Interview: Mark Foster on Sacred Hearts Club, handling failures and emerging tougher as a result

The last time we caught up with Mark Foster of Foster the People, we were in Chicago; the band was set to play Grant Park’s Lollapalooza, a festival that had come off the back of a trip out to Australia for Splendour, as well as some sideshows to promote their then-latest album, Supermodel.

Even then, it was plain to see how much Foster the People had elevated themselves as a live unit since our introduction to the band in 2011. A formidable band exploring multiple influences that brought them out from under the indie rock umbrella, Foster the People were proving themselves to be more than a flash in the pan act out of Cali.

Fast forward to 2017, and I find myself in contact with Mark once more and the band is in a very different space to where they were when we first met. Returning to Australia for the first time since that Splendour tour for the Falls Festival, Foster the People have not only a new line up to debut for Australian fans – following the departure of Cubbie Fink in 2015 – but a new album too, in Sacred Hearts Club.

Executively produced by Foster, the frontman and songwriter takes me through the process of regrouping and pulling their ideas together for Album Number Three.

“It was the first record where I felt the confidence to be able to go in as a producer and not bring anybody for the bulk of the record.” he admits. “It was me and my band mate Isom [Innis]; the two of us locked ourselves in a studio and really took time to explore and see what the aesthetic was going to be for this record and really wanted to see what kind of music was revealed itself to us, as opposed to going in with somebody else overseeing it and cracking the whip in pushing things forward. I think we were just patient; our label was patient and everybody just said, “Take your time and just explore and see what comes out.””

“The first year in the studio, we just wrote without finishing anything,” he remembers. “We just wrote whatever came to us, whether it was hip-hop or heavily electronic influenced; punk or rock or psychedelic, whatever came we just chased it and then put it aside and started a new idea. By the end of that year, we had about thirty ideas out of eighty or ninety and started to carve out what the record was going to be.”

The end result of Sacred Hearts Club proved to be a significant sonic departure for Foster the People too, as the band explored those electronic, soul and funk influences that clearly trickled down in the early stages of production. As Foster explains, it was a freeing process.

“I think that we were intentional with not wanting the pressure of radio or trying to write a radio single,” he says. “We were really intentional about keeping that in the room and to just write and follow the spirit of creativity. I think that was very different from how we worked in the past; it was highly collaborative.”

“It’s nice to have that kind of support.” he says of the band’s backing from their label and behind the scenes team. “I also think over the years I’ve gotten better, even when that pressure was getting put on, my exoskeleton has gotten tougher. I wouldn’t be nearly as bothered as when I was 25 years old making my first record. At the end of the day I’ve learned how to take my successes and my failures – they’re going to land on my shoulders.”

“I think that there’s things I’ve learned from the past when rushing the process at the end and putting that out prematurely. It’s the worst feeling when you put something out when you didn’t quite feel like it was ready; you just release it and then over time, it’s proven to you that your instinct was right and it wasn’t finished. Now you have to live with that and all the thousands of hours put into that project would have all benefited from just twenty more hours. The last part of the marathon is always the trickiest, because song writing is like staring at the same puzzle for so long. At the end of it, you’re staring at these ten or twelve different puzzles that you think you’ve finished and then you’re stacking them next to each other, trying to sequence it with the whole thing. Making good records is hard.”

When it comes to their Australian return, we take an indulgent few minutes to reminisce on the early shows Foster the People played out here, when Torches was beginning to gain momentum.

“I can’t wait to come out there,” Foster enthuses. “Australia was the first tour we ever did, it was the first place to really represent us and support us before any one else did – it always felt special playing there.”

Having spent a large stretch of time on the road with Sacred Hearts Club, Foster anticipates a short break excitedly but best believe, come New Year’s, he’s bringing the band out for some unforgettable dates.

“We’ve been on tour all year so it’s been the first little break that we’ve gotten,” he admits. “The new record has just added a lot to our live shows. It’s been a fun record to play live, so I’m just looking forward to wrapping up the year and starting 2018 over there with you guys.”

Foster the People play at this year’s Falls Festival. Catch them on the east coast at the following sideshows:

January 4th | Forum Theatre, MELBOURNE
January 5th | Enmore Theatre, SYDNEY