Apparently, nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission.
Feeling like Jack when he meets Rose in the Titanic dining room, walking into the hotel where I was set to meet indie darlings, Foster The People, I find myself wishing that I’d added a top coat to my nail varnish, wondering if I could sew up the rips in my jeans and brushing off my tatted tote bag.
Greeted warmly but with handshakes, I join Sean Cimino, Isom Innis and Mark Pontius ahead of their show at Somerset House that evening. Eventually we sit. Apparently this hotel has a lot of rules about which of their like seven café/dining areas we can sit in. They’re bright eyed, probably down to how quickly they drink black coffee with no sugar, bouncing back from a night flight into London. Isom’s a little on edge, for last time he was here the band played an extravagant week-long prank that convinced him that his room was haunted. Even the night guards were convinced. I hope the ghosts staying here wiped their feet before entering.
We’re here to talk Sacred Hearts Club, a record as vivid as the overwhelming smell of flowers that floods the reception area, and changes genre boundaries as quickly as taxis pull up on the never-ending carousel to whizz guests off to different areas of the city. That fast paced and exciting, too.
“When we sat down to make this record we didn’t conceptualise what we wanted to do.” Explains Sean, “We were just experimenting and improvising in the studio, and just not putting limits on what the songs were going to sound like. We were letting the music dictate the direction but those influences tend to come out in your subconscious.” J Dilla’s legendary record, Donut, played a subconscious part when making beats and creating grooves and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light weaves its way in there too. It nods back to different time eras and reflects different corners of the world.
Sacred Hearts Club arrived after a few years of public silence, and has been fast labelled as being a little more rebellious than its siblings. It’s like the unexpected child that surprises the family and quickly grows up bold. The sort that meets curious but wary remarks of “ooh, what a little character!” A listen is a ride on a waltzer, from steamy filled dancefloors to neon bars tempting down dark alleyways. But you have to trust your gut and go with it.
“I think that the moment that you stop evolving creatively is the moment that you should just put music down. For us making an album is the highest art form and music is pure, so we have to put our full passion into it or there’s really no point in doing it.” Isom says, and the statement is met with enthusiastic agreement. The band’s DNA is constructed predominantly of straight up feverish indie with a slight political agenda, but this album marks a shift to nose-dive experimentation. Yet maybe surprisingly, this is perhaps the most Foster The People record from Foster the People. The title phrase may be well worn, but it’s something that Mark Foster has always been endeared by.
“The Sacred Hearts Club are people that celebrate life, that aren’t afraid to bend boundaries, that aren’t afraid to live outside of societal norms.” I learn. Almost their mantra, the idea has always sort of carried the group. Much more of an experience that you must live, than a lesson to be learned, it’s blazed a trail. “When we hang out on the road and we meet people in different countries and communities. We come back and visit those people and kind of like float around cities together and spend one night in a bar together, then say bye and don’t see them for another two years. But there’s a connection and community that you tend to build with and prosper, that’s what it is.” This very connection “supersedes that superficial level too, it’s not just about the experience with people on a shallow level but it’s the intellectual stimulation and just that bond that you have and relate to.”
For that reason, the album is “like an odyssey” to replicate the turbulent notions. Meticulous of the track-listing and designed to be digested in full, Foster the People hand-deliver your invite to the exclusive club. Ride the rickety roller-coaster of love, lust, desire and loss. “All of the songs are very eclectic”, and each is spoken about adoringly as a “seed”. A listener embarks on a quick descend into dystopia before mounting to fizzing ecstasy highs of euphoria. Getting caught up in a moment of rowdy brawl rebellion to being caressed in an arm swaying united chorus, you find yourself swallowed by slinky basslines, wearing groove like a chiffon scarf. One moment you’re catapulted into a blinding swirl of 60s psychedelia before launching into a banging club anthem drenched in throbbing rhythm.
“Being like ‘how did I get from here to here?!’ that’s what we wanted to do. We added like transitions last minute, but it’s a nice journey and I’m really excited to see what people feel when they listen all the way through.”
Like the people they’ve met, the experiences they’ve had and the band that they are, each song is an individual. “The songs for us become an imprint on our songs and an imprint on time and you capture that and it never happens again and you can never get back to that space.” smiles Isom. The oddball tracks explode with personality, leaving a different textured taste in your mouth. ‘Sit Next To Me’ is suave and smooth; pulling the sleeves of a tailored, smart jacket. Whilst leather jacket wearing, ‘Lotus Eater’ revs up beside you with a playfully dangerous tint in their smile. ‘Loyal Like Sid and Nancy’ is made for night-time, for sweaty bodies and to be swallowed like a straight shot. ‘Time To Get Closer’ is a love song on diazepam. ‘Pay The Man’ is the bad influence you’ll be forever glad that you met.
Bringing them to life is likened to abstract painting. Recording initial ideas on a tape machine, then moving to Logic – “that’s our canvas” – the boys throw their ideas in; evoking visions of splattered bass, nifty guitar, taunting drums and untameable beats kissing in collision. “Then it’s a progress of constructing and deconstructing through lines, but yeah it’s special to hear the way a song start and know that it won’t necessarily sound like that at the end. One element could inspire the next. It’s really cool when you hear our individual personalities sort of brew.”
‘Sacred Hearts Club’ is the starlet of the album. Isom recalls, “We were creating these textures and one of the first ones that we made was SHC, it’s like a 16-bar break cut out of a jam improvisation that Pontius and I did with a tonne of drum kits and machines.” Taking those drums, Sean added “a once in a lifetime sounding, crazy like ambient texture,” that still surprises the band today. Foster’s response was the circular bassline that strikes you to the core from the first second. “He went in the booth and sang the chorus just stream of conscious and when that happened we all knew it was really special.”
You rarely consider who the people behind Foster The People are. We’re guilty of taking them for granted, of pinching the magic of their art greedily when we want it most. “We’re definitely not product avatars, we’re not salesmen,” Sean tells me. Where “in our culture today and across the world mystery is becoming an under-rated thing.” The band unknowingly use it to their advantage, to take risks and be as honest as possible under the safety of Foster The People. “Where you can keep some things about your life and even your creative flow and the way you work somewhat hidden y’know, it drives people to be somehow more engaged and they strive to get more.”
The three are big on discussing conspiracy theories, in fact they should have their own TED Talk style podcast to lay out their take on the moon-landing. That, or to talk about their vast knowledge of anti-comedy from “Monty Python to Tim and Eric.” Heck, they even have many ideas on how you get a waxwork model at Madame Tussaud’s – “Do you have to be part of the Illuminati?” or “Do you have to have a verified tick on Instagram?” nope it has to be, “So once you’re verified, you have to like email the queen, right?”
The closing track on the album is poignant as it brings this era to a close. ‘|||’ is a brooding sleep-song of evolution and growth. Breathy vocals sway ‘I know we’re not invincible, so I want to live, live for something more.’ This is Foster The People, right here and right now. Shooting for the stars.
Words by Tanyel Gumushan