Many musicians say they go into making albums without trying to pursue any certain sound or direction, preferring to let the songs come out and determine what musical shape the album takes.
That certainly happened for Mark Foster of Foster The People. Initially, he had an idea about what type of album his third effort would be, only to see that idea get tossed on its ear, thanks to his bandmate and songwriting partner, Isom Innis.
“The song that really threw a wrench in the whole thing was ‘Loyal Like Sid & Nancy,'” multi-instrumentalist/singer Foster explained in a recent phone interview. “Up until that point, I had kind of an idea that the record was going to be kind of a modern, kind of surf/psychedelic, kind of guitar-driven record, but, like, a modern take on it. But then I heard the initial beat that Innis made for ‘Loyal Like Sid & Nancy’ and ‘Pay the Man.’ That kind of threw me for a loop and I realized we had to finish those songs. We had to work on those songs and knew that the entire sound of the record was going to take a different direction.”
Instead of psychedelic wonders, the album in question, Sacred Hearts Club (July 2017) is a distinctly modern-sounding album that draws strongly from hip hop and synthetic pop.
The aforementioned “Loyal Like Sid & Nancy” is one of the most unusual songs of those in the grouping, as it blips and blaps its way through a club-suitable bit of modern electro-dance-pop. The electronic influence is also prominent on “Harden the Paint” and “Static Space Lover.” “Static” lives up to its name, with intergalactic synths and a shimmery beat giving the track a distinctly futuristic feel.
Meanwhile, “Pay the Man” and “Doing It for the Money” lean in a more hip hop/R&B direction. “Pay the Man” mixes grooving hip hop beats, electronic-ish tones and a sleek pop/R&B chorus; “For the Money” blurs the lines between pop and hip hop, delivering grooves and hooks in fairly equal doses.
The direction took may have surprised Foster, but he and Innis took the time they needed to let the music they were creating find its own course. The two decided to produce the album themselves, and eventually amassed some 100 song ideas.
“I would say that this record was probably the freest I’ve ever felt, creatively,” Foster said. “The two of us really kind of took the helm on production on this record together and really … locked ourselves in a studio without anybody else in the room during the writing process, besides everybody else in the band. And I think we just … set a tone of exploration. We were going to explore every facet of where a song was going to take us and not put too many boundaries or rules on what that would mean and what that would sound like or where it would go, what style, what genre. We just let the song reveal itself to us and we were patient with it.”
Foster The People formed in 2009, after Foster met drummer Mark Pontius. One of the first songs Foster wrote for the group was “Pumped Up Kicks,” which went viral after it was posted on the band’s website in 2010. The song’s internet success helped Foster The People land a record deal with Columbia’s imprint, Startime International.
“Pumped Up Kicks” was first released on a self-titled EP in January 2011, and then on the band’s full-length debut, , which followed in May. The multiformat hit went on to end 2011 as the sixth-highest-selling digital song of the year, with nearly four million copies sold.
The follow-up album, 2012’s more rocking , became a Grammy-nominated platinum hit. The single “Coming of Age” climbed to the Top 10 on the alternative and rock singles charts.
The tour supporting proved difficult, however, Foster said, as issues surfaced within the group. In the end, bassist Jacob “Cubbie” Fink left the band, and Foster revamped the lineup by elevating touring musicians Innis (keyboards and bass) and Sean Cimino (guitar and keyboards) to full-time members of Foster The People.
With his group now back on solid footing, Foster is enthusiastic about being back on tour and mixing the new songs in with selections from the first two albums.
“I think going into the studio [for ], we were cognizant of the live setting and how it would translate as we were writing the songs, which was maybe a little bit of a different approach from the first two records,” Foster said. “So it’s really fun to play live.”