The next time Mark Foster has a chance to skip out of his work writing songs to go to the beach, don’t be surprised if he decides to stay inside and write.
Another time he chose work over play, things worked out pretty well for Foster and his band, Foster The People.
“I really didn’t have anything to do that day,” Foster recalls. “I was standing there in the studio and this thought came in my mind, like ‘I’m going to write a song,’ which I did all the time. I just kind of built a song from the ground up, and whatever, and then I was like I don’t feel like writing. I don’t want to write a song. I was a block away from the beach and it was a beautiful day. I kind of just wanted to just be lazy and go hang out at the beach or whatever. But I just forced myself to write a song. I was like, ‘Nope, I want to write a song.’ By that time the next day, the song was finished.”
It wasn’t just any song he finished. It was “Pumped Up Kicks,” the hit song that propelled Foster The People’s debut CD, Torches, toward platinum-selling success and a level of popularity that is allowing the group this summer to headline outdoor amphitheaters.
Beyond its success, Foster feels that he learned an important songwriting lesson from “Pumped Up Kicks.”
“I’ve heard a lot of other artists talk about this as well, like ‘I’m not inspired right now. I’ve got writer’s block. I’m just not really feeling anything,’” Foster says. “And I’ve felt that way, too, just not being inspired and wanting to wait for inspiration to come before I wrote. But I wasn’t inspired when I wrote ‘Pumped Up Kicks,’ and that’s what came out. So it really, it just solidified the notion that perspiration is more powerful than inspiration.”
Foster knows a thing or two about working to carve out a path in music. In fact, it took him some seven years before he formed Foster The People with drummer Mark Pontius (bassist Cubbie Fink completed the lineup later) and wrote “Pumped Up Kicks” over the space of that single day.
After finishing “Pumped Up Kicks,” Foster posted the song as a free download and it went viral. Around the same time, Foster The People landed a slot at the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin in March 2010.
Soon the buzz was on and by summer of 2010, Foster The People had signed to Startime International, part of the Columbia Records group of labels.
The group debuted with a self-titled EP featuring “Pumped Up Kicks” in January 2011. This allowed the song to get early radio play and placements on several high-profile television shows.
By the time Torches arrived in May, “Pumped Up Kicks” had already cracked Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 singles chart and paved the way for Torches to debut at No. 8 on Billboard’s album chart. By July, “Pumped Up Kicks” was crossing over to Adult Top 40 and Mainstream Top 40 and on its way to number three on the Hot 100 chart.
The song’s popularity is easy to understand. Fueled by a thumping beat, a hooky bass line and a singalong-worthy chorus, it’s an irresistible slice of synthy dance pop. The rest of Torches is solid as well, as on songs like “Call It What You Want,” “Don’t Stop (Color On The Walls)” and “Warrant,” Foster The People fashion a sound that deftly blends rock, pop and danceinducing rhythms.
The song’s success, though, also created a challenge — to establish Foster The People as more than a one-hit wonder.
“I really wanted to make sure that people knew we were more than ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ and that it wasn’t a fluke,’ Foster says.
The group got the follow-up hit it wanted with “Don’t Stop (Color On the Walls),” which went top 10 on several rock charts. And now the latest single, “Houdini,” has cracked the top 40 on the latest Billboard Alternative Songs chart.
The summer tour should help the band maintain its momentum heading into work this fall on its second album.
The tour will be Foster The People’s biggest production to date.
“For this tour, we wanted to bring the Torches artwork to life, bring the characters to life and kind of bring that whole world, make that whole world real,” Foster says. “So we’ve got a fair amount of video, animation in the same style of that. We’ve got a backdrop that’s kind of a town in the same art as the characters, basically like where the characters live, behind us. Then there are inflatables that blow up throughout the show that are different characters from the album art.
“I’ve not seen anything like it before,” he says. “And then there are bubbles and confetti and all that stuff, too, which never really gets old.”