L.A.-based pop band Foster the People came out of nowhere, quickly signed to a major label and released a debut disc, "Torches," full of tracks that would be at home on a Clinton-era alt-rock radio station playlist. The group’s debut single, "Pumped Up Kicks," is a deceptively sunny-sounding dissection of Columbine-like school violence. If it weren't for the strong MGMT influence and the rapturous blogosphere reaction, they could be the coolest band of 1999.
In advance of his band's Wednesday night show at the 9:30 Club (it's sold out, but they'll return to the same venue September 26 — tickets are onsale now), Click Track talked to frontman Mark Foster about their incongruously cheery smash.
I've had "Pumped Up Kicks" on my iPod for almost a year and I didn't even know it was a depressing song until the other day. Is that wrong?
I want all the lyrics I write to be thought provoking, whether [or not] it's a song I write in character to illustrate a story. But there are different kinds of listeners. Some people just listen to melodies and other people just care about the lyrics. There's something for both types of people. It's okay. There's a lot of songs on the record where there's a more serious subject matter underneath something joyful.
It reminds me of Pearl Jam's "Jeremy," another song about an isolated school kid. But "Jeremy" sounds depressing.
Yeah, can you imagine if I'd written "Pumped Up Kicks" as a ballad? It'd be the most depressing song ever.
MTV even censored the lyrics to "Pumped Up Kicks."
One of the things I think people are afraid of is that people haven't really written a song that makes you feel like “Pumped Up Kicks” has, with political content attached to it. I used to watch Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor on MTV, and those were some of the most hardcore music videos ever made…And Tyler the Creator and Odd Future, there's so much music out there that's way more interesting than "Pumped Up Kicks," [which] talks to you about a kid losing his mind.
Odd Future just writes about hating women, and that's apparently okay.
Exactly. Artists have always observed society and art has always been subversive, and I don't think that's a bad thing. The song came from a place in my heart. I was thinking about, Why are kids doing this, why is this an epidemic in our country? Kids are getting younger and younger and bringing a gun to malls or schools or parks and killing people. What is going on in a kid's head that goes through something like that? So I wound up going inside a kid's head and telling a story....There's depth to it. If the song wasn’t about anything, I don’t think it’d be doing what it’s done. I love those lyrics. I could write those down and read them at a poetry reading, and I'd be proud. If it was all about the sunshine, I don't think anybody would even care.