Foster the People Pump Up the Volume
Let's start with probably one of the best birthdays Foster the People front man Mark Foster ever had. Now, of course, playing to tens of thousands of panting fans is just a normal day at work for him. And before there were tens of thousands of fans, there were always thousands or at least hundreds—in fact, there was only one show that didn't field the kind of pinch-me, Beatles-of-'64 freakout that has come to be the standard environment for Foster the People since the success of their first single, "Pumped Up Kicks," which went viral last year with Ebola-style ferocity.
That point in a band's career when your friends keep telling you to stick with it even though only a few people are coming out, with only those few kind words from random strangers keeping you from quitting in despair and dumping your dreams cheap on Craigslist? Foster the People got to skip all that. Thanks to equal parts magic-of-the-Internet and magic-of-songwriting, they've been over-the-top, buzz-band beloved since show No. 2—which was Foster's birthday.
"Really, our first show was the only show that wasn't like that," says Foster. "That was just in front of a bunch of our friends. I wrote 'Pumped Up Kicks' pretty early on—at the end of January or the beginning of February 2010, when we were just a few months into being a band. We played the Viper Room on my birthday, which is Feb. 29, and we were expecting it to . . . just be my birthday. We show up, and there's a line out the door. It's like, 'Oh, shit—we're not ready for this!' We thought it would just be this fun thing, and the room was packed. We grew fast—we had to!"
You can see something like that yourself, thanks to more Internet magic. The official video for "Pumped Up Kicks" was filmed during Foster the People's January 2011 co-residency with Pacific Hurt at Detroit Bar, which is featured prominently between shots of Foster shouting, laughing and hammering at his fancy keyboard while kids in the front row dance like they don't even care that (at press time) 13 million people are gonna see them on YouTube.
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By now, the single has gone platinum and is halfway to double platinum, and their recent debut album, Torches, made it to No. 1 on Billboard's Rock and Alternative charts, as well as reaching into the top 10 on Billboard's Top 200. Scientifically speaking, this is phenomenal—the kind of momentum-makes-more-momentum explosion usually reserved for hilarious pictures of cats. Sold-out shows are just business as usual for Foster the People, whose show this week at the Galaxy is (of course) sold out. Foster himself, however, has not yet accepted that there's any such thing as business as usual. He's working harder than ever.
"I've seen so many bands rise and fall," he says. "I've studied bands for a long time. I watched bands who were, at one point, the biggest band in the world, and two years later, no one cared. We're not established yet! We're moving quickly, and we've been received with open arms, and it's awesome, but we still need to deliver daily—the rug can get pulled out from you at any time when you stop making good music. I've been in LA for nine years, delivering pizzas and working terrible jobs. The other guys [Mark Pontius and Cubbie Fink] have, too. That helps—knowing the reality of the situation."
Despite a schedule that hovers between exhilarating and exhausting—in the 48 hours before our phone call, he traveled between London, LA and Germany—Foster displays an admirable perspective and politeness. He even recently got to catch up with an old friend who used to text politely asking if Foster could come out to one of her shows, he says. Maybe you've heard of her—Katy Perry? Back in their younger days, they were just two struggling kids in LA, trying to make it. Now, they're . . . well, famous. Which is fine with Foster. But even with all the talk about hype and buzz, what he really wants is to be "timeless."
At the ad agency that was probably his best job before he was in Foster the People, his specialty was "epic"—the big songs that could kinda tug at a person, even if they were just for a commercial. (He laughs now, thinking of how his old friends at the agency are now getting requests for Foster the People-style music.) That's what his strength is, he says, and that's what he wants to put on the next album, which he's already thinking about. His band have come very far very fast, but he wants to make sure they don't disappear the same way.
"I have a strength in writing something that sticks with you," he says. "There just has to be a quality there—a depth people relate to, no matter how old they are or what time they're living in. Bob Dylan is amazing at that. In terms of timeless music, I think it's really about an emotion. If you can write a song that makes someone feel a certain way . . . it won't ever get old."
This article appeared in print as "Pump Up the Volume: Foster the People's rise to fame was hard and fast. Now, the goal is to be timeless."
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