Switchfoot Interview

Switchfoot is the name of a local Christian Rock band comprised of three talented young musicians, all of which are Pastors kids. Jon Foreman, age 22, plays guitar while his brother Tim, age 20, plays bass. Chad Butler , age 24, plays drums. Their musical success both in the Christian and secular world has been unprecedented. No one expected these young locals to get so big, so quick. They have been touring the U.S. and Europe since the recent release of their new album New Way to be Human. The album has been well received by both groupies and music connoisseurs alike. Even Lou's Records, a well-known North County music store, placed the new album as number 1 on their Alternative Rock charts. But bottom line: These guys are approachable, fun-loving and kind gentlemen. To this day I am still impressed with both their intellect and demeanor, and the progressing musical talent that makes this 32 year old man (me), sing along and play air guitar with their music. The following interview took place a week before the debut of their new album.

Chris: How did the band form at the beginning, how did it start?

Tim: Well, Jon and I met through mutual parents when we were 0 years old and two years old (we're brothers). Jon and Chad met in High School; they were on the same water polo team at Carlsbad High School. Chad was the big senior, and Jon was the little freshman that kept getting dunked by Chad.

Chris:How did Switchfoot form as a band?

Tim:Well, first we were in two different bands, local bands playing around town. We would open up for Chad's band; he would open up for our band. That was way back in the early days. Then when those bands went their separate ways we, being good friends, just thought as a natural progression to form what has become Switchfoot.

Chris: What year did Switchfoot actually form then?

Tim: About three years ago.

Chad: Let's see, '96.

Chris: And what was your original purpose at the time that it started, just to get together to have fun?

Jon: I think that was true for our first album. First of all, we weren't looking to be signed. We were just playing songs in our bedroom and in our own town for whoever wanted to hear them. Mainly, we recorded a demo for our family and friends, just to give out and to sell at shows. So that tape ended up in the hands of Charlie Peacock.

Chris: Who's Charlie Peacock?

Jon: He's a producer who wrote songs for Amy Grant, he's won many awards, he's been nominated for Grammy's and things like that. And so it's pretty much a miracle that he heard it at all.

Chris: How did he come across it?

Jon: Somehow a friend of a friend gave it to him. But the songs on the first album were very much just songs that had been written in our bedroom, just us having fun. So with this new album ( New Way To Be Human) , we realized that we have a voice now. People want to hear what we have to say. Instead of just writing for the fun of it, we really wanted to focus our efforts, and make sure that the things t hat were most important for us really made it on the album. So with the new album, we kind of thought about it a lot, and really talked about it amongst ourselves. And we really tried to decide, OK, what do we think needs to be said in the world today? We have had the chance to travel around, go to Europe and Hawaii and Alaska and all over the country and so, what do we want to say to all these people? And these are the three things that we think are the most important to us:

1) First, this is kind of a social commentary of how pop culture and everything that represents our generation and our world is, its void of a deeper meaning that you can latch on to, that you can build your life around.
2) Second, the inability to find completion and wholeness inside of ourselves, more of a confessional statement.
3) Third, our hope and foundation that we can have in Christ, that he is a New Way to Be Human.

That's really the three themes that run throughout the new album. Every song has one or two or all three of these elements. It's a much more focused album than our first one. That's really what's set us apart from the earlier stuff.

Chris: How would you guys classify your music?

Jon: We've been calling it rock and roll for a while. I think a good way to describe it is guitar driven pop. It's got an edge to it, but its stuff that you can listen to and sing along with. There's definitely a melody that's important.

Chris: Do you have any interesting stories to tell about concerning your travels?

Tim: It's kind of typical at the end of a tour that bands that are touring together start playing pranks on each other, especially the last night of a tour. And the last night of a tour anything can happen, and everyone's ready for it. And so we were touring with [another band] two years ago, and it was the last night, and they came out during our set dressed up in crazy outfits and playing drums and different things... So we thought, "OK, we'll get them back." So they were playing in the middle of their set, and we sneaked under their backdrop, and we're going to run out in these big sombreros. We came out during the wrong song and so we tried to sneak back under, no one in the crowd saw us, but their drummer saw us. So he's playing this song, and he's looking at us, and he's pointing with his stick trying to get the bass player to see us. And he's saying, "Pour water on them, pour water on them," while he's playing. And the bass player is saying, "What? Alright." So the bass player goes to the stage hand and says, "Our drummer wants you to go pour water on him, I don't understand it." So here comes the stage hand with a big two gallon container of water and just dumps it on their drummer, and the drummer is hitting him with his sticks saying: "No, no." It gets all over his drums all over his symbols. So the rest of the set water is going everywhere. So we figured we might not even want to come out after that.

Chris: Any other stories?

Jon: We flew out to Phoenix to play a show out there and two of the bags got left at the airport. We pretty much figured it was gone. Chad drove back to go find it. This is after a whole day of calling the police, and lost and found. I called the Drug Enforcement Agency at the airport, I called about six different agencies, and they all said, "Yeah, we've checked where you told us to check, and there's nothing there." But Chad went back just in case. And there were the two bags, and the police were on the phone and they were going to call the bomb squad. And if you look at my pedal board, it looks like a bomb because it's all just pretty much wires and duct tape and all this stuff. They had a dog there, I guess they had been dealing with it for a half-hour because they thought it was a bomb.

Chris: Any other stories?

Jon: There was a time in Europe that we decided to pinch our pennies and we were going to sleep in the park all day and stay up all night. The problem was with our train; we couldn't get on our train because it was over booked. So we hadn't budgeted for another night. So we tried to sleep during the day and stay up all night so we wouldn't have to pay for a hotel. So that was pretty fun. We had all of our stuff with us and we were tying it all to our arms and wrists so no one would take it while we were sleeping. We couldn't stay up all night though, we were just too tired, so we ended up sleeping in the subways with all of the homeless people, so it was a pretty eye-opening experience.

