As a teen approaching high school graduation in his hometown of Cleveland, OH, Mark Foster had no idea where he wanted life to take him. It would be easy to say that he reached a crossroads, but that would imply a clearly dictated path one way or the other. Despite experimenting in a number of bands, none of these attempts pushed Foster to pursuing music seriously. It was a staggeringly honest piece of advice from Foster’s father that set everything into motion. Having witnessed his six-year old son at his happiest after buying him a Beach Boys cassette as a gift, he realized all along where Mark’s true passion lied. “Go out to Los Angeles,” he said. “Try it for a year or so, and if it doesn’t work out, you’re still young and have options.”
Four and a half years later, he found himself much like he did in back in Cleveland – rudderless, burned out, and stuck in a situation where anything could happen, but nothing ever did. In a city as expansive as Los Angeles, where the musical community is incestuous and everyone is committed to more than one band, Foster was lucky enough to link up with bassist Cubbie Fink and drummer Mark Pontius. It was right about this time that Foster says “the vibe just felt right.”
The addition of Fink and Pontius was crucial to the band’s direction. Without them, Foster’s artistic compass was spinning wildly, a bemused combination of all of his prior interests. Shortly after joining forces in October of 2009, the trio played their first show at the Dakota Lounge in Santa Monica for a crowd of about 30 friends. A humble beginning, but one that made each band member realize they had something real, something to focus on.
As magical as their first show was, it paled in comparison to the buzz garnered around their track, “Pumped Up Kicks”, which was only offered on their website. Then, a friend working at NYLON Magazine asked to use the single in an internet campaign for fashion mogul Anna Sui. A mere month after it became available to the public, the February ’10 issue of BlackBook made a bold statement, saying Foster The People had created “the song of next summer.” Regardless of the season, the point was clear: Foster The People had a hit on their hands.
The band had the world’s attention and they made the most of it. Word of their music spread in a manner that was shockingly quick even in the age of endless internet churn with everyone agreeing on one thing: this was a band on the cusp of an undeniable breakthrough.
Plenty of artists have buckled under the weight of such hype, but what keeps the band focused is the music itself, which Foster describes as “if Brian Wilson and Aphex Twin had a man baby.” He’s only sort of kidding, as it’s precise to say that the complexity of the electronic trickery never overshadows the classicist and ecstatic pop songwriting.
Foster The People isn’t just a pun on its singer’s last name. It’s a manifesto from a band that values the communal happiness of the listener over anything else.