Mark Foster reflects on "Pumped Up Kicks" following the Vegas massacre
The song is about a boy who fantasizes about shooting up his school
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to Tuesday’s terror attack in New York City.
When Foster the People’s anti-gun violence anthem, “Pumped Up Kicks,” was released in 2010, it quickly went viral. But not everyone immediately noticed the cautionary tale about gun violence that lead singer Mark Foster relates in the lyrics:
“All the other kids with the pumped up kicks/ You’d better run, better run, outrun my gun.”
Although its tone is jubilant and upbeat – prompting some fans to blast it during celebratory times – “Pumped Up Kicks” is about a boy named Robert, who fantasizes about shooting up his school.
“That song was written from a place of wanting us to do something about gun violence, wanting legislation to be passed that can limit our resources because it feels like these mass shootings are becoming common now,” Foster told CNN’s #GetPolitical. “I wrote that song seven years ago, predicting that it was going to get worse before it got better.”
The deadliest shooting in modern American history took place on October 1 when a gunman opened fire at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, leaving 58 dead and more than 540 injured.
After the massacre, many Democratic and Republican lawmakers agreed to ban the sale of bump-fire stocks, but a month later, Congress does not appear to be taking steps to outlaw them.
With emotions raw after Vegas, Foster said that he and his bandmates decided not to perform “Pumped Up Kicks” at the Austin City Limits festival in Texas or at the “All Things Go” music festival in Washington because some people misinterpret its meaning.
“It just felt irreverent to play that song … from my perspective, I’m really empathizing and thinking of the families that lost somebody,” Foster said, adding that “Pumped Up Kicks” was written to try to get inside the head of a psychotic individual.
“You can also think about it like Dostoyevsky when he wrote ‘Crime and Punishment’ or Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ or Vince Gilligan writing ‘Breaking Bad,’ the character Walt … it’s like your protagonist also happens to be the enemy in a way. It’s illuminating a situation but from an interesting point of view,” Foster added.
The Grammy-nominated musician reflected on whether artists have a responsibility to speak out during trying times ahead of the band’s headlining performance at the “All Things Go” music festival last month.
CNN: There’s been no shortage of bad news in the world. While writing songs for your latest album, “Sacred Hearts Club,” has the political climate influenced your music or have you been able to compartmentalize?
FOSTER: I would wake up, I’d read the news in the morning and I would get a knot in my stomach because it felt like there would be a tragedy that happened somewhere in the world, there would be a shooting somewhere, there would be a bombing somewhere … just watching the political situation in our own country rip families apart, rip friends apart and really just divide us … Walking into the studio making “Scared Hearts Club” I felt like it was important for us as artists to write a joyful record, but using joy as a weapon because joy is the best weapon against oppression, it’s the best weapon against depression.
CNN: Do you think it’s an artist’s duty to speak to the times or is it your job first to entertain?
FOSTER: I think that there’s a difference between being an entertainer and being an artist. I think artists throughout the history of time have always been controversial and have been a voice to speak to public culture in a way a politician can’t because they’ll lose their constituency. But artists, I think historically, have shined a magnifying glass on culture and have talked to it … I don’t consider myself an entertainer. I consider myself an artist, and I think with that comes responsibility.
CNN: You have fans that come from diverse backgrounds who feel differently about issues like gun control. What’s your message after something tragic like this happens?
FOSTER: It’s so easy to politicize these things. When the shooting happened in Vegas, you’ve got people on the far left and people on the far right politicizing it and using it as some kind of political equity to be able to sway people to their way of thinking … We need to do a better job of loving each other beyond race, beyond belief, beyond our difference … I truly believe that love is greater than politics.
CNN: Your guitarist, Sean Cimino, had family members at the Route 91 festival and you had friends performing at the Bataclan in Paris when the terror attack took place in 2015. How have the recent terror attacks impacted you?
FOSTER: When you have a musical setting, which is such a joyful, beautiful expression of people coming together … experiencing something spiritual at the same time, that when those events are starting to get threatened by violence, it’s pretty heavy. And I just think it’s more important than ever that we stand in solidarity with each other and we continue to play music.