Chris: So other homeless people were right there with you?

Jon: Yeah, we just took our place along with everybody, there were a few open spots next to the wall, so we were sheltered from the wind.

Chris: Tell us about the name Switchfoot, and what made you choose that. It's a surfing term, right?

Chad: Yeah, it comes from surfing, and it relates to the different the approaches to music that we have, and our different perspectives as Christians. That lines up really well with the title of the new album, which is New Way to be Human. We've been thinking a lot of what it means to be a Christian in this world and what is different about us, and how do we go about our daily lives with intentions, with purpose and with that peace that we all desire and long for. Like Jon was saying, our album is totally geared to songs that develop that theme and arrive upon our acknowledging Christ as our only hope.

Jon: I think hope is a really good point. So many bands around today have incredible music and incredible songs, very thought provoking, but they lack a hope. I th ink our generation in general is seeking for hope, and everyone admires and respects people who are real, who are genuine, and that\rquote s something we hold very dear to us. We are ourselves, on and off stage. We don't say something and do something else. A lot of times I think that we don't have a belief in a God who is big enough to provide a genuine hope. We kind of put on a face and go to church on Sunday. That's great, but he can't touch me in my real life and my real problems. We believe in a God who's bigger than any question that we can ask, who's bigger than any problem we can face. And that's an incredible hope - that we can be genuine and truly who we are - and God accepts us for that. That's a hope that bigger than anything on the earth.

Chris: I see a lot of groups in the world that do pick up on certain things that are wrong, and even despicable, and they kind of pick at them, or they make fun of them, but they don't have an answer. They don't have a conclusion. So you guys are saying that you have a conclusion?

Jon: Yeah! Well it's easy to make fun of things; it's easy to do satire. And many things need to be satirized but I think that our conclusion and the hope are something that is unattainable without Christ. And so obviously many people who are going to satirize things aren't going to then have the ability to go on the other side and say, "OK, well here is something that is worth living for."

Chris: On your new album, there's a song about Augustine. What's the message on this song?

Jon: The most incredible thing about that is, Augustine's confessions were written so long ago, yet it's so relevant to our lives today. It's pretty amazing how somebody from a different culture and a different time would be asking the exact same questions. It's for anyone in High School and above. He went through everything that I went through at least.

Chris: So you would encourage high school kids to pick up a copy Augustine's confessions?

Jon: Yes! We actually have a book list that we've been sending out to people. Because one of the things that I think the church in general is lacking is the foundation that many of our forefathers had. We have a wealth of literature that goes unread. Of course we need to seek the advice of our Pastor, our peers, and read the Word and God will speak with us directly, but I think that if we ignore the vault of treasures of men who have gone before us, that have faced the same problems, we're certainly not being that all we can be. There is a wealth of information and wisdom that is stored up in these books.

Chris: It's been quite a ride for you guys, as far as the way the Lord has taken the band and how it's just sort of taken off. I guess it kind of surprises you guys a little bit?

Chad: Yeah, it's been fun. I think that any kid who picks up a guitar or a pair of drumsticks dreams of being on a big stage.

Chris: I'm sure you guys had dreams like anyone else.

Chad: We grew up banging on pots and pans. It's just in our blood. I think we are all so satisfied. And we learned that music and worship can be so satisfying in a context of church, or just a couple of friends in your house, in your room by yourself, just sitting on your bed playing guitar or whatever. That's complete and fulfilling in and of itself. And so to add numbers to your audience is just a blessing and also a stretch of responsibility. I think as God's been teaching us the last few years, He's also increased our audience. I think we've had to respond to that and had to grow up in the face of that responsibility. I think it's been exciting and challenging, it's been...

Jon: Humbling.

Chad: Yeah, [laughing] humbling. Absolutely.

Jon: We've all come to the conclusion that we don't just want to be a BAND. There's enough bands out there in the world making great music. We want to be making great music, but we want to be a part of what God is really doing, and trying to just humble ourselves and make ourselves available for whatever He wants us to do. A lot of people really thrive off of being in front of other people, and none of us are really driven by that.

Chris: Do you ever feel funny about all of the attention that people give you?

Jon: Yes.

Chris: Like after you play at a church, everyone wants to come up and shake your hand, it's almost like being a pastor or something, right?

Jon: It's a very strange thing, I don't think you ever get used to it. We're going to be gone touring for a month and a half and then some. We'll be touring with Five Iron Frenzy. Just the whole aspect of being out there so long, I'd just rather be at home just hanging out, surfing, playing music in my bedroom, so for me and all of us, we've just been searching and seeking God that He would show us, because he's given us the chance to be out in front of people. And it's an incredible chance, so we want to make sure that were using it for his glory, that we're really making the most out of it.

Chris: All you guys are pastors' kids, what they call PKs. PKs have a bad rap as far as...

Jon: Robbing the banks...

Chris: So you guys aren't just little rebels out there?

Jon: I think for all three of us, we've been blessed with parents who've never put the expectations of other people on us. We know that they would love us for who we are and that that's where our relationship builds from, not what would people think if you wear that? I never felt that. It's just--be yourself.

Chris: What do your parents have to say about the Switchfoot ministry?

Chad: They are really encouraging, and also, they are a wealth of wisdom to go to. From the first time we\rquote ve been put in front of an audience. All of the sudden it was more questions than answers. What do I do? How do you react to this? How do you prepare for this? How do you prepare for something that you could never imagine? Even if you had ten more years, you'd never be ready. And just really being able to turn to our parents for guidance, for encouragement and support, and then just looking to them as examples.

Chris: Thanks for your time.

Switchfoot: Thank you!

by Chris Owen