By Cole Premo, WCCO
The LA-based indie rock band, Foster The People, received a lot of attention when their single, “Pumped Up Kicks,” went viral online in 2010. Now, the band is currently on tour and promoting their new highly anticipated album, Torches, which was released in May. Mark Foster, vocalist and songwriter, took some time to talk about the band, the tour and the growing success.
You moved from Cleveland, OH to Los Angeles when you were 18 years old. That seems like such a classic move for a young bright-eyed musician, but you made it work. How did you make such a big move at such a relatively young age and how did you adjust to a city that has so many other musicians vying for success?
I was always extremely independent growing up. I was trying to get my parents to buy me an apartment. I was at it, I was like, “Please, please, it will be fine. Like, you guys can stock up the fridge and I’ll be OK.”
You know, adjusting to the city, it took a long time. I moved to the LA in 2002. It all takes time, you know? I moved out to LA and wanted to learn to write. For the first two years, that was my main goal. I studied. I had some friends that were songwriters — watched them write. I think after a year something clicked and I understood it. Ever since then, I’ve been in pursuit of the best song I could write. I’ve been chasing that — chasing the perfect song.
What’s the history behind Foster the People? And what was the spark that launched you from obscurity to being introduced by Jimmy Kimmel and having a highly-anticipated album?
We formed in October 2009. I was friends with Cubbie Fink and Mark Pontius for a few years before that. We really wanted to build a band around friendships.
I think it was a number of things, but I think “Pumped Up Kicks” … did a lot of work for us, because, you know, I wrote the song and week later it was online and then two weeks later it was starting to go viral online. So I think that was something that really, that was kind of the red carpet — that music got rolled out.
So, other than that, it was just writing other good music and making sure that the record was good, and making sure that our live shows was good, just working really hard, you know? We haven’t really stopped since then.
How has your life changed since then?
Drastically. I focus on being creative all the time now. Busier than I’ve ever been in my life, but it doesn’t really feel like work because I love it. Since the band started, it’s the first time I’ve ever went to Europe, first time I’ve ever went to Australia. It’s become a catalyst for your traveling, seeing other things and seeing other cultures. Everything is different. I’m living out of a suitcase.
What did you have in mind when you started Foster The People? Is your goal to uplift and inspire the masses?
Yeah, that’s something we talked about earlier on. We definitely have a heart for charity and helping people. That was a big reason we named the band Foster The People, because we want to do more with our lives than just music and make money off making music. We want to be able to do something to help people and go a step further, because we can. We’re still defining that vision in terms of specifics, but that’s something we’ve talked about since day one.
How’s the band dynamic? How does your band work?
I’m the songwriter. I’ll write the song, we’ll strip it down and build it back up live. Everybody has creative control over that. We’re a creative democracy.
What’s your songwriting process? Lyrics or music first?
Usually I’ll get the vibe going with the music. It usually starts with drums and then I’ll kind of build from there. Before I put any pen to paper, I’ll think about what I want to write about or what the music is making me feel. A lot of the time, the music will put me in a place, or put me in a scenario, or put me in a character.
Then I’ll just press record and start vamping. So, I just kind of freestyle it first. I’ll freestyle it all the way through … a number of times. A lot of the times the freestyle is a really clear picture of what the character is that I am and where I am. Then I’ll go in and fill in the blanks.
One of your hits, “Pumped Up Kicks,” is all over The Current right now, which is one of our big radio stations here in Minnesota. The subject of the song, a loner child who is contemplating shooting other kids, is a unique and daring choice. What’s with that?
I write in character a lot. So, I decided to write in character and really try to psychologically get inside the head of the kid that would be going through strategies about doing something like that. And really break down what his thought processes were like, and what his world was like. I wanted to convey the isolation … the lack of love.
What are your musical inspirations?
Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Flash, Blur, ELO, Led Zeppelin …
Your sound has been compared to electronic pop bands like MGMT, do you like the comparison? How do you describe your band, or can you?
It’s fine. There are really only a handful of bands that are kind of in this genre that we are in, which I don’t really know what this genre is, necessarily. So, getting comparisons to those bands, I think it is … the natural order of things, in terms of being the new band on the block and people just really not being able to describe it.
I think it’s super different from MGMT, but I can see why people gravitate towards the spirit, because it’s youthful and fun, and has synthesizers.
What instruments can you play? If you could only play one instrument for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I play guitar, bass, drums, piano and pretty much any sort of stringed instrument — besides violin or cello. I started out with piano when I was little. That’s, for songwriting, is my favorite instrument. That’s what I play the most now.
One instrument for the rest of my life? It’d have to be piano.
So far, what has been your favorite place to play?
We played in Portland two nights ago (June 1, 2011) and it was awesome. We played the Crystal Ballroom, which is the biggest capacity club we’ve played so far — 1,500 people and it was sold out. The first time I stopped on stage and just heard the crowd just roar. Throughout the show, their energy was just unbelievable.
Lastly, you’re playing at the Fine Line Music Café on June 11. Do you like Minneapolis?
I was really surprised. I didn’t expect Minneapolis to be such a big city. Minneapolis is a really cool city. I had fun there. I’ve got some friends that live there. There’s a good vibe.
Foster The People will play at 9 p.m. June 11 at the Fine Line Music Café.
Check out the music video for Pumped Up Kicks on YouTube!