Foster the People lead singer credits Independence teacher for nurturing his career

by John Benson

Former Independence resident Mark Foster is traveling the world as the visionary behind the platinum-selling indie-pop/alt rock act Foster the People, known for the hit song “Pumped Up Kicks.”

But no matter where the 2002 Nordonia High School graduate finds himself, a part of him is always in Northeast Ohio.

Foster’s story began in Independence, where his musical career began to take shape. As an elementary-school-age child, he gravitated to the catchy pop melodies and timeless harmonies of The Beach Boys.

It was roughly the same time he saw his first concert, featuring The Beach Boys at Blossom Music Center, that Independence Primary School music teacher Joan Sidor noticed his musical talents.

“Mrs. Sidor basically got me an audition with the (Cleveland Orchestra) Children’s Chorus,” said Foster, 34. “That was huge. I was very young.”

Foster the People lead singer Mark Foster has roots in Northeast Ohio. The band includes (l-r) Sean Cimino, Foster, Mark Pontius and Isom Innis. Photo by Neil Krug

Something else that defined Foster’s childhood was his family’s frequent moves. From Independence Primary and Middle schools, he went to Hudson City Schools and Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy before ending up at Nordonia High School. Foster said these moves influenced his maturation, partly because he felt he didn’t fit in.

“I would say that a lot of those school years were really tough for me, moving around a lot and switching schools,’’ he said. “At that time, music became something that was a constant and an escape. I had to learn how to survive, and I think it equipped me when I moved to Los Angeles to be able to face rejection, to live off nothing. For eight years, I just scraped by as a starving artist delivering pizzas, sleeping on couches, sleeping in my car and all of those things.”

Because his teen years were difficult, Foster talks fondly about feeling prepared to face the cutthroat music industry.

“I could totally cut together scenes of being in Los Angeles and scenes of being a younger kid in Cleveland surviving, just going back and forth like a ‘Rocky’ training montage sequence, because it was very similar,” Foster said.

Foster the People formed in L.A. in 2009, with Foster as lead singer. He wrote “Pumped Up Kicks,” which became a No. 1 hit around the globe. It won the Billboard Music Award for Top Rock Song in 2012.

However, Foster never forgot his roots. In the summer of 2012, Foster the People opened up for The Beach Boys at Blossom. The experience was surreal, he said, made more so when he remembered someone special from his past whom he hadn’t spoken to in nearly two decades.

“I reached out to Mrs. Sidor and had her come out to the show,” Foster said. “I hadn’t seen her since I was in fourth grade. She passed away a year later. She was just a sweetheart of a woman. I’m so grateful that I got to see her face-to-face and thank her.

“That was a full-circle thing, plus opening for the band that changed my life at the venue where I saw my first concert. I never thought anything like that was possible.”

Foster credits his family for not putting boundaries or expectations on him. Instead, they nurtured his talent and allowed him to explore the world.

“When I was a kid, I loved music, but I never in a million years considered pursuing a career, because I didn’t think it was possible,” Foster said. “The only reason I ended up moving to Los Angeles and actually having any kind of courage to try it was having a conversation with my dad, where he empowered me.”

After Foster graduated from Nordonia, with college not a consideration and the Air Force a possibility, his father sat him down and told him to pursue music in Los Angeles or New York City. If it didn’t work out, college and the Air Force would still be options.

“A light bulb went off,” Foster said. “So if there’s a kid out there that doesn’t think it’s possible, and they read this and this gives them some encouragement to take a chance, I’d say just do it.

“I love doing what I love to do. Things ended up working out for me for whatever reason, because I stuck with it and got lucky and a million other things. But even if they didn’t, man, I have no regrets because I’m doing what I love.”