Mark his words: if you want to be a star, start pulling pints
REVOLVER: BRIAN BOYDon music: SO YOU WANT to be a rock ’n’ roll star? Get a job in a bar. That’s the advice currently being offered by Foster the People frontman Mark Foster.
Musicians talk absolute nonsense most of the time – it’s a by-product of being asked the same inane question an average of 20 times a day by people who write absolute nonsense most of the time. If you want empirical proof of this just look at every single available printed utterance by Lady Ga Ga since she ascended to the ’sleb firmament. It’s quite frightening how one person can be so ineffably meaningless.
Mark Foster is an interesting case study. It took him nine years to do the Zero to Hero shuffle. As someone who used to make telemarketing calls for a living (until relatively recently) and isn’t hung up by “music as art” pretensions, his story is salutary.
Aged 18, he left his native Cleveland to move to Los Angeles to “make it” in music. While painting houses and selling cutlery door-to-door by day he actually thought (in common with his 20-something peer group) that it was all about “networking” in the music world. He crashed all the “right” parties, produced his guitar and sang his songs, thinking his Lana Turner moment was around the corner.
It was working in a bar and a restaurant by night that allowed him to try to be a musician by day. As he says: “Kids hit me up on Twitter and I tell them to learn how to bartend. There are career waiters in Los Angeles and they’re making over $100,000 a year.”
Now a gazillionaire thanks to the huge worldwide sales of Pumped Up Kicks (of which he is the sole writer), Foster straddles that awkward indie-pop divide where the Portlandia-style indie-nistas hate him for “selling out” (by selling lots and lots of records and not being moody enough) but he still gets musical respect from just about everyone else.
And what honed his ability to craft such pristine pop as Pumped Up Kicks? He got a job writing ad jingles for companies such as Verizon, Bank of America and Honey Oats breakfast cereal. Writing ad music is one of the most ruthless affairs going – and very difficult to do well. What Foster learned from writing jingles is what would work commercially and what wouldn’t.
It was while working on a jingle that he wrote Pumped Up Kicks (which, despite its melodic bounce, is about a teen mass-murderer-in-waiting) in a couple of hours, playing all the instruments himself.
Like MGMT’s Kids and Peter, Bjorn and John’s Young Folks, Pumped Up Kicks is one of those Holy Grail songs that on release becomes impossible to avoid and is cherished by the less doctrinaire specialist music fan as much as by the mainstream chart hit buyer. It’s not Skrillex – but it was never intended to be.
And media loves it: what other song out there could be used by all of: Match Of The Day, Entourage, CSI, Homeland and Gossip Girl. That’s some distance and demographic covered for a three-minute pop song.
The moral of the story is: if you’re still intent on “making it”, listen to Mark Foster and get a job in a bar.
* There’s a new Green Day album, called Uno! out in September; there’s another new Green day album, called Dos! out in November; and there’s yet another new Green Day album, called Tres! out in January.
* Following the fake Sigur Rós ad music story here a few weeks ago, take to a listen to the new Volkswagen Polo ad and realise how “inspired” they were by Beach House’s Take Care. It’s criminal.