Emerging as one of the most promising bands from Los Angeles since god knows when, Foster The People’s debut album, Torches, has earned the band a cozy stay at the top of Billboard’s charts, stage time at the Grammy’s honoring The Beach Boys, an army of fans, sold out shows during their 2012 tour, and too many other noteworthy accomplishments to mention. Admitting the band’s success is a drastic change from the life he once knew, frontman Mark Foster spoke with me to make heads or tails of his relatively short journey from Cleveland, to L.A., to the top of the charts.
I always hesitate to say a band’s success has been “meteoric,” but there really isn’t a better way to describe Foster The People’s popularity. How would you describe it? How do you look back and understand and appreciate everything?
It’s…tough. It’s tough because I feel like, because of how busy we’ve been and how drastic the contrast is from our lives before to when it really started to take off, there’s really a time warp. Everything sped up and, therefore, everything slowed way down as well. We always laugh about it as a band because we look back to only a year ago—take Coachella because it’s happening right now—but that was only a year ago and it feels like it was 10 years ago.
Every day there are so many memories and so much information that we’ve absorbed from a hyper stream of information—from waking up in the morning and doing five radio interviews, then going to a record store and playing five songs acoustic for a bunch of fans, then leaving and doing a live performance and then a meet and greet and signing a bunch of stuff somewhere else and then going to the clubs and soundchecking and then getting ready and playing the show and afterwards going out and having a drink at a local bar and then waking up and doing it again and all along meeting probably three to five hundred to a thousand people a day. It’s a very different lifestyle from the sort of quiet life I lived before, where I went to work and made lattés for eight hours then would go home to my home studio by myself, write songs for a few hours then go to bed. Maybe hang out with a friend every once in a while. It’s a funny thing. There’s not really anything that could have prepared us, or anyone for that matter, for this lifestyle. We’re just kind of learning on the fly.
Are you finding that this lifestyle change is inspiring your music differently?
Yeah, in some ways, for sure. I can’t put my finger on how it’s changed, but why it’s changed is because we’re around a lot of other bands that are really doing cool, fresh things. I feel like I have my finger more on the pulse of what’s happening with music now, as opposed to just reading about it in blogs or having a friend tell me about the next great new band. Now it’s like we’re there. We’ve seen so many great live bands play this year and I’m taking all of that in. I’ve had a lot of deep conversations with a lot of other really talented musicians about songwriters that were doing great stuff. I think that’s helped a lot with the growth and evolution for us, as a band. It’s going to be interesting to see what’s going to come out. I know that, since we’ve been focused on doing music full time for two years, that we’re all much better musicians than we were when we did the first record.
I saw your performance on the Grammys honoring The Beach Boys. Foster The People also has some dates opening for them this summer. What is it like sharing a stage with such a huge, inspirational band?
Every time I think about that a big smile comes to my face.
(Laughs) I just keep pinching myself because they were my favorite band growing up, since I was probably six years old. When I was seven or eight, my mom took me to see them live. That was my first concert, my first show by my favorite band, and now we’re playing with them at that same place 20 years later in my hometown. That’s something like you see in a movie and you’re like, “Yeah, right, that’ll never happen!” But it’s happening.
With something that monumental someone might shut down. Arrive, play the show, then look back and wish they’d been more aware. Is that a concern for you?
No, I think I’m going to be able to be really present. It’s funny you say that because I always thought the Grammys would be like that too. When I was there, there was the temptation to get all wrapped up in the whirlwind, in the pressure of it all and not take a second to look around and take it all in. I made a conscious decision during that whole process that I was just going to really enjoy it, without letting nerves or anything rob that experience. I remember when Maroon 5 started up and it was a couple of minutes before our turn I just looked around at the people, at the band, at everyone in the audience and took a moment. I’m glad I did because you’re absolutely right. It was a big moment, like when we played Coachella last year or Saturday Night Live. The first time for anything like that is so blurred. It’s just rush rush rush and you’re in and out and then a second later you’re done and you say “What? That’s it? It’s done?” But I’m not going to let that happen with The Beach Boys.
I read you used to compose commercial jingles. Asking as a fiction writer working as a technical writer, did writing jingles ever feel like it was draining your creativity?
I think any time you’re out in the field pursuing something—even if it’s not exactly what you want to be doing, you’re just doing something—it’s going to sharpen a skill set and it’s going to help. For me, that’s exactly what that was. The fact is it was the first job I really had in L.A. where I could solely focus on music, even if it was songwriting in a different sense, a different facet of songwriting.I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the whole 10,000 hours thing, but Malcolm Gladwell talks about it in this book called Outliers. He basically says it takes someone 10,000 hours to become a master at what they do. I didn’t know that, but technically, when I was writing jingles, I became a lot faster at production and making things sound better. I became more familiar with the gear and equipment that was in the studio, but really I was spending 10 to 12 hours a day just making music. It helped me grow a lot.
Earlier you mentioned your mother took you to your first concert. Your father also encouraged your musical interests and talent by supporting a move to L.A. at a pretty young age. Was that an overwhelming move for you?
It was…it was, man, the greatest adventure I’ve ever been on. I loved it. I look back on those times fondly. There were a lot of mistakes that I made and there were parts that were really tough. The parts that got really tough for me were actually more like three or four years in. There were times then that were really frustrating and just hell for a while. But when I first moved out there, the first two years were just all adventure. I was two months over 18 and in a completely different lifestyle and setting than Cleveland. I just soaked it all in; it was all very exciting and really good for my growth. But when you’re 18 years old and you move out to L.A., I think it’s the little things you need to learn that I just didn’t really learn. For instance, “Oh, all my clothes are dirty. I don’t have a washing machine in my house like I did when I was a kid. How do I do laundry? Oh, right, go to a Laundromat. Oh shoot, I have no quarters.” Little things like that. Or like renting a new place…“Oh, right, places don’t come decorated with furniture!” When you’re a kid it’s already all kind of set up. Just little things that I wouldn’t have thought of (laughs). Then it hit me and it made perfect sense, actually.
Foster The People will be playing at Rumsey Playfield in NYC on May 29 and 30. They will also play SummerStage in Central Park on June 11. For more information, go to fosterthepeople.com.