People Thinking People

At the time of their debut album release on Charlie Peacock's label, re:think, Switchfoot's youngest member had just graduated from high school. Now, after three or four years of solid fan support, local and national touring, and two more releases, critics and music fans alike are continuously curious to find out how California's Switchfoot will set themselves apart in a 'sink or swim' tide of Nashvillean competition.

First of all, it must be mentioned that over fifty songs were considered for their latest release, Learning to Breathe. "Jon is a song-writing machine," remarks Switchfoot drummer Chad Butler on band-mate Jon Foreman's abilities to crank out tunes in sharp cadence. "He spits out a song a day when we’re home. Tim and I can’t keep up with writing and arranging bass and drum parts for them all! All that said, we have recorded a lot that may never see the light of day. The benefit of that process is having a lot to choose from. The hard part is choosing which ones you want to play for the next year and a half!"

Secondly, the California based Switchfoot members -- who hope to never relocate to Nashvegas -- continue to appeal to a variety of people. Butler would like to think that their audience is made up of "thinking people." He states that the band was always as likely to play clubs as churches. "Nobody here knows anything about CCM, so maybe we come at it with fresh ears."

With that said, what will the next year-and-a-half bring for the trio of 'fresh-eared' musicians? Certainly Breathe, garnering critical acclaim as the perfect union of raw sound and pop sensibility, will help shape the coming months for them. Butler muses, "From what I can tell it’s our most well-received project yet. The songs seem to be connecting on a deeper level this time." As such, their words represent a deeper level of commitment for the listener. "Lyrically, these are songs about change and movement. The first song 'Dare You to Move' is my favorite right now. It’s about life being worth living."

Giving the reins over to two separate producers -- both long-time mentor and producer Charlie Peacock, and Jacquire King (who has produced Tom Waits and Third Eye Blind) -- helped take the band to new sonic levels, while dishing out a lesson in both self-sufficiency and surrender. "Musically our direction this time was to capture that band energy we felt was missing on [New Way To Be Human -- ’99]," Butler says. "By default, we ended up looking for a new producer this time for half the album, and decided on King. The result was some fun new sonic territory, evident in songs like "Innocence Again." We also self-produced the last song "Living Is Simple." That was a real milestone for us as a band, and a lot of fun."

Regarding their work with Peacock, Butler confirms their admiration for his presence and integrity in the music scene. "Charlie Peacock is a big advocate for freedom in the music making process. He has been an influence on us to recognize that as believers in Christ we have been given ultimate freedom, and that we shouldn't limit the topics we write about. We like to think of our songs as commentary on the world around us, but coming from a Christian perspective."

This freedom, and decisiveness has even found its way onto their album packaging, which the band has always maintained authority over. Butler comments on their inspirations for each one, "The Legend of Chin was a nod to Blue Note. New Way to Be Human was done by a local San Diego Artist named Shepard Fairey (check out www.blkmrkt.com or www.obeygiant.com). Over the last year Tim has been doing a lot of our graphic design for our T-shirts and our website -- www.switchfoot.com.

Recently, Switchfoot has been among those ‘Christian bands’ that have had songs selected to be played in various mainstream media outlets, whether a television show, or radio program, or commercial. "We view it as an incredible opportunity to have people hear our songs that would never intentionally pick up our CD," Butler says. "However, our songs have been played during some scenes that we didn’t agree with, and we don’t get a say in it. As far as we’re concerned it’s like getting played on the radio all over the world at once -- people might be doing questionable things while listening, but at least they’re listening."

Probing deeper into their current projects, one might find out that Switchfoot’s members have been closely involved with a group of Sudanese refugees. When asked about this project, Butler explains, "They are a group of one-hundred people who fled the persecution of Christians in Sudan. They live simply together in San Diego, singing at their small church. We have tried to give them exposure for their cause, to raise awareness in the States, in order to effect political change in Sudan. Jon is recording a CD of them to tell their story on a wider scale, and because they make beautiful music that needs to be heard."

Butler continues along the political thread by commenting on the apathy of American Christians in general. "I recently heard Tony Campolo speak in Atlanta, regarding the Jubilee 2000 movement. Around the world young people worked to pressure their wealthy governments to cancel third world debt, everywhere except America. For the most part we don’t know about it, don’t care to know, and live as though nothing is wrong with that."

With such an informed, caring, and creative base to their character and music, the question posed earlier of Switchfoot's ability to "set themselves apart in a 'sink or swim' tide of Nashvillean competition" suddenly becomes incredibly irrelevant. The real question is: Why on earth are they even miring in the muck of that particular profit-blinded institution? While the answer to that can only come from idle speculation on our parts, let us graciously assume that pragmatism is not the only motive. Amen.

by Jeanette Strole
2001 Bandoppler Radio