Concert Preview: Switchfoot

Grant Walters Grant Walters Concert Preview: Switchfoot
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Sharing the bill with west coast colleagues Lifehouse, the California alt-rockers bring their inspired catalog with them to the EXPRESS LIVE! stage tonight

Along with co-headliner Lifehouse, San Diego alt-rock outfit Switchfoot will take the outdoor stage tonight at EXPRESS LIVE!

Brothers Jon (lead vocals and guitar) and Tim (bass and backing vocals) Foreman and drummer Chad Butler founded the band in 1996, adding guitarist/keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas and guitarist Drew Shirley to the mix later on. Over the next six years, they would release three independent albums on the Re:think Record imprint: The Legend of Chin, New Way To Be Human, and Learning to Breathe, the latter of which received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Gospel Album.

In 2002, they got their first major break when four of their songs were featured in the film A Walk To Remember. Even bigger was their subsequent signing with Columbia Records and their double-platinum certified first major-label release The Beautiful Letdown, which yielded two Billboard top twenty singles: “Meant To Live” and “Dare You To Move.”

Five additional albums followed; after Columbia released 2005’s Nothing Is Sound and 2006’s Oh! Gravity, the band and the label parted ways and returned Switchfoot to independent status. Their first post-Columbia project, Hello Hurricane (2009) earned them a Grammy award win for Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album.

Switchfoot’s 10th and most recent studio effort, Where The Light Shines Through, arrived last December along with a new publishing and distribution deal with Vanguard Records in tow. Where The Light… is a showcase for that at which the band excels: four-minute mini-epics that exude hope for the world-weary.

Kindness and positivity is more than just the band’s message – it’s their blueprint. Established in 2005, their BRO-AM Foundation hosts an annual summer festival in Encinitas, California, that features a charity surf competition and beachside concerts to benefit underprivileged youth in the community. This year’s event raised over $200,000.

“Yeah, it’s such a special event for us,” explains Tim Foreman during our phone conversation on Monday. “It’s kind of one of those things that we just pinch ourselves that it can happen every year, you know? The community really gets behind the concept as a chance to celebrate these kids who have been dealt a harder life that most of us have. So to celebrate them, raise money for them, and raise awareness — and to see the whole…not just our local community, but people flying in from all over the world – it’s really a dream come true.

It all started on a plane ride back home from Australia about…I guess it must have been 13, 14 years ago now. We were thinking ‘How can we give back to this amazing community that we’re from?’ You know, we were certainly missing San Diego – we were traveling a lot that year. And what came naturally to us was surfing and music – the two things that kept us out of trouble as kids growing up. So we built an event around that simple concept: surfing, music, and giving back to our community – and it’s just kind of taken off from there.”

Switchfoot and Lifehouse’s summer tour will visit 36 cities through the beginning of September. From there, the band will continue on to the UK and Switzerland. For Columbus fans, tickets at VIP experiences are still available at press time via Ticketmaster for tonight’s show.

You and the guys are obviously passionate about your hometown and giving back to its residents. I think I can probably qualify what the purview of a band from Los Angeles or San Francisco might look like. But what is it about being from San Diego that’s unique from your perspective?

“Well, I think the music scene in San Diego is unique. It’s pretty eclectic. A lot of cities have a ‘sound,’ you know – there was the Seattle sound back in the day. I’m actually in Omaha right now and there’s definitely an Omaha scene – the emo-rock indie scene. In San Diego, there was never a defined sound other than this desire to not sound like anyone else, to break outside those boxes…I think that freedom, and to grow up listening to bands that have that ethic and that freedom, was really something we enjoyed as kids going to shows – and it’s certainly how we approach music.”

You’ve been playing bass since elementary school. I don’t remember having that option when our band class convened – it was the flute or clarinet or nothing else. How did you decide that it was your instrument?

“Pretty much Paul McCartney and John Paul Jones. Those were my two favorite artists as a kid that I got into. It was just something about the bass lines those guys wrote that just completely captivated me. I think the way they approached the bass was equal parts melody and rhythm – somewhere in between the drums and the guitar. And that just always fascinated me, so I learned as many of their parts as I could growing up – they were kind of my teachers. I definitely learned the piano a little more formally as my first instrument, and I did take few guitar lessons, but once I discovered the bass at 12 years old – or maybe 11 – from then on out that was kind of my main instrument.”

I often ask artists what has changed most over the length of their career. But instead, I’m curious about what hasn’t changed since you, Jon, and Chad started playing in your garage in the 90s?

“That’s a good question. I think we still love music (laughs). If anything, I think we might love it more now than we ever have, you know? I think we love each other, which is also extremely unique for a band to be around as long as we have and still like each other – which is a gift. I think within our music, there’s always been this searching; using music as a vehicle to explore things that we don’t understand – things that don’t make sense. And I think that’s still the case. I think we’ve learned a lot as humans traveling the globe, but we still have a lot of questions, and we take full advantage of the idea that music is a great place to explore those questions. I think we’ve always valued honesty within songwriting, and that’s something that we really appreciate in others’ music. You can be honest and ask big questions. And I think we’re interested in writing about things that are important to us. We love what we do, but at the same we all have families, and being away from our families has a cost. So at a certain point, we kind of grew into this idea of ‘Let’s make it count and sing about things that matter to us.’ Not that a rock band’s going to change the world, but we do have a platform, and we want to make it count.”

And I think that leads me to a question about how spirituality relates to your music, because there seems to have been a long-running conversation about whether or not you being labelled as a Christian or Gospel outfit is accurate. Labels aside – what are those deeper concepts or foundations you feel should be associated with your songs?

“A lot of our songs start from kind of a dark place. I think when everything’s going well, we go surfing. When everything doesn’t make sense, we write songs, you know? I think a lot of times we start with darkness and aim for the light. There’s a hopefulness we have within our music – that as tough as life can be, it’s not finished and there’s a story being written. And it’s a beautiful story. That’s a theme we’ve kind of grown into through the years. We have this saying within our band that ‘We sing because hope deserves an anthem.’”

You’ve been on the road pretty consistently over the past 20 years. How is playing live with that life and musical experience under your collective belts different now than when you were basically kids starting out?

“Yeah, when we started out live music was a bit of a scary thing because you want things to sound perfect and you want them to go perfectly. And with live music, that’s so seldom the case. Things break, things go wrong – guitar strings break or go out of tune. And I think as a young kid that can be frustrating. Through the years we’ve learned to embrace the chaos and the unknown and dive fully head first into that, you know? That’s what makes live music great is that it is dangerous, and anything can happen. And that’s a beautiful thing, actually. We make a different set list every night to keep it fresh, and then even once we get on stage we change it constantly and we never play a song the same way twice. It’s always different and we really love that. There are so few bands nowadays that aren’t using tracks – it’s a rarity – and we’re one of these few bands that…it wouldn’t be fun if we were locked into something that had to be played the same way every night. We love that every night can be special.”

Learn more about Switchfoot’s BRO-AM Foundation via its official website. Their latest album Where The Light Shines Through is available via switchfoot.com.

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