Switchfoot Learns to Breathe

Switchfoot—for those not in the know (this writer being one of them) switchfoot is a surfing term. Philosophically put, it’s when a surfer changes position on the board to get a new perspective, and therefore makes for a good band name, which it has become.

The band Switchfoot recently released their third album, Learning to Breathe in September. This is a Christian band, although one without the usual approach. Like Creed, their lyrics are uplifting—I dare you to move / I dare you to lift yourself off the floor / I dare you to move / Like today never happened before—and their sound, dynamic.

This spring, Switchfoot will embark upon a 65-city tour across the U.S. followed by a summer tour in Australia and Europe. While in Australia the band will probably find some time for surfing, a passion shared by all members of this band. (Singer Jon has won several awards for his surfing prowess.) Altogether, Jon Foreman, brother Tim Foreman, and Chad Butler are having a great time as Switchfoot, playing music, surfing, and living life.

Jon Foreman recently talked to us by phone in Florida. It was before Christmas holidays and Switchfoot was enjoying a break from the road. Read the following interview to hear what Jon had to say about his band and their third album, Learning to Breathe.


Switchfoot is a three-piece band, something of a rarity in today’s music scene, and I’m wondering what advantages this gives you?

Jon: Well, the advantages are that you can be really close. Having a brother in the band adds to that too. We spend a lot of time on the road together and get to be really good friends. That tends to be an advantage.

So when you’re recording in the studio, is it just you three playing instruments, or do you bring in session musicians to fill-out the sound?

Jon: We have a friend who plays keyboard who’s played on the last couple of albums. Sometimes we like to bring in string players because I don’t play the violin very well.

You’re considered a Christian band but you don’t blatantly preach with your music. Is this a conscious decision?

Jon: I think everyone writes from a different place. Certainly the way I view life is going to come out in the music. Nowadays the idea of preaching to someone is thought of as beating someone over the head with your idea of how life should be lived.

In my opinion, the best way of showing someone the best way to live life is by living it. That’s the stance I take. Certainly my views are going to come out in the songs but maybe in a different way.

So what is your life like right now? I’ve heard you’re a good surfer…what’s a typical day like for you guys?

Jon: Well, being near Christmas, we’ve got family in town. Yesterday I hung out with my relatives, I didn’t get to surf but the waves were very good. I’ve got some amazing friends and I’ve been able to be home quite a bit in the last couple of weeks and spend time with them and that’s been awesome. But for the most part, life for us is life on the road and that can be trying, being away from your friends and family.

Do you guys take the surfboards when you go on tour?

Jon: Well, it’s unfortunate that most of the country doesn’t really have an ocean but when we’re in Florida we’ve got a couple friends that we surf with.

So where is Switchfoot based out of?

Jon: We’re from San Diego.

Who are your musical influences, Jon?

Jon: Hmmm…well, we all come from different places. Chad really thinks Stevie Wonder is the best and I think he’s really got a point there. My brother really likes Paul McCartney and The Beatles. I’d have to say The Police or U2…those aren’t the only bands we listen to though.

Classic rock in general.

Jon: Yeah, but we’re listening to the new Radiohead, Elliot Smith. I mean, there’s a lot of great things happening in music right now.

What has been done with Learning To Breathe that hasn’t been done on your other albums?

Jon: Well, the first album was basically three kids in a studio playing songs they wrote in their bedroom. This one was really fun because we got to work out all the parts on our own and go into the studio and record them and lay down exactly what we thought was the best.

You’re happy with the results of the album?

Jon: Yeah, we’re very pleased with it.

What do those three characters on the album cover represent?

Jon: Actually, my brother designed it. We’re a pretty hands-on-band; we like to do it ourselves. We figure we’re going to care the most as to how it comes out, you know? Those three characters symbolize us. I think I’m the guy on the right (laughs). The idea is learning to breathe and the dots (in the figure’s heads) symbolize the idea that in the spiritual world, we are part of that and we learn to breathe in that atmosphere.

The atmosphere? Can you explain that?

Jon: Kind of going along with the idea that God has been so good to us and learning to understand his goodness is a life-long process.

Jon, can you explain the song Paparazzi to me?

Jon: When we play that one live we always say it goes out to The Backstreet Boys. It’s about the idea that pop culture gets stuck in your head continually. Whether you like it or not, there it is. I guess the idea that pop will never leave you alone, it’s not going anywhere.

(The song) is not really making a value judgment about what's right or wrong about pop culture, it’s saying that at times it can be very trite.

There is a lot being said about what is wrong with pop culture, but what I want to ask you is, what is right about pop culture?

Jon: Well, my generation and the generation after me really values truth. I think that’s a positive and refreshing thing. Hopefully we’ll increase our thirst and hunger for truth and the idea that life is meant to be lived.

I wonder if what you’re saying is a result of us getting so technologically advanced that we’re now looking for something more spiritual.

Jon: Yeah, I think that’s certainly a part of it. There’s a shift to the spiritual dimension of this life, that we are more than just machines.

What’s more important to you, surfing or Switchfoot?

Jon: (laughs) I’d definitely have to say Switchfoot. I mean, surfing is amazing, when you’re out at sunset and maybe a pod of dolphins will go by. You know, there’s an amazing spiritual dimension that happens when you’re surfing. It feels like you’re very close to creation and the creator at the same time.

But in music, the idea that you can express these things to people, that is what we’re made for, at least for this particular moment in our lives.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a musician?

Jon: I’d probably be teaching or at least getting my degree. I haven’t gotten my degree yet because Switchfoot just took over. I really love kids and I like to see people learn.

So what’s next for Switchfoot?

Jon: We’re laying low for the fall and will be going on a big spring tour. We’re really excited about that. It should be a blast. We’ll be hitting 65 cities across the U.S. and then probably hit Europe and Australia in the summer or the fall.

by Chris Lamb
January 3, 2001 Teen Hollywood