Dealing with the sophomore jinx — the pressure to follow up a successful debut album — is something many artists have faced. For Foster The People, after scoring multiple GRAMMY nominations for 2011's Torches, including Best Alternative Music Album at the 54th GRAMMY Awards, and hits such as "Pumped Up Kicks" and "Don't Stop (Color On The Walls)," there was bound to be pressure.
But frontman Mark Foster welcomed the pressure. In fact, he put more on himself by setting up a makeshift studio in Morocco to commence work on the band's second album, Supermodel, which was released March 18. "It was an expensive experiment," quips Foster.
Produced by GRAMMY winner Paul Epworth (Adele, Bruno Mars, Paul McCartney), Supermodel features 11 tracks spanning a dynamic sonic spectrum, including touches of dance, pop, rock, and psychedelia, and earthy acoustic-based sounds.
In an exclusive GRAMMY.com interview, Foster discussed the varied influences that seeped in to the songs comprising Supermodel, his creative sojourn to Morocco and the group's GRAMMY history, among other topics.
You performed with the Beach Boys at the 54th GRAMMY Awards in 2012 and I hear some old-school Beach Boys elements on the new album.
They were the first band that I fell in love with so a lot of those harmonies and styles will just inadvertently come out when I'm writing songs sometimes, whether it's the pre-chorus on "Coming Of Age" or that transitional song, "The Angelic Welcome Of Mr. Jones," which is the 35-second track right in the middle of the record. I think it's something that comes out subconsciously, but then afterwards I'll be like, "Oh yeah, that sounds like the Beach Boys, that's something that they would do."
For most artists there are those moments when you're writing when things emerge and you have no idea what you were thinking. What were some of those moments for you when you went back and listened to Supermodel?
The most interesting part of creating this record was really the beginning. I went to Morocco with Paul Epworth and we set up a studio and had about eight days to express ourselves. And there were really no rules. We talked about some kind of aesthetic boundaries that we were going for, but other than that we just went [for it]. And I think the first initial shock for both of us was the first time I played the main guitar riff/bass line in "Pseudologia Fantastica," which is one of the heaviest songs on the record. And I think that there were a couple of other songs — "A Beginner's Guide To Destroying The Moon," "Never Mind," "Goats In Trees" — were all started in Morocco. And they all had a very different tone from Torches, so those songs helped define a different direction of where the record was going. It definitely surprised all of us, but we just went with it.
How much do you think the environment played a part in that sonic shift? Did being in Morocco directly impact those sounds?
Definitely, and it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately [because] this record was really the first record I got to experiment with traveling. It became like a steroid for creativity. Wanderlust was my main muse while writing this record. I think there are a number of reasons why being in a foreign place is inspiring, whether it's the fact we were away from all familiar distractions of home or the fact we were in a culture that was a completely different environment than we were used to, from the food to the language to the landscape to the overall philosophy of the culture, I think that had something to do with it. I think another thing that had something to do with it was that it was a pretty expensive experiment to move a studio in the middle of the desert and I knew that we needed to walk away with something or the label was gonna be pretty pissed off. That played a role too.
Some people just work better under deadlines and pressure.
I definitely do, within reason. Pressure has always been more of a friend than a foe for me with songwriting.
Earlier you mentioned how your influences manifested subconsciously. Can you expand on that idea?
I think the fun thing about expressing music, and this is how it's always been, is we're using the foundational blocks of what we grew up on, which [were] constantly evolving when we were kids, and then putting them in some sort blender and then reinterpreting them as adults in different ways. Playing "Pseudologia Fantastica" in Morocco, Paul and I started laughing because it doesn't sound like Foster The People. But it came out of me so therefore it does sound like Foster The People and we went with it. There was a lot of '90s influence that came out on this record that I couldn't have guessed would have been what came out when I picked up an instrument and started playing it, but that's what came out. Musically, to draw from influences from my childhood, draw from different styles and then let them live together — to me, that's a part of post-modern creation. That's how you can take things that have been done before and do them in a new way.
If you were to receive a GRAMMY nomination for Supermodel, is there one nomination that would mean the most to you?
[Laughs] I don't know, I haven't really thought about it to tell you the truth. I think if we were nominated for anything we would be honored, honestly.
Is there one past GRAMMY nomination that means the most to you?
Yeah, I think Best Alternative Album meant a lot to me because it was [about the] the body of work and, for me, this record is very much so about the body of work. So I think if [Supermodel] got nominated as a whole that would be exciting for us.
(Steve Baltin has written about music for Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, MOJO, Chicago Tribune, AOL, LA Weekly, Philadelphia Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and dozens more publications.)