Interview with Mark Foster of Foster The People - The Mod Club, Toronto - June 18th, 2011
Foster The People v. Lithium Magazine
06.18.11 @ The Mod Club
Photos by Mike Bax
Foster The People is secretly plotting to take over the world, I know they are, with Mark Foster’s unassuming charm and a record full of unflinchingly upbeat, and at times, startlingly intelligent songs. No one should be able to write a track about the psychosis of a troubled teen contemplating a violent firearm attack and make you sing along like it’s a breezy summer anthem, or coax you into moving uncontrollably to heavy beats while exploring what it might be like to be full of delusions of grandeur as a street hood looking for his next heroin score. Couple that with a live show with energy that spills recklessly from the stage and into the crowd and a musical chairs style stage show of instrument trading – what are they distracting us from? Are they secretly building some mind-altering slave machine that will turn us all into hive-minded freaks!?! And that band name! Evil, I tell you.
Ah, I’m just kidding. Mark Foster couldn’t be a nicer guy, and fashionably dressed at that - nice enough to sit down and talk with us before hitting the stage at The Mod Club. All too soon Foster The People will be done with living life on the nickel, unable to out run the bullet firing them up the charts, and Foster may feel like sometimes he’ll just need to disappear and long for the days he used to waste. See what I did there? I used a bunch of song titles and lyrics… ah, forget it.
Myles: You guys have already been up to play Toronto; you play tonight, and will be back in September or October. Have you guys noticed a steady growth in your fan base, each time you play the venue gets a little bigger?
Mark Foster: It’s been that way, I guess. This whole tour’s been great; a lot of energy and every show’s been sold out in The States. It’s been really cool. Last time we had a blast playing Toronto, it was a really fun show.
Myles: I’ve heard that you guys moved to LA to avoid some nasty winters, does that mean you hope to avoid touring during them?
Mark: Nah, it’s different passing through a place. Growing up in Cleveland, sometimes winter is 5 months long. I was born in California and I always wanted to go back.
Myles: It is kind of difficult to peg the band down for a sound, is that something you pride your selves on or worry about?
Mark: Definitely. The sound is something I’ve been working on for a while. As a writer I pull from a lot of different genres of music and I never try to write in the same style twice, so I think really making the record cohesive and having a thru-line was a challenge more so than trying to differentiate our sound from other people.
Myles: You guys have been trying to make a living from music for a while now does it feel like success now that you have a full-length under your belt and are touring?
Mark: Absolutely. It feels great. I think we’re just grateful to be able to have a career in music – period. So, to be able to tour and have an album out, and to have the success that we’ve been enjoying it’s a good feeling.
Myles: When MGMT broke out a couple years ago, they were a band that I latched onto immediately because they seemed to balance pop and experimentalism exceptionally well. Is that what you guys were looking for when making the album?
Mark: Definitely. I’ve always loved quirky pop; those have always been my favourite artists. That’s the stuff that I like to write. I like to write music that’s accessible and is still intelligent.
Myles: I think that can be a challenge. Some people dilute their music so much to achieve pop music that there’s a message lost. I tried to search it out but someone had told me that “Pumped Up Kicks” was inspired by the Columbine shootings. Is there any truth to that?
Mark: False, it’s not about any specific thing… shooting or anything like that, it’s more about the headspace of a kid and where the story could possibly end in a shooting, but I never talk about him actually doing anything. It’s more about his psychosis and the psychology behind what’s making him tick.
Myles: You guys have spoken before about a love for The Clash but I thought that “Color On The Walls (Don’t Stop)” maybe had some Bowie influence to it. The chorus and guitar work especially reminds me a bit of some of the Ziggy Stradust tracks.
Mark: Totally on base! That song was inspired definitely by Bowie and I was actually listening to The Clash at the time, and also there’s a song by The Flaming Lips and I forget what its called, but I just had those sounds swirling around in my head when I wrote that song.
Myles: “Color”, of course, has some whistling in it, just as “Pumped Up Kicks” can you name a favourite song with whistling in it? G’n’R “Patience”, Peter Bjorn and John “Young Folks”, or Black Keys’ “Tighten Up”?
Mark: “Young Folks”: I think that’s the greatest whistling song ever written, it’s just so infectious. Doesn’t Edward Sharpe [and the Magnetic Zeros’] “Home” have some in it? [Whistling the opening of the song]. Whistling just makes you smile.
