[MUSIC: Interview] Foster The People
It’s 9.30 in the morning in Jakarta, but Mark Pontius is up and about; a year touring the globe has done many things for the Foster The People drummer, but conquering jetlag isn’t one of them. He has, however, been forced to adjust to life on the road; the LA group’s recent international tour schedule reads like the departures board at an international airport. As well as a mind-boggling number of frequent flyer points, the band has accumulated a slew of reviews touting them as acclaimed and confident live performers. “We don’t get nervous,” Pontius tells me. “We worked really hard at it and we got comfortable almost right away – we were playing a show pretty much every day for months, so we got used to it pretty quickly.”
Last January the group hadn’t even made a festival bill, but a trip to Coachella quickly remedied that – and as anyone who saw their show at last year’s Splendour In The Grass can attest, it’s an environment they seem to relish these days. “We love festivals,” Mark confirms. “There’s an energy that happens with that many people at one stage. There’s just something about having a festival crowd that’s awesome… When you’re in smaller venues, you’re kind of under a microscope, and everyone’s watching.”
Such scrutiny hasn’t prompted them to shy away from smaller shows – 2012 is already heavily booked, although with a couple more breaks than the previous year allowed them. “I think you have to figure out a balance,” he explains. “We haven’t really been able to work on music for our second album yet because we’ve been so busy [touring].” Mark’s quick to defend that decision though. “It’s been super important; if we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be where we are now, we wouldn’t have the momentum that we have. I think the balance is just figuring out how to find the time to do [both].” With work on the follow-up to their debut, Torches, due to begin in earnest sometime next month, Pontius highlights a few expected changes to their sound. “The first record was written in the studio, and we had to adapt that to the live show,” he says. “I think what we will want to do with the second record is pull some of that element into the studio and try to come up with ideas live and record live as a band, and reverse the process, I guess.” While nothing is set in stone, he’s expecting this to result in a stronger live percussion element, fuelled by greater input from the original trio’s two added live members. “There’ll be a lot of experimenting, and there’ll have to be a balance between keeping elements of this first record but also doing something new.” And after a year spent heavily touring Torches, Mark sounds keen for some fresh material. “We can kind of just throw everything against the wall and see what comes from it – there’s no real limit.”
Indeed, the usual limitations that can apply to musical careers seem to have bypassed the Californian lads. Having recently rubbed shoulders with professed fans like Bono, Gene Simmons and, Pontius’ personal favourite, Taylor Swift – and fresh from their first ever airport-to-hotel police escort yesterday – Mark muses on the realities of fame, as compared to how he’d imagined it. “It’s a bit bizarre,” he confesses. “When I was younger and thinking about a career as a musician, it was the most obvious career ever. You play music and you go to different places to play music. It’s so easy!” But as it turns out, there’s a flip side. “With all this fame, there’s a lot of work involved to keep it going. I don’t think any of us really expected any of this so quick… [But] it comes with the territory. It’s the same with actors and movies. You can’t just make music and relax; it’s not that easy.”
Another theme in Foster The People’s career, alongside that of their swift success, has been – oddly enough – Australia. Personally for Pontius, the connection goes back some years; a trip out here in high school sparked an attraction so strong that, before joining Foster The People, he was planning to move here. “I hit a point [in 2009] where I was just done with it, and being in a band was not on my radar at all. I’d met Mark Foster at the end of [Pontius’ previous band, the rock/hip hop outfit Malbec] and we’d been kind of working on something together, and once I’d quit that band Mark said, ‘Well, let’s do this now.’ I was super-hesitant and was actually about to move to Australia. I’d packed up and had this whole plan.
“But he turned me around and said, ‘Just give me two more months and focus on this for a bit. See what happens.’ He convinced me to stay for four months, and in that time he wrote ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ and everything kind of changed, and I stayed in LA.” The decision doesn’t appear to have restricted his time here, either; the upcoming Big Days Out mark Foster The People’s third trip to Australia in twelve months. “Australia took on the music first, somehow,” Pontius says. “Through the internet, or whatever it was – and that was the first place that we decided we needed to go, because there [were] people wanting to see us.” Many things have changed for the group over the course of the last year, but with their hotly anticipated festival appearances and sold out sideshows coming up, the huge demand from Australian audiences remains as strong as ever.
When: Converse Green Stage @ 7.40pm, Big Day Out
Sideshow: The Enmore Theatre on Wednesday January 25 with Last Dinosaurs (sold out)