The Knocks image by Dusty Kessler
When Foster the People had their breakout moment in 2011, the curiously infectious single “Pumped Up Kicks” seemed something of an unlikely hit. Yet with its languid groove, psychedelic vibes and Mark Foster’s oddly effected vocals, it propelled the LA quartet to genuine stardom (it’s since wracked up almost half a billion YouTube views). Their debut album Torches, and its 2014 follow-up Supermodel, both went top ten. A third album, 2017’s Sacred Hearts Club, was perhaps their most musically adventurous and ambitious yet.
Across the nation over in NYC, The Knocks‘ 2010 debut single “Make it Better” grabbed national attention when it was picked up for a memorable Corona commercial. The prolific DJ-production duo of Ben Ruttner and James Patterson would go on to release a string of excellent singles, collaborating with the likes of M83, X Ambassadors and Cam’ron, before finally birthing their debut album 55 in 2016. But back in 2011, one of their first high profile remixes was – you guessed it – “Pumped Up Kicks.”
Image by Mats Bakken
So surely it was inevitable that the two entities (The Knocks + FTP frontman Mark Foster) would creatively converge – which is exactly what happened in an LA studio earlier this year. The result was the awesome single “Ride or Die” (under the banner The Knocks ft. Foster the People), which has been picking up momentum since its March release, going Top 20 Alternative just last month. The song is taken from their eagerly awaited upcoming album New York Narcotic, to be released on the 28th, through Neon Gold / Big Beat (it will also feature a collab with Sofi Tukker).
Both had chosen to skip the summer festivals. But they will converge this Monday, September 10, for what will surely be an unforgettable appearance together on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. But for the full Knocks experience, catch them at their record release party at NYC’s Public Arts on the 27th, or at the Neon Gold X: 10 Year Anniversary bash at The Knockdown Center.
Foster the People will play 17 dates in North and South America this autumn.
In the lead up to the Colbert appearance, we sat James, Ben and Mark down for a chat about how it all came together.
What actually brought you guys together for “Ride or Die”?
Ben: We got together through a mutual friend Kenny Laubbacher, who went on to direct the “Ride or Die” video for us. I actually met him through a songwriting camp in Nicaragua called SOCAN.
Were you guys already fans of each other?
Ben: Yeah, definitely. As you know, one of our first remixes back in 2011 was of “Pumped Up Kicks.”
Both Foster the People and The Knocks were sort of unexpected successes, in that you didn’t fit any particular musical trends. But that was still a pretty exciting time in music, a time of possibilities.
James: Yeah, the song has the feel of around 2010, which was a really good time for indie music.
What was the actual process? Did you actually wind up in the same room together?
Mark: I flew in…do you remember where I was coming from Ben?
Ben: You were coming from doing a radio show somewhere…
Mark: We basically had a day in the LA studio, since they had to get right back to New York. They already had the foundation for the song, and we got about 90% of it done that night.
James: I got in that day also, and we wrote the majority of it that night. And the whole thing actually ended with Mark getting his car broken into!
Wow, you mean right there at the studio?
Mark: Yeah, I had parked in a guarded lot. At the end of the session, the LAPD called my cell phone, “Hey Mark, this is Officer Johnson, why don’t you give me a call back about your car?” So we walked out into the lot, and my windows were broken. The stole everything I had from my flight, even my toiletries. It was such a low blow!
It doesn’t really seem to be worth it – why would you steal toiletries?
Mark: Desperate times, man.
I guess in Trump’s America, now you have to resort to stealing shampoo.
Mark: Bernie Sanders in 2020!
Were you genuinely thrilled with the final “Ride or Die” – is this the start of something more between Foster the People and The Knocks?
James: Yeah, I think so. After all, why do collaborations have to just be rappers and DJs?
It does seem like these days everyone is pushed to do these collabs to make an event out of everything. It’s like, “Rihanna and Keith Urban” – together for the first time!
James: Yeah, absolutely.
Foster the People
But this one didn’t feel at all staged. Was there a real sense of musical kinship between you guys?
Mark: You never really know what you’re getting when you go into the studio with other people. Artists are sensitive, and musicians tend to be lone wolves. But you’re all there for this common goal, which is to create something great. Music is a language within itself, and we quickly bonded, because we complemented each other so well musically.
James: And it’s not always that way!
Ben: We both came up around the same time, which I think also gives us a common perspective.
The music scene does feels like it’s become a bit polite and orchestrated now, no?
Mark: I think you’re probably right. That’s why The Weeknd and Post Malone have become so big, because they’re individuals and not afraid to be themselves. Marilyn Manson did that awhile back, of course, but time finally caught up with him. He was so ahead of his time.
He couldn’t be controlled by the music business.
Mark: Like it or not, that’s why the Kardashians are the biggest thing on TV. They are so over the top, and just don’t seem to care what anyone else thinks.
This would seem to be a good time for artists to be speaking up about things that are more…urgent.
Mark: I would love to see more activism. But a lot of artists are afraid to make statements, even though they have the chance to make real social change. I guess they don’t want to, because they don’t want to risk losing any of their fanbase.
Making statements seemed to just be more organic to making music back in the day.
Mark: If you look at Bowie cross-dressing in the ’70s, everything that John Lennon did with Yoko Ono – it was all so radical.
If you had the chance to go into the studio with anyone right now, who would it be?
Mark: I think Kanye. But I think it would also be great to sign someone new, somebody that nobody knows about, and do something fresh and forward.
Ben: We’re trying to get more into artist development. We’re working with this new girl Blu Detiger, 20 years old, born and raised New Yorker.
Is there a reason you’ve chosen such a provocative title for the new Knocks album, New York Narcotic?
Ben: New York Narcotic is just a comment on how you get to a city like New York and it becomes like a drug – it’s basically about not being in the suburbs. It really does get to be like a high.