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It’s 9 p.m. on a Friday and I have a phone date with Mark Foster.
When he answers the phone he remembers my name. There’s something genuine in his tone. He has just arrived home from the airport. I make a promise to keep the interview as interesting as possible as he jostles to let his bulldog Biz in the room and then cozies down for what neither of us realized would be a deep dive into sociology, music, and our feelings.
Mark Foster is the Grammy-nominated, frontman of his namesake band Foster the People. But he’s more than that: he’s a dog dad, a husband, video gamer, a novice sociologist. He is a good friend, he’s felt grief, he loves love, and his music only shines brighter when the context is there.
FTP has a fanbase that grew consistently and rabidly since the group’s debut in 2010. Their song “Pumped Up Kicks” became an anthem for a nation of teens strung out on antidepressants and gun violence anxiety. Then with the release of ‘Torches’ in 2011 and ‘Supermodel’ in 2014, FTP started a pattern of using their music to discuss themes that are much deeper than what you may see at the surface. “I’m fascinated with futurism and sociology and how one action influences something down the line 5, 10, 20, 30 years,” Mark says. “So as an artist, my meditation and the thing that I think about all the time right now is what are the unifying human qualities that we can all agree on?”
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For Mark, this time in quarantine has given way for him to feel every emotion possible. “This has actually been a very beautiful year for me. I got married at the end of December (2019) and we were prepared not to see each other that much this year.” His wife, Julia Garner, was supposed to be away filming for multiple projects, and FTP had planned to set on a world tour well into 2021.
“Our tour got canceled two days before we were going to leave,” Mark tells me, “But when quarantine happened I got to have five quiet months with my wife at home, so personally that was nice. But the rest of the emotions? It’s been a gambit: fear, uncertainty, depression, anxiety, anger.”
‘In the Darkest of Nights, Let the Birds Sing’ is a collection of this gambit. There are highs, and there are lows, beauty, and pain. The heaviness and the euphoria melt together in this 6 track EP.
“All of these songs are a response to the time,” Mark says. “It’s not just quarantine that’s been crazy, things have been kind of crazy for a few years.” Each song is a take on a moment, a particular feeling that was felt at a particular time. But what’s amazing about the EP is that it hits just as hard in the midst of a pandemic. The melancholia of the time shines through as well as the beauty of the moment, the meditative times we’ve found this year.
“Walk with a Big Stick” is packed with a 1960’s rock inspiration, with harmonizing reminiscent of The Beach Boys. Mark has been quoted saying “God Only Knows” is his favorite song of all time in NME Magazine. It makes sense. Mark is a romantic, both in terms of love and humanity.
“We all want to feel like we’re not just loved but that we have a community around us that care about us,” Mark says. “Those are things that we can all agree on. My mantra has been what does that sound like? What are the lyrics for songs that can appeal to that core part of people’s spirit, to where you’re getting straight into the core of who we are?” FTP has this intrinsic ability to transport its audience to another world where there is no pain, no anxiety. There is just melodic hypnosis and bursts of warm euphoria to remind us that music is there even when we feel the most alone.
“Lamb’s Wool” off the EP is a good example of this magnetic energy; there’s something hypnotizing about the instrumentation that makes it feel like you are hearing the song for the first time every time you listen to it. What makes it a favorite, though, is the story. The instrumentation came after Isom Innis’, FTP’s pianist, grandmother died.
“She was a pianist and she taught his dad how to play and his dad taught him how to play,” Mark says. “So he wrote this beautiful piece of music on piano to honor her. I was just waiting for the message to come with that song. And then last year, my uncle got diagnosed with terminal cancer.”
He describes the mood of the song as tangible and that when his uncle’s cancer diagnosis came, the lyrics naturally did too. “It’s a conversation between me, my uncle, and God,” Mark says about the lyrics of “Lamb’s Wool.”
“The first verse is me talking to my uncle and then the chorus is my uncle talking to his wife from the other side basically, ‘when I’m quiet on the other side know that I’m loving you, I’m still loving you.’” The beauty in the piece is that Mark was able to play the finished song for his uncle before he passed.
There is a pause as he reflects on the interchangeable stories of grief, love, and loss in his circle. He agrees that this year has taken a lot from us, but he believes that there is still so much to gain. He’s been doing a lot of meditation and been taking time to sit with the introspective questions that one usually brushes off as anxiety. He understands that while it may feel like the longest year of our lives, the light at the end of the tunnel is near. He reminds me that we are almost through the hardest part, that there is a silver lining.“That’s why I named that EP this, ‘In the Darkest of Nights, Let the Birds Sing.'” Mark says. “It’s important that birds sing right now, it’s important that comedians get on stage and make people laugh. It’s important that people make movies. It’s important that people share their art on Instagram, things that are there that remind us that the world is beautiful.”
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CONNECT WITH FOSTER THE PEOPLE
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