There’s nothing worse than listening to an album on repeat for days and days, gettin’ giddy for the band’s live production, only to hear a mangled version of the electro-magic you heard through your car speakers.
That’s not the case for the L.A. synth-pop all-stars in Foster The People. Nearly every show on their tour has sold out—and for good reason.
Despite the explosion of fame found through their infectious summer jam, “Pumped Up Kicks,” the guys showed up to Atlanta’s Masquerade ready to play. It’s excruciating to watch a band stand up on stage, lackadaisically forcing themselves through their hits to keep up with an invisible degree of cool, but that wasn’t an issue as lead singer Mark Foster jumped up to get closer to the crowd, to further ignite the excitement of “Pumped Up Kicks” as if it wasn’t close to the 100th time he probably performed the song.
For Foster, that crafted studio-to-stage translation comes from his classical roots, and the onstage optimism can be attributed to the fact that he just doesn’t care about what’s hip or what isn’t. Mark doesn’t barf out his words, begging for accreditation as the frontman for a brand new band. But he doesn’t boast either. There’s a healthy blend of educated humility in his tone.
If you’ve ever heard the acoustic version of “Pumped Up Kicks” you soon realize that there’s more to the band than just danceable pop music.
“Even the electronic stuff, it’s kind of production but when you break it down all of the melodies of the songs on torches are there, they can be stripped down to piano or guitar,” Foster says. “When I did solo stuff before it was just me and an acoustic guitar. I’m very familiar with that style of music, Americana kind of folk…I grew up breaking these songs down, stripping them down, so it’s a pretty natural thing for us to do.” When asked where fans could find his acoustic catalog he says, “I’d love to put an acoustic record out at some point, but I never put anything out there.”
A classically trained musician, Foster started out as a solo artist in Ohio. Growing up, he first learned to play classical piano and sang for the Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Choir. He eventually moved out to L.A. and regrouped with some close friends to form Foster The People.
“It’s been really healthy transition,” he says. “I loved being a solo for the time I had. I was coming off the heels of a bunch of bands that really weren’t that much fun to be in. I told myself I never wanted to be in a band again. But being a solo artist can be a lonely life. You carry the emotional burden, the creative burden. Everything is all on your shoulders, you don’t have anyone to share it with, anyone to share the highs or the lows with.”
Just like the structure, Foster takes a lot of pride in his poetry. Every song on Torches has something to say. A catchy summer tune, most people don’t initially recognize that “Pumped Up Kicks” speaks about gun violence in schools and the emotional state of our youth.
“I think that’s part of the reason people are scared of the song because you know you listen to it and I think it takes a few weeks for the lyrics to really sink in,” Foster says. “I’ve heard that story a lot. People are singing along or humming or whistling or whatever for a few weeks before they actually knew what I was saying. It kind of hits them like a bucket of cool water when they find out what the lyrics are. So, for a summer anthem, I think it’s a pretty vivid story. Of a topic that nobody really likes to talk about.”
Foster doesn’t really seem fazed by the fact that MTV censored the words “gun” and “bullet” in the video for “Pumped Up Kicks.”: “Most kids that see that probably already know the song and can infer that I’m saying gun or bullet,” he says. “I don’t know…it is what it is. There’s a lot of music out there that MTV plays that’s way more offensive.”
He’s been known to voice his aggravation with the hipster critics that like to catagorize the music world. So, after listening to “Call It What You Want,” I couldn’t help but wonder if it was directed at the nay-sayers.
“Yeah, it [is] I guess,” Foster says. “It’s not necessarily directed toward the hipster culture. Everybody is a critic nowadays; everybody is on their blog, on their Twitter. Everybody likes to put themselves on this high pedestal. And most people don’t really know their ass from their elbow.”
“What’s funny is when people get behind a pen or a typewriter they become way more witty or articulate and powerful,” he continues. “And it’s cool on one hand, but on the other hand…we live in a world where for every artist there are 1000 critics. ‘Call It What You Want’ for me is just about people trying to put my music in a box. I like to write in different genres, and I like to make what I like to make. It’s the aggravation of people labeling it this or that, drilling me on my style. My attitude is just like, you know, call it what you want. It is what is. Why do we need to put a label on it?”
It takes a few spins to really translate some of the meaning behind Torches, but Foster thinks the most evident message is found on “Waste.”
“I think ‘Waste’ has a pretty clear message,” he says. “It’s a pretty cultural song about unconditional love. The lyrics to that song are really powerful, really empathetic, compassionte towards humanity. You can apply it to a person that you love or a best friend or a parent.”
Foster is indifferent to how you consume the record—the music is most important to him, not the medium.
“No it doesn’t really matter. I think it’s cool to have a physical copy. I think having a physical copy of the vinyl is the coolest thing. It’s a piece art you can put on your wall.” “It’s really all about the music. If someone just wants to download it on iTunes that’s fine.”
But he’d like you to familiarize yourself with the CD jacket.
“I’m really proud of the lyrics on Torches, and I hear people misquote them all the time,” he says. “A lot of the songs are really accessible and really immediate. It’s pop at its roots. It’s pop but its quirky pop.”