From jingle writer to hot pop star
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Foster the People frontman recounts his journey to fame
All it took was one song for the band Foster the People to become famous worldwide.
The song, “Pumped Up Kicks,” had an infectious dance groove whose lyrics contained references to the rash of gun violence perpetuated by disaffected youth.
Band leader Mark Foster initially released the tune as a free download on his website. It created a buzz which led to Foster the People being signed up to a record deal. “Pumped Up Kicks’ reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles in 2011 and was nominated at the Grammy Awards.
Foster granted the Philippine Daily Inquirer an e-mail interview prior to his band’s arrival for a concert tomorrow, October 6, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum:
You were writing commercial jingles at the same time when your confidence as a performer was growing. What kind of products did you write music for, and how did the patience and discipline help you?
I wrote music for all kinds of commercials. The ones that I booked were Horizon and T Mobile, Bank of America, Chevron Oil Company and some cereal commercials … What I learned in that job was how to be a good sound engineer and how to work quickly with an idea; sometimes I would get three jobs that were due the next day or two, so I had to come up with things from scratch. I was also competing against 15 to 25 other composers at a time for a job. It’s very competitive.
How did writing different genres of music for different products affect the Foster the People sound?
I’ve always wanted to write different genres of music. And I grew up with different things that creatively went into my spirit. It was like mixing everything into a blender. I don’t necessarily know why or where a particular sound came from, but it seemed to sound natural.
“Pumped Up Kicks” was a surprise hit and you’ve said that it’s about disaffected youth and violence. Which came first, the music or the lyrics?
The music came first and then the chorus and the verses. When I was starting to write the verses, I didn’t really know what I was going to talk about … The song could have been about something very different, even with the same chorus. But when the verses came, the story just came out of me about this kid and I kind of saw the whole picture. I don’t really know where it came from … it just came out of thin air.
Was there a particular incident in the news or from your personal perspective that helped you write the lyrics to “Pumped Up Kicks”?
It’s something that I’ve been thinking about. There wasn’t any specific thing that triggered it. I think I was just burdened by the fact that kids were getting more and more violent in the States. It’s just on my mind, that’s why I wrote about it.
How do you feel about your music being used as soundtrack (for “Gossip Girl,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Entourage,” “Friends with Benefits”)?
I think it’s cool. It’s a new way to get your music to a whole different audience. If it’s a film or a TV show, it’s got to be something that we like before we approve. The music doesn’t just get used on its own.
What have you learned from touring and meeting your fans?
I learned that people are the same. Everywhere you go, there are different cultures, but people are generally the same. We want the same things, we want to be loved, we want to have fun, and we want to belong to a community.
How has success changed you?
It has made me more private, for sure. I was a private person before. I could be in the open and still be private. I can walk into a room and not know anybody. I love that feeling, I love anonymity. But now it’s different. I have to protect myself, my friends, and my family. Fans want to know everything about you. I think it’s tricky to figure out how much do I want the public to know and how much I want to keep to myself. I think that’s a big part of your sanity, keeping what’s close to you. That’s the biggest change.
Do you see yourself working as a musician for a long time?
Yeah, I’ve been playing music since I was a toddler … There are a lot of other things that I’d like to do as well. But music will always be a big part of my life.
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