by Melanie Bryan
I discovered the band Islander at a show in 2021 in Charlotte, NC. I had never heard of them prior to them taking the stage, but I would never forget them afterward. Islander puts on an incredibly energetic show and vocalist Mikey Carvajal is a literal force of nature on stage. I was an instant fan! Fast forward to the present: Islander has definitely been getting their name out there more since thanks to touring with artists like Korn and Stone Sour, and collaborations with artists like Lacey Sturm, Underoath, and P.O.D. Despite all of this, they still remain a bit of a “hidden gem” in the music scene. I got to chat with Mikey recently about what ignited his passion for music, their “roly poly pit” move, who he’d most love to work with, and much more…
MSM: What was the first show that you ever attended?
MIKEY: My brother is our bass player, his name is Chris, and I was in fifth grade and he took me to see MxPx and 90 Pound Wuss. And The Cooties opened, which is MxPx’s side project band. But I was terrified, like it was like the most like traumatic experience <laugh>, because like, I just, first of all, it was like in this like weird place that the venue was in, it used to be like this old school house. So it was like a little wooden room and it was at a church and I thought, oh, we’re going to like a church. So like, this isn’t gonna be scary. But we got there and little fifth grade me wasn’t expecting screaming and mohawks and moshing and all of this. So yeah, I went home after that show and I told my mom, I said, you don’t know what Chris is involved in. Like, this is awful. And he was like, “it was not what he thought it was, Mom.” And it just took me a while. Like I just wasn’t into music as a fifth grader. I was into toys and stuff like that, which I still like (action figures and stuff), but I love music more now. So yeah, I actually have a video, too, is what’s weird. They were shooting some footage that night for the venue to promote and put it on TV later. So, I actually have a tape of me walking into my first show. So yeah, I had no idea. <Laugh>.
MSM: Wow. So what ignited your passion then? Was there a certain moment?
MIKEY: My brother took me to see the band P.O.D. in 1999. At this point, I was 13 and I had some of that angst and stuff going on that I didn’t even know what to do with. Teen aggression was starting to set in and I was on the floor in our dining room, just sitting there playing with my wrestling action figures, and my brother was like, “Dude, you’re 13, you can’t keep playing with these toys. It’s weird, you need to come to this show with me tonight.” And I’m like, “I don’t want to go.” And he’s like, “you’re going, you’re going.” And he just decided it for me, so we went and saw Guano Apes and P.O.D. in 1999 at a small pub in Spartanburg, South Carolina. There were like 200 kids there and they murdered it. And something in me that night understood, like okay, this is what I feel like right now. I get it. Finally. People were diving off of the stage and everything, and the next day my mom took me to buy their album, The Fundamental Elements of Southtown. And after that, a band called Ludicrous, which later became Norma Jean, came to a church gymnasium in my town and I went to that show and that’s the show where I was like, okay. So I fell in love with music at the P.O.D. show, but this show is the one that made me want to do it for a living. I was like, I wanna do that with my life because the band was doing handstands and throwing their guitars around and the singer like went through a basketball goal, like he was hanging upside down from it and stuff. So that was what sparked the idea that it’s like, yeah, I think I can start a band.
MSM: So, speaking of shows, do you have any favorite tour memories from all of the shows you’ve done?
MIKEY: Oh man, I have a ton. In 2015, we were on tour with Papa Roach and Seether. I’m a really big fan of the wrestler Sting, and I was bored one day while we randomly had a hotel, and I was sitting there in the hotel, and I messaged Sting’s manager and did the whole old school thing where it’s like asking for an autograph, like people used to do back in the day. I told the dude like, Hey, I’m in this band or whatever and the guy messaged back. He called me and he said, “Hey dude, what’s this about?” And I said, “I was just wanting an autograph like people used to do back in the day, you know, they used to like write their heroes and get an autograph sent to him or whatever.” And he said, “I’ll do you one better if you guys ever come to Dallas, Texas.” I said, “Actually, we’ll be there in two days.” so he said, “I’ll just bring him to a show.” So the next thing I knew, we’re in Dallas, Texas and Sting comes to the show.
MIKEY: And he brought me some of his ring gear, and he brought me a DVD, and he gave me his number. We just stayed connected ever since and became really good friends. We actually ended up having him in a music video that we did called Crazy Crazy World where he stars in the whole thing. And then just recently there’s a WWE video game coming out and we did his alternate theme song for the game. So yeah, pretty crazy.
