Isom Innis, keyboardist of Foster the People, brims with excitement, having just received the news that the Australian population had voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage.
Though a remarkably joyous moment, he’s innately aware the landmark result follows not only months of campaigning during the actual polling period, but lifetimes of discrimination and pain for members of the LGBTQI+ community.
At the same time, the entertainment industry is in the spotlight for its abuse of sexual violence and assault towards women, and the leader of the USA is a man who’s on the record bragging about such behaviour. It’s exactly this harsh reality and political climate that inspired the indie darlings’ third album, Sacred Hearts Club, directed by the band’s lyricist, Mark Foster.
“Mark’s lyrics on the album are a response to everything that’s going on around the world. We’re experiencing divisiveness worldwide. We’re experiencing the same trends of nationalism and racism, all these horrible things around the world, not just in America,” Innis says.
The resulting record is far from downbeat, though his explanation of the inspiration may lead you to expect otherwise. In the same vein as their breakout hit, 2011’s ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, they’ve taken difficult and complex subject matter, and created something glossy and groovy. And that’s exactly what they set out to do.
“We wanted to turn around and make a record that celebrates life, that’s joyful and that says love is bigger than politics,” Innis says.
In their attempt to create something that broke away from themes of pain, their music took on a hypnotic tone – both musically and lyrically.
“It’s a dancier, more hip hop driven record than any of our previous works,” Innis says. “It was really exciting to create these grooves, and create these beats that take you out of your head, and almost hypnotise you. There’s something hypnotic about a beat you want to dance to. That was the foundation of the record.”
The four members of the band share a passion for the genre, and the beats that the record is built upon are rich in hip hop influences. The beat-driven album is a fresh sound for the band, and a growth from their extremely well-known earlier work. The change is something the band certainly felt they needed.
“Whenever you sit down to make music, especially when you make a record, you have to chase your instincts, you have to chase what’s inspiring, and what you’re 100 per cent passionate about. And for us, hip hop is a really special genre of music. It refuses to be characterised, and it takes in so many different influences,” Innis says.
Though Innis has been playing with Foster the People since 2009, Sacred Hearts Club is the first album in which he’s billed as an official member. He jokes that he and Sean Cimino, who is also billed as a core band member for the first time on this record, have always been a part of the band, this is just the first time they’re in the promo photos.
Innis co-wrote on the band’s sophomore album, 2014’s Supermodel, but Sacred Hearts Club is the first record he’s contributed to from the ground up. Though a difference to the band’s previous work is palpable, that change was largely born off-the-cuff, and without planning.
“Sacred Hearts Club is a record that’s born out of experimentation and improvisation. It’s a beat and groove driven record,” Innis says. “‘Loyal Like Sid & Nancy’ was the first idea that we got really excited about. It started as this atonal dance beat that I’d made. I showed it to Mark and he instantly responded by playing these orchestral chords – really the polar opposite of how you would expect someone to respond. These chords became the bridge of the song. That became a really important moment, not just musically, but lyrically on the record. It set the tone for how we wanted to finish the album. We really applied some of the sonic textures that we captured in that song across the board.
“A lot of happy accidents we stumbled upon just by opening ourselves up, chasing ideas, and following things wherever they were going to go,” Innis says.
It seems an apt way to write a record celebrating life in the midst of a rocky political climate.
Life is nothing if not improvisational.
Originally published in Beat Magazine.