Myles: “Pumped Up Kicks” came out on a 7” but really built up buzz on the internet. Do you have an affection for the vinyl format and why do you think most people are buying it?
Mark: Absolutely, it’s turned into my favourite format to listen to music. I think that music, over time, has just gotten more and more diluted. We live in a microwave generation, going to iTunes you can just download your one favourite song from a record, or when you’re listening to music you can just say, “Oh, I hate this one”, and just skip it and click through. I think people are rediscovering the joy of sitting down and actively putting a needle on a record and listening to everything the artist has to say. It’s a much more active listening experience on vinyl.
Myles: I think you guys have a great album in Torches where you can put on side one and side two and listen to them straight through. There won’t be too many people skipping songs because it is crafted pretty well. I‘m sure I’m way off base here but I thought the opening drum beat from “Houdini” sounded a bit like “Footloose” – at least they are both as danceable!
Mark: That’s funny. Not Footloose but Billy Squier; it’s almost the same exactly as “The Big Beat”. It’s the same song that Dizzee Rascal sampled on his “Fix Up, Look Sharp”. That was kind of the inspiration for that track. I love that beat and I almost wish I could write every song around that beat.
Myles: That’s funny, I saw a band like that last night that had one beat and just used it for every song.
Mark: Hahahaha… it doesn’t work.
Myles: The line “sometimes I wanna disappear” from “Houdini” might seem more relevant now than when originally written, are you guys getting tired yet of all the attention and road work? Are you at a point yet when you feel that needs to happen sometimes?
Mark: Absolutely. That’s what I wrote the song about as well. It’s about the fear of what was happening to us because I wrote that two months before we went in to record our record, and things were already happening with us. Just the thought of losing anonymity and wanting to get away from everything, it’s a terrifying thought. It’s happening more and more and there’s no stopping it but it’s OK.
Myles: You see something like that and it’s almost destroyed some people, like Thom Yorke’s spiral down after OK Computer and how far he wanted to distance him self from everything. You always hope that you have an artist that doesn’t have to go down that path, that they can find some kind of balance with their personal life.
Mark: Yeah, that’s what “How To Disappear Completely” was about. I don’t know if you know that story but Thom Yorke was talking to Michael Stype from REM, they’re friends and he was just asking him how to deal with the fame. Fame is a scary thing; I hate celebrity. I’d love to sell millions of records and not be recognized. I think Daft Punk are geniuses because they can go up with masks on and nobody knows what they look like.
Myles: Yeah, Deadmau5 seems to be getting away with the same thing. It’s not like he’s going to walk around with a glowing mouse head on his head all the time.
Mark: Hahaha. Yeah, right.
Myles: “Hustling (Life On The Nickel)” is definitely one of my favourite tracks from the album was there one that you guys enjoy playing live or had fun with in particular in the studio?
Mark: Recording: I think “Houdini” is my favourite track on the record. Playing live: “Helena Beat” – I have fun playing that. I have fun playing “Life On The Nickel” live too, it’s a fun song to play, it’s super percussive.
Myles: Just curious about the title, was it a reference to playing music for a living?
Mark: “Life On The Nickel”? The Nickel in downtown Los Angeles is skid row, it’s Fifth Street. It’s where the homeless people or anyone goes to score heroin. The song is written in character about a homeless guy who is a junkie – from his perspective, and it’s basically talking about that even though he’s a bum he believes he owns the city; he’s the prince of the city.
Myles: I have a feeling you guys are going to be touring Torches for a long time, and I’ve heard that some of the songs were written quite a while ago, do you guys plan on writing at all while you’re touring, or start fresh when you’re done?
Mark: Definitely start writing on the road, I brought my studio on with us for this tour. Just want to start writing a second record as soon as possible. I’d hate to be in a position where we’re tired and just want to go on vacation off of a two year tour and have to write 10 or 20 tracks for a record.
Myles: There’s a lot of bands that have produced a good road record, they take all their experiences of being on the road and make a great record. Usually it’s about being tired, and tired of talking to people, and tired of playing for people. I’d be interested to hear what a Foster The People road record would sound like because this one is so upbeat.
Mark: It’s definitely going to change us. Every life experience changes me as a writer, so we’ll see.