Other stories…I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Club 33, but at Disneyland, Club 33 is this exclusive Disney club where it’s almost like, people joke around about a “Disney Illuminati” kind of stuff. It costs $150,000 to join and then I think it’s like 15,000 a year for your dues just to remain a member, so obviously I’m not a part of that group. <Laugh>. But we ended up meeting a guy that we became really good friends with, and he’s a part of the group and he’s had us out to Club 33 several times and it’s like the Secret Club. You have to have a certain dress code just to go in at Disneyland, and it’s just nuts. We got to go in there, like nobody gets to go in there. So we got take pictures and we got to eat, and just see some of Walt Disney’s personal belongings, items from different Disney movies in the past that they had on display for people that are a part of that group. So it was really cool being able to know someone that could get us into Club 33.
So yeah, that’s a cool story. And, of course, meeting the fans. I’m not just saying that, but meeting the fans is always a cool thing. It’s cliche to say that it’s cliche at this point, but it’s just gonna remain true for any artist in the world. If you don’t know that your fans are the ones that are keeping you afloat, you don’t know what it is that you’re doing. For a band like us, if we don’t see the connection happening with the fans, if we don’t see that there…and I don’t even like the word fan because fan is such a weird word to me because we’ve become friends with a lot of these people…we see ’em, we know their names, we care about ’em in like a way beyond “oh, you like our music.” It’s not like that. If we’re not making an impact on them, there’s no reason to leave home and our wives and stuff like that, to sleep in a dirty van in a parking lot every night, you know, unless we’re seeing some type of impact like that. So yeah, we’re not the biggest band in the world, but our hearts our hearts are there for our fans and they’ve always been there for us. So that’s where we’re gonna stay and keep doing what we’re doing.
MSM: Awesome! So, what have you been listening to lately?
MIKEY: Oh man, I’ve been listening to country music. I’m from South Carolina, so I think it’s just kind of comes with the territory sometimes, but a lot of that music reminds me of the vibe of being here at home. But there’s this artist, her name is Kasey Musgraves, and she’s kind of country pop. I like her stuff. There’s a song called Space Cowboy and there’s a song called Good Wife that I really like. And then I said I’m always listening to stuff that inspires me, like heavy music, too. The band Zao. I just filled in for Sonny from P.O.D. on a date on their tour with Jinjer because, sadly, Sonny’s grandma passed away so he flew home. And P.O.D. asked me to come out and do vocals, so I listened to a lot of P.O.D. that week just to brush up.
MSM: That’s quite an honor!
MIKEY: Yeah! Oh my gosh, it was amazing. Obviously, I didn’t like the circumstances of the situation and I told the band, I was like, I don’t want to see P.O.D. without Sonny, even if I’m getting to have fun and sing with you guys, like they’re my friends and I don’t want to see them without their lead singer and he’s one of my favorite frontmen of all time, anyway. So I walked out on stage just grateful that the fans and the crowd had grace with me, but thankfully a lot of them knew about Islander and were like shouting Islander the whole time that I was on stage, so that was really cool.
MSM: So, you invented a new move at one of your shows last year, to lie on the ground and roll around. Do you still do that? <laugh>
MIKEY: Yeah, if it’s something that just kind of happens naturally. We call it the Roly Poly Pit and it kind of went viral online, like it got like over 2 million views on Facebook and then TikTok or whatever. It’s funny watching all the tough guys online argue about whether or not we’re like a real rock and roll band because we’re rolling on the ground or whatever, but I’m like, dude, like we’re just having fun…we’re not trying to be tough guys or whatever. I had never seen that before. I’d never seen a whole crowd lay on the ground and just like roll, and it was fun.
MSM: Yeah, I told a couple of people that I was doing this interview, and one of them was like, “I don’t know if I’ve heard of them…wait, are they the band that rolls around the ground?”
MIKEY: <Laugh>. Oh my gosh. <Laugh>. So we’re becoming the band that rolls around. That’s great. <Laugh>. Yeah.
