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Interview:
Foster The People pumped up about success
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

That sigh of relief you hear is coming from Mark Foster and his bandmates in Foster The People — because the Los Angeles rock trio can now say, comfortable and confidently, that it’s not a one-hit wonder.

And that certainly looked like a distinct possibility at one point.

In 2010, before Foster The People had a recording contract, it had a hit. “Pumped Up Kicks,” a tune Foster came up with while writing commercial jingles for the Mophonics agency, became a viral sensation in 2010, when he posted it as a free download on his web site. Nylon magazine licensed it for an ad campaign. The group got a slot at that year’s South By Southwest Music + Media Conference, scored managers and was the subject of a bidding war that led to a deal with the Columbia Records subsidiary Startime International.

The upshot: “Pumped Up Kicks” hit was a Top 5 hit on the Billboard 100 and No. 1 on the Alternative Rock Songs chart, selling more than 5 million copies. It took the trio’s debut album, “Torches,” into the Top 10 and gold record status. But most importantly, Foster The People followed with two more Top 10 Alternative hits, “Helena Beat” and “Don’t Stop (Color the Walls),” while a fourth single, “Houdini,” is climbing the chart.

And the group was nominated for a pair of Grammy Awards earlier this year, performing as part of a Beach Boys tribute during the broadcast.

“I think that was the big challenge for us. We didn’t want to be ‘Those ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ guys,’” acknowledges Foster, 28, a Cleveland native who moved to Los Angeles after graduating from high school. “‘Pumped Up Kicks’ virally started to take off before we even had a chance to become a band together, before we even had a chance to record (an album). And there we were at Top 40 radio sandwiched between Drake and Nicki Minaj — not really a place where a band like us is usually seen.

“So it was really important to us to show people we were really a band and there were a lot of good songs on (‘Torches’) and it wasn’t a fluke we wrote ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ but that we actually know how to play music and write songs. And we feel like we’ve done that now.”

Foster credits “a mixture of luck and timing and ... just a perfect storm of things” for the band’s success beyond its first single. It may seem quick, but Foster was kicking around Los Angeles for a few years before getting his break, while drummer Mark Pontius was in another band, Malbec, when he met Foster. Bassist Cubbie Fink lost a TV production company job just as the group, originally called Foster & the People, started taking off.

“Pumped Up Kicks” opened myriad doors for the band and was used in a variety of TV shows such as “The Vampire Diaries,” “Gossip Girl” and “Entourage.” Nearly all of the other songs on “Torches” were licensed as well.

“I feel like the first six to eight months, when things were on that really steep incline, we were all just trying to get our bearings and ride that wave,” Foster recalls. “There was a lot of pressure, but it was a lot of fun, a lot of new experiences. Our lives changed.

“I think now we’re kind of settling into this new lifestyle, and it feels really comfortable.”

He’s also happy that “Houdini” is getting its turn as a single. “It’s my favorite song on the (album),” Foster says. “I think ‘Houdini’ squashes ‘Pumped Up Kicks.’” The song was a product of showing off to a now ex-girlfriend at Mophonics. “It was like take your girlfriend to work day — ‘This is how I write a song,’” he recalls. He worked on it for a scant 10 minutes, but the random idea hooked him enough to come back and turn it into a song.

“At the time I was freaking out a little bit,” Foster says. “We had just gotten signed. ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ was a pretty big viral song. I’d always been terrified of fame. I was perusing music and stuff, but I just hated celebrity and all of that.

“So ‘Houdini’ was really me talking to myself and telling myself that I needed to not be afraid, I needed to be the best I could be, creatively, and not allow that fear of being famous get in the way. But at the same time I kind of envied Harry Houdini who could make a flash of smoke and disappear beneath the stage and exit through the back door if he wanted — and I couldn’t do that.”

Now, however, Foster is fully, well, pumped up about the band, the lifestyle — and especially the prospects of a second album. He’s already “got a lot of ideas” for new songs and has a portable studio on the road with him plus “about 200 gigs of drums” the group recorded earlier in the spring for inspiration. He predicts an album that’s “going to take a lot of left turns,” and after Foster The People’s tour wraps during late summer in the Middle East he plans to hang around in that region as part tourist, part working musician.

“We’ve never really gotten to travel and songwrite at the same time,” Foster says. “I’m just going to stay on that side of the world and travel around in some weird cultures ... and just vibe out. I think it’s gonna open up a whole different perspective on the way I look at the world.

“And to be around different instruments and in a completely uncomfortable environment. ... I think uncomfortability sometimes produces the best art, so I’m really excited and ready to see what comes out of that.”

Foster The People, Tokyo Police Club and Kimbra perform Sunday, June 17, at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are sold out, and tickets for the originally announced June 16 date will be honored. Call 313-961-5450 or visit www.livenation.com.

Web Site: www.livenation.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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