Foster the People: Pumped Up Hits

“This second album is just a lot more evolved than the first,” says Foster. “We have more time to work on it and more resources, plus we’ve really gelled as a band. So we’re trying a lot of experiments. Yesterday the four of them were in a room without me for an all-day jam. I’ve come up with little scenarios, like every 10 minutes having them stop what they’re playing and switch out their jam.”

As the band broadens their sonic experiments, Logic Pro provides the creative glue. “In our sessions over the past few months, whether doing remixes for other artists or just writing stuff from the ground up, we’ve been passing Logic tricks back and forth and sharpening each other. That’s helped us in the studio, and I feel that we’ve really grown as producers.”

Drum Sessions

Because an important goal for the record is to capture the distinctive percussive elements of their live shows, Isom Innis and Mark Pontius have been playing together in another LA studio set up “with tons of drums.” Innis, a versatile percussionist, was excited about the approach. “It was kind of like heaven,” he says. “We had so much stuff. A huge concert bass drum. Six different drum kits. We attacked every single thing.”

While Pontius played drums to a click track to keep time, Innis listened using a DJ setup and advised Pontius in real time. “I would tell him to alter his kick-patterns and beats, just going by what was sounding good in the rooms,” says Innis.

The three-day sessions resulted in 180GB of drum tracks, with two engineers assigned to organize and trim them in Logic Pro. “We ended up getting so many varieties of styles,” says Innis. “Now we’ve been going through drum grooves and samples and cutting out the best four- or eight-bar phrases and turning them into Apple Loops.”

Innis says that the most-used Logic feature during the sessions has been Convert to Sampler Track. “We use it to build our own instruments, whether by sampling other records or sampling our own performances. For drums, but also for bass and synth, I’ve been creating a lot of different things with it.” Foster agrees, adding: “I like to use it on vocals. Just chop a weird vocal moment, spread it out on a keyboard, and then it’s all pitched. I use the samples as kind of a percussive effect.”

The hope is that the intense collaboration in the studio will yield a different sound for the new album. Says Foster: “I always start songwriting with drums, but I’ve never done it in any way like this before where all the drum samples are generated by our guys in-house. Once all those drum sounds are chopped up, I’ll be able to take the loops, beats, and single hits, turn them into an EXS24 drum kit, and write around that.”

Using the Toolbox

In writing and performing their songs, the band relies almost entirely on software instruments. And because Foster likes to customize his sounds, he depends heavily on the ability to save all the plug-ins that make up the sound as a single channel strip setting. Each setting combines the software instrument plus the effect plug‑ins that make up that sound. “I have a whole palette of sounds that I can use or easily modify,” he says.

To aggregate sounds for the album, Innis says they are also using the EXS24 sampler extensively: “I know many other samplers can weirdly distort sound, but not the EXS24. The bass on the tracks sounds so clear, and the human feel meshes great with those synthesized drums. People who know about it use it all the time, and it’s way more powerful than meets the eye.”

Initial editing passes on the new material have sent Foster frequently to his go-to Logic feature, Flex Time, which lets him quickly manipulate the timing and tempo of the tracks. “If I didn’t have Flex Time, I’d be really debilitated in trying to make my records. A track I’m working on now needed to be two beats per minute faster, but we’d already tracked horns and audio. So we just flexed it to correct the tempo.”

Mark Foster performing live. Photo credit: Andy Barron.

Studio to Stage

As the band resumes their current worldwide tour, they’re using MainStage to bring their rich studio sound to the stage. MainStage allows the band to ditch racks of complicated gear for a MacBook Pro that they can perform through. And because MainStage can directly open the plug-ins and settings they used in their Logic projects, they have available on stage the same sounds they used in the studio.

“We’re able to take most of the synth sounds that we’ve recorded for Torches and play them live instead of trying to have another keyboard re-create a sound,” says Foster. “So we’re able to use the exact sounds that were used on the record. That’s essential for our live show.”

When the tour ends this summer, the band plans to head almost immediately back into the studio to finish the album. Says Foster: “Creatively, this time the band is getting more of a voice. And I can’t wait to see what they come up with, because it’ll be better than anything I would have thought of alone. I could have locked myself in a room again to write this album, but I know we’ll make a much better record if we all contribute.”