MSM: But hey, they’ve heard of you. <Laugh>
MIKEY: <Laugh>. Yeah. No, that’s, that’s awesome. <Laugh>. So, the crowds, I see the smiles on everybody’s faces when that happens. Cause at first they’re kinda like, is he serious? And then like, once we’re doing that with the whole crowd, everybody’s like, this is like the most fun I’ve ever had at a show <laugh>.
MSM: And then I was talking to my nephew about something that I was struggling with, and he had said it’s not easy being a person. And then I was telling him (about you guys), he hadn’t heard of Islander, and I’m like, well let me send you a few songs. And one of them was “It’s Not Easy Being Human”, and he’s like, “See? They get it.”
MIKEY: That’s awesome. Yeah. That’s, that’s a saying I’ve always said, and finally I just turned it into a song. I’ve always told people like, it’s not easy being human. And finally we were just like, let’s just name the record that because I feel like that’s something that everybody can relate to.
MSM: That album in particular had some pretty impressive features on it. If you could collaborate with any artist in the world, who would it be?
MIKEY: Bjork. Bjork’s the first one that comes to mind because she has kind of like a punk background. I don’t think a lot of people realize that. She’s classically trained and stuff, but she grew up playing in punk bands and stuff so I think that doing something with her would just be interesting. I mean, she’s interesting already, so to throw her on a heavy song, I think it would be rad. So I’ve always wanted to do something with Bjork. Chino from Deftones. Depeche Mode. I don’t know, we’ve honestly worked with so many of our heroes at this point that it’s kind of hard to choose now. We’ve worked with Bad Brains, P.O.D., Korn, Underoath, Lacey…so many.
MSM: So, back to wrestling. I read that you had wanted to be one. Have you put any thought into what your wrestling name would be, like your stage name?
MIKEY: I have and I haven’t. So I’ve always wondered what it would be but I’ve never thought too hard about it. Cause I knew that my knees are too bad to ever become a wrestler. Because if I worked out, like anybody can work out and get in shape, which I should probably do anyway, but it’s the kind of thing where I don’t know, I just feel like I understand the entertainment aspect of it. And that’s kind of why I’m in the music business, too, because I understand the live show aspect of music. That’s what I’m interested in. So wrestling, I mean, even if I were involved in some capacity of like being a character of some sort that doesn’t have to wrestle or something…but then, I know me, and I’ll be like, I can do something, I can wrestle or whatever. But yeah, even like when we play shows, I almost pretend like when I’m diving off a speaker or something that that I’m doing a wrestling move. For me, I just feel like a little kid up there thinking like, I’m gonna dive on off the speaker and it’ll be like I’m a wrestler.
MSM: Do you ever do karaoke? And do you have a go-to song?
MIKEY: I’m trying to think. My wife would probably tell me. If I do, it would probably be something by New Edition or Tupac. One time, we were on tour and it was our first like “mainstream” tour. We were on Mayhem Festival in 2014, and there was a karaoke night. I can’t remember, I think it was Avenged Sevenfold that threw the party and there was a karaoke night. I went up and did Tupac’s “Changes” and Ice-T’s wife Coco was there dancing at the front. It was just a funny memory, doing karaoke while Korn’s walking around and everybody’s seeing me do this and like Cannibal Corpse was there, too. So that was one of my favorite karaoke experiences.
MSM: This must all be pretty surreal to you!
MIKEY: Yeah, it was a trip. Now it’s gotten kind of almost normal, which is weird. But on that tour, especially, we were so new in the industry that every little thing was shocking to us. But there’s a Mexican restaurant in town and sometimes me and my friends will go and eat and do karaoke just as a joke. I don’t take karaoke seriously. I’m not the guy that goes up there and is like, “watch this!” <laugh>.
MSM: Yeah, like, “Watch, I’m a professional.”
MIKEY: Yeah. I’m not that kind of singer.
MSM: Do you have a motto or good advice that you live by? Whether it’s music-related, or just anything?
MIKEY: Something that my nana (my grandmother) used to say before she passed away was that she would always say that nobody’s an ugly person. Like the only thing that makes you ugly is if you act ugly. So she would always tell us growing up, she would say, “don’t be ugly”. So it was always don’t be ugly, like it was a choice. And I believe that it is a choice. The true beauty in life, I don’t believe it comes from the physical or whatever, I think that getting to know people, getting to see where their hearts really are, seeing their character, I believe that’s what’s beautiful. And so yeah, I would just tell people “don’t be ugly”.
