Foster the People on "Sacred Hearts Club" and Joy Amidst Turmoil | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Foster the People on “Sacred Hearts Club” and Joy Amidst Turmoil

These Kicks Are Made For Pumping

Aug 14, 2017 Foster the People
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Say the words “Foster the People” and invariably the response will be, “Pumped Up Kicks.” The Los Angeles-based group is much more than its perennial, most recognizable hit (with over 310 million YouTube views for its video). On its third album, Sacred Hearts Club, central figure Mark Foster joins production forces with bandmate Isom Innis, a turnaround from the producer-assisted previous albums, 2011’s standard-setting and much lauded Torches and 2014’s world observing and fire starting Supermodel. Self-produced in the group’s Los Angeles studio, Sacred Hearts Club is an illustration of Foster the People in the current global landscape. It absorbs influences from various styles, but maintains the identifying Foster the People pop jangle at its core. The day before Sacred Hearts Club‘s release, central figure Mark Foster has barely stepped off the plane from a whirlwind European tour and still reeling from jetlag. He powers through, explaining how Foster the People’s musical trajectory has taken shape from its 2009 origins to the eve of Sacred Hearts Club.

Lily Moayeri (Under the Radar): You had multiple producers on the first album and one main producer on the last one. What made you and Isom Innis decide to take the reins on this one yourselves?

Mark Foster: Isom and I have been creative kindred spirits for the last five years. We play in the band together, but we’ve also been producing other artists together. It was a very natural thing for us to want to hole up in the studio, put as much musical gear as we can in one environment, lock the door, and create a space where there’s no pressure, only freedom to be able to create and express without judgment.

Sometimes there’s pressure working with producers outside of your band or coming from a different place. What I’m really trying to do when I’m writing a song is waiting for the creative spirit to come in, making a safe space for that little kid to come out and play. Sometimes that can be hindered if there are multiple engineers in the room, people that the little kid inside my heard doesn’t know that well. All the weird shit that happens when I turn on the mic and just start free associating. Isom and I trust each other. It was a very free, innocent, pure expression to be in a space together and allow whatever is going to come out to come out.

How come you worked with so many external producers before?

I co-produced the first record but I definitely didn’t have the confidence or the skills to be able to make something sound finished. I was so close to a lot of the songs that it really helped to have some of the best producers who have ever lived: Greg Kurstin, Paul Epworth, Rich Costey. When they put their hands up and said, “I want to work on this,” I was so excited to be in the studio with somebody that had so much experience and so much to offer to the songs on the first album. On the second album we worked with Paul Epworth, who I love, and we wrote a lot of that record together as well.

Coming off of that record, I realized that it was time to start producing. Between Isom and myself, we had the confidence. Sometimes in the songwriting process, it gets so myopic. This big song is about a centimeter away from your face so it really helped for us to bring in Oliver Goldstein, John Hill, and Lars Stalfors. A couple of those came in at the end of the process to be like, “Okay, you don’t need this part,” or “We can make this part pop more,” adding production, helping with the sonics, with some of the things that we hit a wall with because we’d been staring at them for the last year and a half and had 40 different versions of the same song. Bringing those guys in at the end was critical to help us bring out the clarity of the picture we were trying to paint.

Did the songwriting and production you did for other artists have an impact on Sacred Hearts Club?

We’re constantly learning from every project we work on. A lot of times, the artists we work with have a really strong identity and we have to stay within the boundaries of their sound, which is a challenge in itself. When coming off the heels of doing something like that and then songwriting for our own thing where there are no boundaries, there’s a freedom that comes with that. We can do whatever we want and there’s a release that naturally comes out. I would say there’s a healthy balance between working within boundaries and stepping out into something and saying we can go in any direction we want.

That’s something that we did a lot on this record. We wouldn’t know the style of the song. We would just start something: on a synth, on a piano, with a vocal, with a drumbeat, and we would let the spirit of whatever the idea was take us for a ride without judging it and seeing where it was going to go. The first year of writing for Sacred Hearts Club we wrote in a ton of different styles, searching for this record to reveal itself to us really trying not to be contrived or controlling about it.

There is a definitive Foster the People sound, as it were, that the general public associates primarily with Torches. That shows up on Sacred Hearts Club here and there but as you say, there is a noticeable cross section of styles on the album.

What turns me on as a songwriter and producer is to constantly be exploring new styles. I never want to repeat something I’ve done in the past. For us to want to replicate Torches because it was a successful album and want to rewrite the same song over and over, to me, that’s rooted in commerce, not creativity. If I’m making decisions based on commerce, then I’m not being present as an artist. I’m chasing something and if I’m chasing something that’s not authentic to how I’m feeling, then it’s going to turn out like shit anyway. It’s not going to feel genuine. A lot of the songs on Torches have different identities. If that was the seed or conception of our band, then you’re looking at seven years down the line, how those different directions that we alluded to early on have evolved and are maybe more extreme versions of themselves. My favorite bands have always surprised me throughout their career. Blur’s Parklife is very different from 13, which is very different from Think Tank. The Clash, Combat Rock is very different from Sandanista!. The Beatles started off as a pop group, which went to a pretty rock thing, and then went to a psychedelic thing and explored a lot of different styles. I’ve never looked at one record of ours as being, “This is who we are as a band.” Twenty years from now, looking back at the 10 albums we put out as a bandif we’re lucky enough to do thatthe albums are going to be chapters in one book.

What was the underlying intention with Sacred Hearts Club?

Every day over the last three years, I would wake up, read the news and get a knot in my stomach. It felt like we’ve been getting hammered as the world’s been getting hammered by tragedy after tragedy. The turmoil with the Syria crisis, so many refugees trying to get out of their war torn countries, with people that we loved, Prince and Bowie, Mohammad Ali, all these iconic people passing away. It’s just been really heavy on a lot of people. I wanted to write something joyful to take the weight off my own back. But then also, I felt like the world needed joy. Joy as an escape, but also joy as a weapon. Joy is the most effective weapon we have toward depression and oppression. That was at the core. We were constantly reminding ourselves to chase a joyful spirit. It was important to us to make something that reminded ourselves that life is beautiful despite all these things that are happening. We’re surrounded by beauty and we’re still lucky to be alive, and that love is bigger than politics.

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