Foster the People approached new album as though ‘no one’s ever heard our band before’

Concert preview • Showgoers at The Complex will experience music that fuses ’60s psych and hip-hop, krautrock synth and Sex Pistols energy.

(Courtesy photo) Foster the People will perform at The Complex in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. Multi-instrumentalist Isom Innis said the band approached writing its new album, “Sacred Hearts Club,” as though no one had ever heard the group’s music before and there were no expectations on what it would sound like.

Foster the People’s laid-back indie-pop tune “Pumped Up Kicks” became a viral sensation in 2010, which subsequently meant that, as multi-instrumentalist Isom Innis put it, “things kinda blew the [expletive] up.”

Seven years later, some would say that’s an apt description of the band’s sonic evolution. Its third studio album, “Sacred Hearts Club,” is decidedly un-indie-pop. Instead, it’s a fusion of ’60s psychedelia and hip-hop, a recording that “has the avant-garde synth textures of krautrock but it also has the primal energy of the Sex Pistols in it,” Isom added.


It’s a jarring evolution if you think of the band’s path from that starting point to now in purely linear terms, Isom conceded to The Salt Lake Tribune ahead of Tuesday’s Foster the People concert at The Complex in Salt Lake City. But the reason that there was a long three years between the group’s second album, “Supermodel,” and “Sacred Hearts Club” is that the band members see the value of taking some intentional detours and going off the beaten path rather than plotting a direct line to their next destination.

“I think a new album, for us, is an exciting time ’cause we get to approach writing music like no one’s ever heard our band before, or no one’s ever heard our music. So if we had a chance to make any music we want to make, how would we make the music sound? How do we want our band to sound?” he said. “And that process is a journey. For us, it’s not something that we want to just rush through. A lot of my favorite albums are ones that were journeys for an artist to make, it took them a pretty good amount of time to start from square one, to start again and really expand and then refine what they were doing.”

Innis recently became a more hands-on participant in Foster the People’s journey.

Upon moving to Los Angeles seven years ago, he was introduced to band founder/frontman/namesake Mark Foster by a mutual friend, and the two meshed well enough that Innis was asked to become a touring musician for the band. Since then, he’s kept touring with the band, sparingly contributing to songs and albums in the meantime.

In the run-up to “Sacred Hearts Club,” he was finally made a full-timer.

“I was living in my mom’s basement and they just felt sorry for me!” Innis joked. “They were like, ‘Man, we gotta do something for this dude — let’s make him official.’ ”

It’s a good line, but charity cases don’t get a writing credit on 10 of an album’s dozen tracks.

(Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP) Mark Pontius, left, and Isom Innis of Foster The People perform in 2016. Innis co-wrote 10 of the 12 tracks on the band's new album, "Sacred Hearts Club."

Once Innis was given the opportunity to help shape the band’s sound, he ran with it.

“This is the first record where I really creatively contributed to most of the songs from the ground up. … This is really the first album where Mark and I set out to produce this together and co-write it,” Innis said. “Really, my main instrument is the drums — I do drums, keyboard, bass and guitar, and Mark is also a multi-instrumentalist. So really, the first year and a half, I was just making beats — either from sampling jams that we had done as a band or … there’s really no formula, but I’m always building an arsenal of sounds, whether it’s from analog drum machines to live takes. So I’d be making beats and I’d show them to Mark, and then he’d react to them musically. And we’d start writing bass lines or chord progressions, and then once the idea was inspiring, he’d go in the vocal booth and just open up and start channeling and singing. And when we captured something good, he’d go in with a fine-tooth comb and really start refining lyrics, and we’d start to refine the song arrangements. But really, ‘Sacred Hearts Club’ was born out of experimentation and improvisation.”

A big focus was drawing inspiration from unique sources that weren’t afraid to, well, draw inspiration from unique sources.

Innis cited late rapper J Dilla’s “Donuts” as his favorite hip-hop album of all time, noting that its lengthy and diverse sample list pulled together “elements from all over the place, and … created this sonic texture that’s really unlike anything I’ve ever heard.” He also invoked the Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light,” which incorporated “punk, post-punk, the early origins of hip-hop, experimenting with Afro-beats — they have all these genres that are kind of meshed into one.”

With that mindset in place, Foster the People set about crafting a song with musically diverse DNA that would set the tone for the album to come.

“To me, it’s kind of the holy grail when you can take influence from all the records you’re listening to and really bottle it up but [still] make something that is you, that has a strong identity but moves across multiple genres,” Innis said. “One of my favorite tracks on the record that does that is ‘Loyal Like Sid and Nancy.’ Really, the root of that song is in hip-hop and dance music; it started out as more of an atonal kind of dance track. … One special part about working with Mark is … whenever he starts working on a piece of music, I feel like he always creates with the chord structure such a beautiful bed for melody. Once he took that atonal drop of what turned out to be ‘Loyal Like Sid and Nancy,’ his first reaction was making this classical, almost Bernard Herrmann-sort-of-sounding crescendo that ended up being the bridge of the song. It’s kind of a nontraditional song, it’s not really a proper verse-chorus-bridge-chorus formula. But once we had that song, it turned out to be a really pivotal piece of music on the record, and it really helped us shape other tracks.”

As for the shape of FTP’s live show, Innis noted: “There are six of us onstage, we’re gonna be playing all the songs from the new record, ‘Sacred Hearts Club,’ a lot of analog synths, our guitar player has three pedalboards; a modular synthesis setup, two drum kits, samplers, a lot of moving parts, a lot of kinetic energy. I think people are gonna want to dance!”

Foster the People — dance band? Who saw that coming?

“I think for people that heard ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ first, they might expect to just come to our show and vibe out,” Innis acknowledged. “And yeah, we definitely have songs that you can just kinda kick back and vibe out to, but we also have songs on this record that are gonna make you want to jump up and down.”

Foster the People<br>When • Tuesday, 7 p.m.<br>Where • The Complex, 536 W. 100 South, Salt Lake City<br>Tickets • $29.50; Smith’s Tix