MSM: Yeah. I like that. If somebody wrote a biography about you, what would the title be?
MIKEY: <Laugh>, it’d be Mikey Carvajal, <laugh>, something bit him and his phone died. <Laugh> My phone always dies and it’s become such a normal thing that everybody just makes jokes about it. They’re like, yo, his phone’s gonna die, and then it dies. I don’t charge it well enough. And then I’m a pretty hairy person and I don’t know if it’s cuz my hair gets caught on my clothes, on my body or what, but I’ll be like, something bit me <laugh> because it’ll hurt like every once in a while and my wife always says, “your tombstone’s gonna say ‘something bit him’. But yeah, that’s the first thing that came to mind.
MSM: I don’t know if that would be your biography or if that would be, like, a new Fall Out Boy track <laugh>
MIKEY: Oh my gosh, that’s great. Yeah, I can see that.
MSM: So, for anyone reading this who does not know Islander, why should they check out Islander?
MIKEY: Cuz we make honest music. We don’t let other people write our music. We wanna spread good things in the world and I think that sometimes what we put in our bodies is what’s gonna come out. What we put in our mind is gonna come out and if we put good things in, I believe that, you know, we’re more likely to have good things come out. So we’re a band that maybe isn’t always positive in a sense, but we’re definitely a band that is honest and even within the negative, we look for the things that are gonna help rather than just whining about stuff. We don’t whine. We want to be a band that looks for solutions. So yeah, I think that there’s a lot of bands that are just doing it for rock and roll status or what they think is rock and roll status, and letting other people write their music, getting put on the radio, and being rock stars. That’s not what Islander’s about. Islander is just dudes and we always just want to be dudes. We’re not ever gonna be rock stars. We could become the biggest band in the world one day, which would be great, but I’m never gonna be a rockstar. I won’t do it. So that’s why I think people should check our band out.
MSM: Do you have any plans to tour this year?
MIKEY: Yeah, we don’t have solidified plans, but we do have plans to tour. We have plans to release a new record this year. I know that we just put one out, but it took six years for that one to come out because of a bunch of label politics and we don’t want to ever do that again to our fans. We didn’t wanna do it in the first place. But we are no longer on a record label. We are gonna be independent from here out. We’re not dealing with that anymore. We want to crowdfund records from now on and work with the fans that actually care about our music and aren’t trying to make us something that we’re not. So we’re gonna be able to do anything we like and we’re super stoked on that. So we are planning on touring a good bit. First thing up this year, we have ShipRocked. I think that’s in like 13 days, so we’re gonna go on the cruise. There’s a bunch of other awesome bands playing, and a bunch of our friends, and I’m gonna get to go to the Dominican Republic for the first time on that cruise. That’s where our family’s from so I’m really stoked.
MSM: You’ve never been?
MIKEY: I’ve never been. I’m the only person in my family that hasn’t been, so I’m really excited about that, and about seeing the fans on the ship and playing some music for ’em.
MSM: And then I will, lastly, ask you, do you have a song that means the most to you (of your songs)?
MIKEY: It just depends on the night because I try to think about the lyrics. Like I never want the lyrics just to become something that’s like, you know, coming outta my mouth like just second nature or whatever. I try to think about the lyrics as I sing ’em almost as though it’s the first time been I’ve heard them. So there’s certain nights where maybe I experienced something that day or I’ve been thinking about something and the lyrics to that song will kind of affect me because, even though I write the lyrics, I write from a place with my viewpoints so those things impact me when I hear them back. It’s not the kind of thing where I write some lyrics and think like, well this is garbage. I write stuff that I think is good. And so when I hear it back, it’s inevitable that it’s gonna affect me. So yeah, there’s things I’ve dealt with or even, there’s songs where maybe I view things a little differently now, but I’ll hear that and remember, like there’s people that still think that way. I can’t come up with an example because most of our stuff I still completely agree with, though.
MSM: And you’ve got a pretty solid fan base that agrees with you.
MIKEY: That’s awesome. Thank you. Yeah, we see ’em at the shows. We love them.
MSM: Okay, that’s actually all that I’ve got for you.
MIKEY: Awesome. Thank you for having me, and, to all of our fans — thanks for your support. We’re gonna keep doing this thing as long as possible and look for new music soon.
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