Switchfoot: Keeping an Eye on the Horizon

Switchfoot: Keeping an Eye on the Horizon

By Mike Duffy

When Switchfoot first formed back in the late 1990s, popular recognition wasn’t necessarily the foremost goal.

In reality, the original three members – brothers Jon (guitar) and Tim Foreman (bass) and drummer Chad Butler – were just hoping to create tunes that would sound good through their earbuds while watching the San Diego waves crash with surfboards in hand.  

But success surely came, in the form of a 2011 Grammy award for best Rock Gospel Album (Hello Hurricane) and countless GMA Dove Awards and San Diego Music Awards.

“It’s not even a thing that you can set up as a goal though,” Tim Foreman recently said while reflecting upon Switchfoot’s decorated career. “You just make the best music you can and hope people like it. Your motivation can’t be awards,” “The moment you’re writing for someone else is a tough place to be as an artist. It’s certainly an honor to know that other people are into what we’re doing.”

But with their eighth studio album Vice Verses landing on shelves in 2011 and an ambitious surfing film and soundtrack coming up in 2013, Switchfoot seems to be hitting their stride as a band that stays true to its roots while consistently evolving.

And the guys have had to grow, especially after a split from Columbia Records in 2007.  That led Switchfoot to building their own studio, which was called Spot X, and bringing in the likes of Grammy-winning engineer Darrell Thorp (Radiohead, Outkast) and producer Mike Elizondo for the critically-acclaimed 2009 album Hello Hurricane.

“When we cut ties with our major label, we felt like we needed to rebuild from Ground Zero in San Diego,” said Tim. “So we built our own studio and spent a lot of time taking full advantage of the fact that we weren’t paying by the hour. We could try a lot of different things and experiment. It was OK if some of those experiments failed. 

“During the process, we really rediscovered what we love about music and came out with a bunch of songs on Hurricane that we felt like we could sing for the rest of our lives.  That was the goal.  It’s great to have a space like that.”

Switchfoot takes flight on stage.

Vice Verses hit the airwaves in 2011 with a more diverse set of tracks, from the arena rock-ready “Dark Horses” to the funky “Selling the News.”  

With this one, Switchfoot painstakingly made sure everything was right, even working through songs for several years.

“The incubation period of songs has always been a part of our process,” said Tim.  “It’s not unusual for us to have one or two songs that we’ve been kicking around for a few years finally see the light of day.  Sometimes, it’s about timing and finding the right other songs to pair them with on an album. Sometimes it has an element of a great song, but it’s not all there yet, whether it’s a verse or a chorus out of place.

“With this record, one or two of them are like that, and others we wrote over the course of the last two years when we traveled all over the world. A lot of them are responses to those experiences.”

Experience rings true throughout any Switchfoot track.

The band has been thrown into the “Christian Music” bin at record stores, but several singles have made their way to Top 40 radio airplay, such as “You,” “Mess of Me” and “Stars.”

And all of them have a deep meaning that is revealed in Jon Foreman’s insightful lyrics.

“Those seem to be the songs that have the most meaning to us, the ones that have a real impactful story behind them,” said Tim.  “Those are the types of songs that we tend to really gravitate towards, songs that we want to sing for years down the road. It’s kind of our vehicle for figuring it all out.”

Take “Dark Horses.”

The track is an homage to Stand Up For Kids, and organization that aids orphaned youth in San Diego.

The Switchfoot bassist noted that the theme of “Dark Horses” might be heavy, but such causes are things that Switchfoot believes in as a group.  

“One of the big things of this record, thematically and musically, was to really explore,” he said of Vice Verses.   

One of the coolest moments of the Vice Verses release was a YouTube video that shows the band listening to the completed record for the first time with producer Neal Avron.

“The final mixes, exactly as it was supposed to go from start to finish,” said Tim. “It’s funny, because a lot of bands would tell you that that never happens.  Individually, you’ll listen to an album from start to finish, especially when you’re really excited about it once you’ve finished it. 

“But to get everyone together and have that focused effort of really listening to it from top to bottom, that was the first time we’d ever done that, and it was a pretty special experience.”

Now, the focus is on to Fading West, a surf-film that allowed the wave-riders to follow both of their passions while on tour.

Tim tells the story best:

“It’s been on the horizon for us for a while, as far as the goal and dream as a band to marry music and surfing in a film. It got to the point where we were like, ‘Are we going to do this or not?’ So we basically pinpointed some of our favorite surf spots from around the world and came up with the dream tour. We would bring our surfboards with us and go out in the water and film it. It’s a way to bring our fan base along with us for the journey.”

Switchfoot fans can look forward to the upcoming offerings.

Not only will there be a movie featuring the best waves this world can offer, but they can also prepare for an album of completely new material and a DVD with Switchfoot-scored instrumental tracks.

“We’re looking to make an entirely new album but we’re also really excited about scoring the film,” said Tim.  “Through the course of it, there are a lot of opportunities to use beautiful instrumental music, and there are some pretty unique textures that might make an album feel a bit disjoined. In a film, there is a lot of room to push the music in different directions.”

With Switchfoot going on to bigger and better things, — even after ten-plus years of being a tight band — the fact that they are still a quartet of five friends hanging amicably is impressive. 

But to Tim, that dynamic is not as shocking as you’d think.

“It’s not without its challenges, but it goes back to the deep respect that we have for each other,” he said of sticking together as a band.  “One thing that has gotten us through a lot of the musical differences is the fact that at the end of the day, you really want everyone to care and have an opinion.  The moment people stop caring is when you’ve lost it. 

“The strong opinions that have led to struggles through the years, as long as you can step back and remind yourself that you’re glad that everyone is that passionate about it, you’ll be OK.”


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