Having a smash debut LP, 2011’s ‘Torches’ (review), championed by the likes of Elton John and U2 might send some budding rock stars into a haze of partying and unquenchable revelry, but not Mark Foster – frontman and creative mastermind behind genre-melding Los Angeles indie-rockers Foster The People.
“Making and touring ‘Torches’ gave me the gift of sight,” Foster tells Clash. “I kept travelling after touring that record because there were things I was trying to make sense of. I went to some obscure places to be alone with my thoughts and came back with a lot of questions – questions that I'm asking myself, and everybody else, on this new LP.”
New album ‘Supermodel’, out this month and reviewed here, deals with issues of self-reflection, and sees the band (completed by Cubbie Fink and Mark Ponitus) wrestling with concerns about how technology is encroaching on all aspects of our lives.
Says Foster: “The album title is ironic. Andy Warhol’s quote about everyone being famous for 15 minutes – I feel like we’re living in that time right now, with Twitter, with Instagram, with the selfies that people are constantly taking. We are all our own products, and we are in the business of selling ourselves. One hundred years ago I know we weren’t this self-absorbed – we're now living in the age of supermodels.”
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‘Pseudologia Fantastica’, from ‘Supermodel’
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There’s a song on the new album, ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Destroying the Moon’, which seems seem to have an anti-capitalist message. Is that something you were also trying to get across on the LP?
I want to be careful with what I say about this, because it’s not a political record. There were definitely some things that I was struggling with when I when I wrote that song, but it’s not specifically anti-capitalist – because in essence I’m a capitalist.
I think people are inherently wired to be capitalists – to not have a ceiling on what we can achieve. But I feel like capitalism without morality won’t and can't sustain long life, especially culturally. Some of the biggest problems we're facing in the world is capitalism by any means necessary, even if that means at the expense of human life. That is when we cross into dangerous territory and it makes my skin crawl. That’s what the song is about.
But I don’t wanna sound like a clichéd f*cking musician talking about politics just because it’s a cool thing to do, this isn’t the ‘80s... that’s been done!
Did your travels give you any peace of mind?
I found some peace in certain areas but still have major questions with other things.
Which question still most preoccupies your thoughts?
My main question is about where is the healthy line to draw in terms of how technology should be intertwined with our daily lives. When I was in Africa I saw villages really communicating with each other face to face, having this great sense of inter-connectivity, but where I am from in Los Angeles, we’re totally losing this mentality.
People are starting to become awkward with face-to-face interaction, which I think is a really dangerous thing to happen over time, and with Facebook, and these other tools which we think give us a connection to each other – I’m not hearing many people ask the question, “Is this a healthy evolution?” and, “Is there a line that we should draw?”
There’s a line on ‘Ask Yourself’ that says, “You’re coughing blood again, I know / ‘Cos I clean up your mess every now and then.” What was the inspiration for that lyric?
I write songs to communicate ideas that I don’t know how to express in just words. A lot of it comes from the subconscious. On this LP the music comes from my heart and my spirit – and my spirit is joyful. But the lyrics... they come from my head, which is in a different world.
Did the album have any other working titles at any stage?
Before ‘Supermodel’ we wanted it called ‘A Beginner's Guide To Destroying The Moon’. And then I wanted it called ‘Pseudologia Fantastica’. But we all agreed that these names were too hard to remember, too hard to say! (Laughs) So we settled on ‘Supermodel’.
‘Pseudologia Fantastica’ is the scientific term for compulsive lying. I’m interested to know what inspired that song?
That song is about a lot of different things. The direct inspiration is… (Laughs) I can’t believe you asked me that actually, because I’ve never told anyone this, and I really don’t want to say, but I will. That song is a narrative inspired by a fictional story about a husband and a wife, written from the perspective of the female.
She’s married to a soldier who comes back from the war, and he has severe PTSD. And it’s about the aftermath and what it’s like to live with someone with PTSD. The end of the song is about overcoming the trauma: “You've got to love the madness of the feeling / Don’t ever be afraid of starting over.” It’s really about standing tall in the face of adversity.
Are there any bands or albums in particular that have influenced ‘Supermodel’?
My favourite record of the last 18 months is the second record (review) by Unknown Mortal Orchestra. There's a song that I wrote called ‘The Unforeseeable Fate Of Mr Jones’, and I ended taking a piece of that song – ‘The Angelic Welcome Of Mr Jones’ – and putting it on ‘Supermodel’. I hope to release the finished version of that song at some point.
And ‘Sandinista!’ by The Clash was an influential record. There are some vibes from that LP – especially the percussion vibes – that really influenced this album.
Paul Epworth’s been involved in the production of both ‘Torches’ and ‘Supermodel’. Did he encourage you to try anything different this time around?
Yeah, for sure. Paul brought in his new toy for the record, this giant modular synth that he’d been constructing over the course of a year. So there are a lot of new textures and atmospherics on this record, which come from us working different songs through that modular synth.
I went to Morocco with Paul for the first real writing session where we established the identity of what the record was going to be like. We set up a studio and decided there’d be no boundaries. Paul and I are similar in the way that we love a lot of different kinds of music and there’s really no place we won’t go musically.
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‘Coming Of Age’, from ‘Supermodel’
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Words: Benji Taylor