WHAT’S UP | FOSTER THE PEOPLE
Foster The People are known for their 60s inspired beats and virally catchy choruses, often masking controversial undertones with undeniably infectious pop. It’s what skyrocketed their first single, Pumped Up Kicks, to platinum status six times, with the masses only catching on to the Columbine-esque story hiding in plain sight long after learning the lyrics.
Though their first single’s extreme popularity was totally unexpected, it encapsulated Mark Foster’s ability to wrap hard-hitting subjects in unassuming pop songs—a notion that is being teased out further and further with each record.The band, formed by Foster in 2009 with life-long friend Cubbie Fink on bass and Mark Pontius behind drums, originally performed under the name Foster And The People. The ‘and’ was dropped due to constant mispronunciations, but it created a crucial distinction in defining the type of music the band, joined later by touring members Isom Innis and Sean Cimino, would come to represent.
It’s almost ironic to see Foster, who created Pumped Up Kicks in five hours while working as a jingle writer at Mophonics in LA, now writing and producing songs without the pressures of being commercially viable. While debut album Torches was written to support the growing success of Pumped Up Kicks—it came with a promise that the band were not going to be defined by a single. Though the track sold over 7.5 million units, Torches scored three Grammy nominations, and the album went to the top of the Australian charts. Sophomore follow-up Supermodel, released four years after their debut, took a more straight-forward approach to dealing with the band’s newfound perspectives on being thrown into the limelight and the moral responsibility that comes with it.
If you were to track their trajectory and combine it with the state of affairs that has been 2016-2017, you would expect third album, Sacred Hearts Club, to be a negatively-charged collection of sound. Instead, Foster The People brought forth a record that was the exact opposite. “We wanted this record to be joyful with all the political turmoil going on and all the divisiveness in our country,” says keyboardist Isom Innis, “We just wanted to turn around and make something that would take people out of their heads.”
Sacred Hearts Club was always destined to be an optimistic album. Though the band have strong views against social inequality, there was never a temptation to add to the anger felt across the world, “There are some songs that are angsty, but for the most part it’s a celebration of life.” Innis notes.
Sit Next To Me is a perfect example of how Foster The People chose to focus on the positives. The song emanates a simple idea, one that touches on togetherness and the importance of human connection both lyrically and instrumentally. Also seen, albeit slightly less eloquently, in feel-good number I Love My Friends, it’s a theme that weaves its way throughout the entire record. ‘Sacred Hearts Club’ is the name given to the overall feeling you get from the album: It’s liberating, but it’s also very deliberate. Innis explains that “[The] Sacred Hearts Club was a mantra that Mark [Foster] came up with, and he was in Burma with our friend Jena [Malone]. It was a mantra that he had coined on the trip, and it kind of became our mission statement, or vision statement of the record. The Sacred Hearts Club are the people in your life that celebrate life, that aren’t afraid to exist outside of societal norms. They’re people that you want to spend your life with.”
Static Space Lovers, a psychedelic 60s track that takes it’s inspiration from one of the bands biggest influences, The Beach Boys, is an opportunity to see the Foster The People emulate The Sacred Hearts Club while experimenting with sound in a way that completely challenges our expectations. Shining keys peek through electric guitars and galloping percussion, comforting you with a wave of nostalgia for what feels like simpler times.
It’s this kind of experimentation that sets Sacred Hearts Club apart from anything we’ve heard before. While there are inevitably people lusting for more hedonistic hits like Pumped Up Kicks, Houdini, or Don’t Stop (Colours On The Wall), the band haven’t let the unwavering demands affect the creative process. “It was really important for us to push any kind of pressure out of the studio and just make music for the joy of music, and for the joy of making music.” Innis explains, “The only way we know how to create is out of freedom. For us, what excites us about music is the purity of art and pushing the status quo. If we try to characterise anything, it’s over before we even start. It’s really important for us to keep the purity of art and the purity of creation when we’re going in and writing music.”
The theme of purity is felt heavily in Static Space Lovers. Untouched vocals from both Foster and Malone are oddly reassuring, but it’s an ephemeral euphoria that promptly ends with the jarring intro of the following track, Lotus Eater. Lotus Eater, an insight into Foster’s experience of living in the often-trivial LA, marks a shift in mood, but not a stray in course. It’s one of the few times that the band allows themselves to show any aggression and challenge the pop-expectations, with Foster toying with hip-hop deliveries and vocal and instrumental distortions, also seen in Loyal Like Sid & Nancy and Doing It For The Money.
The way the record flows, or at times, doesn’t flow, was a precisely calculated move by Innis and Foster, who produced the record themselves. “Our favourite records are records you can listen to in one continuous listen. We wanted Sacred Hearts Club to be able to flow from start to finish without you skipping a song. So we cut it down to where you could digest the record as one continuous listen.” says Innis.
The careful trimming of the album was one that the two did not take lightly. Though the record was produced in-house, the band needed help from the outside to make the tough decisions on what could stay and what needed to go. “Halfway through the process we brought some of our friends in who are really amazing producers, Lars Stalfors (Cold War Kids, The Mars Volta), and Patrick Berger (Miike Snow, Royal Blood). So we were able to bring in some people that we really admired and trusted to take what we started,” says Innis. The band also collaborated with writer and producer Oliver Goldstein, who has worked closely with artists such as pop-icon Carly Rae Jepsen, to make the final changes on the album. “Sometimes you can get so close to something that you need someone to step outside and say ‘Listen, you don’t need ten drum parts and ten analogue synths as well. Maybe just take this and this and start stripping things away’. It was really important for us to have people to push us out of our heads.” Innis adds.
With, at that point, five people working on the record, I ask Innis when he knew the album was complete. “It took us a really long time actually,” he admits, “We have a routine, a tradition, where when we finish a record or when we think it’s done, we all hang out in the studio, have some drinks, and listen to the record start to finish to sequence and to see which songs need to be arranged. This time when we did that, it was really silent when the record finished, and Mark the first one to address the elephant in the room … By the way this is about after spending two and a half years working on it … he was like ‘Guys, this isn’t done’. It was too bloated, we needed to shave some fat off the record. So we went back in, and we cut it down.”
“we ended up mastering the record five different times.” Innis admits, “The first was a much longer record, it was about an hour and twenty minutes long.” With the finished product standing just shy of 42 minutes, the record only accounts for half of the original content. The extended plays, however, are not completely lost. “There are a few songs where we play the longer arrangements live, and it’s fun because we’re not really following a road map so live, you have the freedom to stretch sections out. Sometimes when the spirit is there and the inspiration is there, it’s nice to have the freedom to extend sections and stay in certain atmospheres.”
Having played at Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Glastonbury this year, Foster The People are ending 2017 in Australia with appearances at Falls Festival in Lorne, Marion Bay, Fremantle, and Byron Bay, and sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne. I ask Innis if that’s the kind of free-form set we can expect over New Years, “Absolutely,” He says, “but it’ll also have all the favourites”.
FOSTER THE PEOPLE NATIONAL TOUR
29 December | Falls Festival, Lorne
30 December | Falls Festival, Marion Bay
31 December | Falls Festival, Byron Bay
4 January | Forum Theatre, Melbourne
5 January | Enmore Theatre, Sydney
7 January | Falls Festival Fremantle