Entertainment Music

Sunday 19 January 2020

Pumped up Kicks

Andy Welch, Press Association

In less than 12 months Foster The People have emerged from obscurity to become one of the biggest bands in pop music history.

Mark Foster has just undergone a surreal experience. The frontman of Foster The People is still flying high after performing with his heroes The Beach Boys at the Grammys earlier this month.

"They've been my favourite band since I was five or so," says the 27-year-old who originally hails from Cleveland, Ohio. "They were the first band I ever saw live when I was seven, and I just adore them. I can't begin to explain what it was like playing with them."

Thankfully he does try to articulate the experience which, partly due to interest in the tribute to the late Whitney Houston, was watched by an estimated 39 million people in the US alone, the award show's biggest TV audience since 1984.

"It wasn't about us," he says. "The Beach Boys hadn't played together as one for 20 years. I said to the rest of the band before we went out that it didn't matter whether we played the right notes or looked good, it was all about them.

"It was strange, because I had been really nervous beforehand. The first day we walked into rehearsal was so crazy. Mike Love walked in and said 'Hey guys, love your stuff, can't wait to do this, going to be a lot of fun,' and I froze. What do you say to that?

"But when we were called to the stage to perform on the night, all of those feelings went away and I just concentrated on being able to remember the experience. Whatever happens to me in the future, that night is most definitely something I'm going to be able to look back on as a huge moment in my life."

While Foster The People, formed in Foster's new home town of Los Angeles in 2009, might not have reached the dizzy heights of their Californian idols, they weren't invited to the star-studded event by fluke.

Since the band's debut album Torches was released last May, they've gone on to sell more than one million records around the world, earning two Grammy nominations in the process - Best Alternative Album and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance - and a further Brit nomination for Best International Breakthrough.

"We've spent more time in the UK in the past 12 months than we have anywhere else," says Foster. "It seems really fitting that the campaign for Torches finishes with big shows in London and Manchester, and it's an honour to be nominated for a Brit award too."

A great deal of the attention and praise heaped upon Torches was down to the band's breakthrough single Pumped Up Kicks. Essentially a bass line, half-mumbled vocal and infectious whistle, it was used on numerous TV shows and there's pretty much no chance you haven't heard it.

Foster's just started the process of thinking about the second album, although with just a few snatched days off here and there, he's not had the chunk of time such an undertaking demands.

"It's quite amazing how much touring bands have to do now to support a record," he says, having been on the road for the best part of 18 months.

"We've not had more than a few days off in a row, but we've got three weeks in LA now and hopefully I'll get into the studio to work through a few ideas.

"At the moment, I've been working on a remix of a Lana Del Rey song, Blue Jeans. I think she's an intriguing character and working on a song of hers is great.

"We don't get much more free time until August but then we have the rest of the year off to work on the second album. When we made the first album, we'd only been together nine months or something, but we've gelled so much from all the touring that we're a different band now. I'm really excited to see what everyone brings to the table for the next album. The future is really exciting."

Had Foster not taken his dad's advice a few years ago, his future could have been very different.

At the age of 17, after leaving high school, the aspiring musician was advised by his father to move to either New York or LA and pursue a career in music.

It's not the standard advice most rock stars seemed to receive, but old man Foster presented it in such a way it was impossible to argue.

"He basically said 'Go and try. You're 17, and if in a year or so things haven't worked out, then you'll still be young enough to come back to Ohio and do something else'. He's always been very cool and supportive, and I'll never forget that.

"Saying that, when I have kids that's not the advice I'm going to be giving them."

Foster took his father's advice and, like the old-fashioned American Dream, headed west.

"I'd always loved music, but I wasn't someone who'd dreamed of becoming a rock star, I was never into the posturing. I loved music for music's sake. I could sing and play piano and guitar, but the thing I couldn't do was write songs," he says.

"I just couldn't think of a way I was going to make a career out of music. Thankfully one day I wrote a song and it was good, and the rest came after that. It wasn't good enough to make the album, though. No one is ever going to hear those first songs."

Shortly afterward, he suffered writer's block and waited on tables to make ends meet before landing a job as a jingle writer, something that honed his ear for a catchy melody.

Songwriting wasn't the only thing the 18-year-old Foster was experimenting with, however. During the following few years, he followed a dark, destructive path of drug abuse and heavy drinking which he now puts down to nothing more than the first mad surge of youth.

Living on his own, for the first time, in a new city with temptation around every corner, he succumbed.

"I don't look back on those days as a waste of time," he says. "It was all part of the learning curve, and I came out of it a better person, and a deeper person, with knowledge of different walks of life.

"If I'd stayed in Cleveland, I'd be married with five kids working as a computer programmer now, but during those years I saw grit, and grit is something you can't imagine, you have to have lived it.

"I still like to party now, but these days it's not destructive. It's entirely celebratory."


:: Mark Foster was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on February 29, 1984.

:: The other members of Foster The People are Cubbie Fink and Mark Pontius.

:: Foster wrote breakthrough single Pumped Up Kicks about the issue of youth violence, the title referring to the trainers worn by his peers to show their status.

:: Youth violence is a subject close to the band's heart. Foster was badly bullied during high school, while Fink has a cousin who survived the Columbine High School shooting.

:: The band was originally called Foster & The People, but it became Foster The People when someone misheard the name one night and Foster likes its nurturing overtones.

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