this band. We shot two videos for the song. One of them a man named Pastor Debil Jones loaned us his church building to film a “funeral” for me where I end up coming back to life in the video. It was the hottest music video to film ever because the building had no air conditioning and it was in the Deep South. I also shot a video on my phone for that one to give another vibe. I love that song.
Carvajal – This is about how I turn on the news and it just bums it out. It’s a song about how I’m stoked for the end of things because I’m more stoked for a new beginning. I believe there is hope within the sadness though. Watch the end of that movie The NeverEnding Story and you’ll know what I mean. It’s a personal favorite of everyone in the band and always gets a good crowd reaction. The chorus is one of those “everyone jump up and down” type of choruses. We accomplished a really cool vibe in the studio on this one. The chorus has a laid back kinda thing going on while still being energetic. Some parts of the song almost have a Drake vibe while still being really heavy and riffy.
“Crazy Crazy World”
Carvajal – I wrote the lyrics when I was struggling with depression a few years back, but it really is an anthem for the times we are all in right now in general. It’s not a heavy song musically, but I feel like the last several years have been heavy enough for everyone. We wanted to contrast that heaviness with something beautiful and relatable. Also, how sick is it that Sting (AEW Star, Icon, and Wrestling Hall of Famer) stars in the music video? Sting actually is the one that taught me how to paint my face and what to use. I paint my face from being inspired by pro wrestling. I always loved the wrestlers that painted their faces, so I wanted to do something subtle like that. Shooting that music video was one of the top 3 days of my life. Getting to hang out with my childhood hero all day was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced. This band has a lot of tough moments we’ve dealt with behind the scenes… but on that day I’ll never forget it. When Sting was driving away from the shoot, Erik (Shea) looked at me and said “We won. We finally won one.” He was so right.
Carvajal – Y’all talks about growing up in the subculture of punk rock, hardcore, hip hop, whatever in the south and just staying real and true to your roots. We wrote this song while collaborating with Kevin Thrasher from Escape The Fate. He was just getting into producing and working with more and more people like Machine Gun Kelly, Trippie Redd, Avril Lavigne, etc… We wanted the song to just be fun and riffy. We asked our friend Hyro The Hero to come in and do vocals with us but he was in France at the time with his wife. He had an engineer come into an apartment and literally laid down all the vocals right there in the living room. It turned out great and and we are grateful to be able to celebrate coming up in the industry together.
Carvajal – This is a song about how I would literally lay my life down for my friends. It’s a song about serving people instead of wondering what you can get out of them. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. We actually tracked this not long after we got off tour with I Prevail. We had the idea to have Eric Vanlerberghe jump in on the track and he came in and killed it with us. We actually shot a video for the song but couldn’t get clearance for him to be in the video because of industry red tape. So we ended up putting a sock on my brothers hand and just had a sock puppet do all the vocals. I wonder where that sock is now?
“Tear It Down”
Carvajal – This one is about uncovering the truth of a corporate conspiracy and not backing down to expose the truth. Think of it like Batman trying to bring down the crooked cops of Gotham City. I wrote the lyric “you keep laughing at Tom DeLonge, but what’s gonna happen if he proves you wrong?” before the government ever released any of those UFO videos. When that happened I remember I was telling the label “we’ve gotta release this song ASAP.” It’s funny looking back on it. But yeah, this is another one of those live bangers where the pit goes crazy.
Carvajal – We invited our brother AJ from Fire From The Gods to jump on with us. I believe sometimes the things we call freedom restrict us. It’s easy to get caught up in our own vices or addictions. It’s important to constantly examine ourselves by asking, “Is this something I have control over… or are my own desires controlling me.” Someone once said “freedom isn’t the freedom to do what we want – it’s the freedom to do what is right.” That’s what I believe also. AJ brought his flavor to the track and it turned out sick. It’s an anthem.
Carvajal -The word “woke” by definition is “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”. If that is the definition, I’m all for it. But the word “woke” has become a term that allows for people to restrict their activism for only those that agree with them politically. So when the word woke is used in this song, it’s the literal idea of even being aware of what the word woke has become. So in this way, it is redeeming the word. The song is a moment of reflection. The deeper meaning of the song is so heavy, the music didn’t need to be. It weighs enough without all of that.
Carvajal – This one is anyone that feels like an outcast. Anyone that is struggling to fit in… know that you are loved, you are beautiful, and you are always welcome at Islander’s table. Don’t ever forget that. The meaning of this song really comes full circle with the title of the album being “It’s Not Easy Being Human.” It’s a final reminder before the album ends to remember to have grace with one another. Life is hard enough as it is.