Los Angeles trio Foster the People – led by commercial-jingle writer Mark Foster, 27 – have been together for less than two years, but they've already scored a Top 10 album. Thanks to the hypercatchy hit "Pumped Up Kicks" - which has sold 300,000 copies and scored more than three million YouTube views – their first LP, Torches, debuted at Number Eight on the album charts last month. "It's one of those perfect storm type situations," says Foster. "The song just resonated with people."
Pump You Up: "Pumped Up Kicks" mixes sunny harmonies and a throbbing dance beat with chilling lyrics about a school shooting. When Foster cut the song, he thought he was just making a demo – but that version, in which Foster plays all the instruments, ended up on Torches. "I was trying to get inside the head of an isolated, psychotic kid," says Foster. "It's a 'fuck you' song to the hipsters in a way – but it's a song the hipsters are going to want to dance to."
Growing Pains: Foster moved from Cleveland to L.A. when he was 18 to pursue music, but wound up working odd jobs – folding clothes, telemarketing and painting houses – and struggling with addiction. "It got pretty dark," he says. "My friends thought I was going to die. I was blind to it. When I was 19 years old, it got to a point where I said, 'Enough is enough'…I saw time was just passing me by. I wasn't being productive."
Mad Man: After kicking the habit, Foster became more serious about music. He landed a gig in Venice Beach, penning TV-ad jingles for Verizon, Bank of America and Honey Bunches of Oats. "I definitely learned from the commercial standpoint what works," he says. But at the same time, his music lacked focus. "I'd write one song and it'd be a hip-hop song. I'd write another and it'd be heavily electronic. Another would be like a spiritual, and another would be classic piano song. I was constantly trying to pull those elements together. It took me six years to do it." He finally formed Foster the People – which now includes drummer Mark Pontius and bass player Cubbie Fink– in 2009, and they were soon signed to Columbia after a buzzworthy South By Southwest performance.
What's Next: A sold-out summer club tour and larger venues in the fall before recording a second album. Says Foster, "A tidal wave came and we're swimming like hell."
LAST WEEK: JEFF the Brotherhood's Pop-Wise Scuzz-Rock