We chat to Foster The People about their new album Sacred Hearts Club...
For some of 2010 and almost all of 2011, it was difficult to get away from Foster The People. They arrived with 'Pumped Up Kicks', a slick summery earworm that went on to tell over seven and a half million copies across the world and dominated radio for many months, powering the band's debut album Torches to big, big sales.
They followed that up with 2014's eccentric concept album Supermodel and are now back again with Sacred Hearts Club, their third full-length effort, an album inspired by the finest cuts of surf pop and 1960's psychedelia.
As the album comes to shelves, we spoke to frontman Mark Foster about making the album, embracing the sounds of the 1960's, the huge impact actress Jena Malone had on the album and why there's an awful lot of love on this LP...
How did you want Sacred Hearts Club to move on from what you did on Supermodel?
"Supermodel was an introspective conversation between myself, the world, God and the devil. It was a confrontative record. A bit prickly. Uncomfortable at times. Sacred Hearts Club was made in the spirit of joy and celebration. But I'd say it wasn't a familiar joy. It was more written using joy as a weapon to battle against the divisiveness and oppression the world has experienced in the last three years. To remind people that life is beautiful. And love is greater than politics."
You’ve revealed that you wrote a lot more songs this time round and then chose a selection, why did you decide on that approach?
"This was an important record for us. Going into it, we were set on exploring some new ideas stylistically. It took us a while to really sort out what the aesthetic and sound of the record was going to be. The first batch of songs were more based in late 60's psychedelia. But then ‘Pay The Man' and ‘Loyal Like Sid and Nancy' came and threw a curveball at the whole thing."
"At one point we talked about making a double record. One, being guitar driven, more surf/psych stuff and the other being more rhythmic hip/hop grime dance stuff. But when we finally started to look at the body of work we thought it would make for a much more interesting record to sequence all these styles together and not be locked into one genre."
You worked with a number of different producers on the album? What did each of them bring to the process of making it?
"Luckily by the time we got into the studio with some of the other producers that helped with the record, we had a good idea of what the main sound would be. Oliver Goldstein was a huge help with arranging and sonically making some of our demos sound modern and pop out of the speakers. The original 'Pay The Man' was 7 minutes long. We were so close to the music at that point that we needed Josh Abraham and Ollie to help us gain perspective on what was essential to the song and what we could leave on the chopping block."
"To me, that's always the most painful process. Like losing a gangrenous limb. You want to keep the limb, but if you do, the body will die. I had to cut a lot of my favourite lyrics on this record because, at the end of the day, the part didn't serve the song."
Which of the songs on the album took the longest to get right?
"We beat our brains over 'Loyal Like Sid and Nancy.' The music went through a lot of iterations before we finally settled on a three act play sort of format. But I went particularly insane writing the lyrics to that one. Also, it was important to me that the vocal delivery was right. I didn't want to ever come across like I was trying to rap. The vocal needed to be sensual to offset the aggression of the lyrical message and the beat."
"I probably sang that song 500 times until I could wrap my head around how to make the vocal delivery assertive but still feminine. The political message posed another challenge. "How do I write this song without sounding like a preacher on a soap box"?, kept running through my head. Especially when it came to touching on issues like the murder of Eric Garner and Black Lives Matter. And the new US policy on accepting refugees. It was a delicate dance to get these points across in the right way."
And which came together most quickly?
"'Static Space Lover' was more or less written in a night. Isom (Innis, multi-instrumentalist), myself and Jena Malone (She of The Hunger Games and Donnie Darko fame) started it from the ground up one evening over a bottle of Mezcal. She wrote her first verse and sang it. She and I wrote the chorus together and laid it in. And then about a year and a half later when the rest of the record was coming together, I wrote and did the vocals to the second verse and finished it. It was one of those rare moments where the spirit is just in the room. And to be honest, I'd attribute a lot of that to the cosmic pixie dust that seems to follow Jena wherever she goes."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a common theme?
"In a lot of ways, it's a love record. Wanting to be loved. Reaching out to God for love. Reaching within myself for love. Wanting to pull other people close when I'm lonely. Pushing others away when I'm afraid."
When did you settle on the title of Sacred Hearts Club? Where did it come from?
"Funny enough it came from Jena. We were both in Myanmar travelling solo on a pilgrimage of sorts. There was one day that overlapped where we were in the same place at the same time. We took a boat down this river in Inle Lake as far as it would go. Through ancient villages, jungles and rice fields. We were talking about the ethereal quality that certain people have, that causes them to look at life through a different lens."
"People like DaVinci, Patti Smith, Hunter S. Thompson, Dali and Kubrick. People that didn't pay attention to societal norms and always challenged the boundaries put on them. People that wanted to touch, taste, smell, see and hear everything the world has to offer in excess. She called it the Sacred Hearts Club. It became my mantra going into recording this album."
Where there any other titles in contention?
"No. I've known it was going to be called this for three years."
What are your plans to take the album out live? Are there any new songs you’re particularly looking forward to playing?
"We've been playing more than half the record live already. Everybody on stage has never had to cover more musical ground in their life. Switching from guitars to keys to modular synths to percussion and back again. I'm especially excited to start playing ‘Static Space Lover,’ 'Harden The Paint' and ‘ II.' In a lot of ways, Side B to the album is where everything starts to swirl around in a crazy technicolour sherbet. I'm excited to live in that colour palette for a while."