Q: "Pumped Up Kicks" sounds like a laidback pop song. How many people do you think realize it's about a homicidal school kid?
A: I think there's an irony in it, undercutting something that is so breezy on first listen with something that is so serious. If I wrote those lyrics over a dark ballad it would just be depressing.
Q: It only took me about 15 listens to actually hear the words.
A: I love it when that happens. It's happened to me so many songs. I remember when I heard Jeff Buckley's "Grace," on first listen I just thought it was such a great song. But then lyrics started popping out at me as I listened to it over and over and I realized he's talking about dying and drowning. And he actually drowned. I started crying in my car: "He predicted his own death!" It was amazing.
Q: Is "Pumped Up Kicks" based on any kind of personal experience?
A: It came from being burdened about where the youth of this country has been headed over the past few years. More and more young kids that are not even old enough to drive a car are making very adult, very bad decisions. I wanted to start dissecting that. It's like Truman Capote trying to get into the head of the killer in "In Cold Blood." What would it feel like to be that isolated or pushed to the brink of doing something?
Q: So what were you like growing up?
A: I always felt alienated. When I started really playing music I pretty much quit sports. I quit everything. I was an only child so I was alone a lot. I was just learning how to adjust.
Q: Did you ever play baseball by yourself by throwing the ball up with one hand and swinging at it with the other?
A: You're bringing me back some memories there. There was a telephone pole in our side yard that I spent like two months trying to hit it with the ball. I remember in middle school, I went to four different schools. That was a rough patch. But it's also what shaped me as a person.
Q: How did you go from that to having your song play in the background on "One Tree Hill"?
A: When I first moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to Los Angeles I would go to these crummy open mike nights and play in front of 10 other songwriters. Those are my most bleak memories - paying $3 and waiting for your name to be called. I delivered pizzas. I did telemarketing. I just bounced from job to job, going home to my home studio and recording songs and writing. Eventually that led to being a full-time music composer for TV and commercials. That led to freeing up my time enough to start Foster the People.
Read more: www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/03/18/P...gtN