Foster the People talk 'Pumped Up Kicks' and hipsterdom


For every kid who has ever left their hometown and moved to LA in search of "something more," Mark Foster is an inspiration. Originally hailing from Cleveland, Foster made a life-changing decision to change his direction at the age of 18; he headed west toward the land of opportunity, and never turned back.

This all-too-familiar story comes with many ups and downs, and for Mark it's one he can now tell with little humility and much adoration. Foster the People have gone from working retail jobs and scrubbing dishes to being one of the most popular indie-single-selling bands of 2011. Their recently released album Torches has landed in the Top 10 and their single "Pumped Up Kicks" has sold over 300,000 copies and has over 3 million hits on YouTube.

[jump] Although many may only be familiar with their hit-single "Pumped Up Kicks," Foster the People are certainly not lacking recognition. Being extolled as the "Song of the Summer," "Pumped Up Kicks" is a righteous expression of isolated youth gone mad. The single either makes you want to dance or run around with a BB gun on a hot summer night. The looping bass is reminiscent of an old Donkey Kong video game -- and if that's not enough nostalgia for your summer, then the similarly catchy Peter Bjorn and John whistling riff will.

Gimme Noise had a chance to speak with Mark Foster of Foster the People prior to their sold out show this Saturday night at the Fine Line.

Gimme Noise: Tell me about the new record...

Mark Foster: The record is really versatile; we really pulled from different influences. Hip hop and rock, electronica, to soul. It's really upbeat, the record -- it's got kind of a fun, summer vibe.


Is it true that Nylon Magazine advertised "Pumped Up Kicks" on their website, and that's how it was discovered?

Yeah, they put it up on the internet for this fashion show. Then it was found by some people and shared on blogs, and literally it just started tearing up the charts. So that was kind of our first big wave I think that came about.

To the outside world it seems that Foster the People have become famous overnight, but how long have you really been working at this?

I'm 27 now; I moved to LA when I was 18 and that was a hard time. I was working odd jobs, and like barely making rent. The whole time I was just trying to write songs, and start bands, and play shows. Just struggling, you know. There's a lot of time put into this; I've been playing music my whole life though, since I was a toddler. So like eight years, or -- well that's hard to say, we're still working on it, because our record is not even out yet.

What is "Pumped Up Kicks" about?

The song is about a teenage kid that is trapped, isolated, and basically hates his life. So he's pretty much fantasizing going on a killing spree. For me, I write in character a lot, so I like to write stories from other people's perspectives. That song in particular, I was thinking and kind of burnt by 'How often does this happen?' More kids are getting guns, and shooting people, and these things are happening younger and younger, 14 or 13 years old. It's turning into an epidemic for American youth. I wanted to infiltrate, and dig beneath the surface and get into the psychology of what's going on in a kid's mind like that.

What is Foster The People's creed?

Like what we stand for? I think it's right there in the band's name itself. I like to write songs about humanity. A lot of the songs are kind of exploding; they're kind of dark truths. But all through it there's hope at the end of the tunnel. The first couple of shows we played, we didn't really have a band name, so all the while we were trying to figure out what to call ourselves, and Foster the People came up -- it just made sense to us. We like to take a look at people in society and in more ways than just we're a band and we're playing shows. We're happy, healthy people and we're having fun doing what we love. We're not trying to be pretentious about it, or be explosive or be in control -- we're just making music for whoever wants to listen.

Who are your musical inspirations?

It would have to be the Beach Boys that was the first band I fell in love with when I was about six years old, probably my favorite band early on. Blur, that's had a big influence on me, and the Clash, and David Bowie.

Any other modern-day bands you might compare yourselves to?

Not really. I don't really think there's any other band that sounds like us. I think that there are a lot of bands right now that are getting clumped together in the same sort of genre, and I know we'll get compared to them a lot. If I had to say, a band that's kind of similar to us would be more like Blur, more electronic, it's a lot more electronic than Blur... but one thing I loved about them and one thing that I've tried to do is make a record that's versatile so it's not able to be pigeonholed. So to be able to write the difference about the music and to still have cohesion. And so the last band that I can really think of that did that is Blur. You can listen to Part Life, and the first song "Girls & Boys," and it's super electronic, kind of dance-y, but then they've got like mid-tempo, and this chilled out kind of like, hear-me-out sound. They've got great rock songs too. It all works!

Where do you see Torches taking you?

More than like just becoming a big band that comes and goes, I really want to ensure that we can make this into a career. This is something that will determine how fast something can explode; I mean that's out of our control. I've seen a lot of bands that their trajectory takes them straight to the moon, and then they fall straight back down to earth. My main goal is to start writing another record write away, so that we can keep making music and keep it coming out. So we can have a long career.

Do you consider yourself to be a hipster?

No, not at all! ... I'm not pretentious.

You know, Minneapolis just got dubbed the most hipster city in the U.S.

Great... that's actually damn funny.

FOSTER THE PEOPLE play with Gardens & Villa on SATURDAY, JUNE 11, at the FINE LINE MUSIC CAFE. 18+. $15. 8 p.m.