Interview with Switchfoot
For Switchfoot, life is all about the
journey. With that in mind, the San Diego-based alternative
rock band embarked on the most ambitious adventure of its
nearly two-decade career.
Seeking fresh inspiration, the five musicians routed a 2012 concert trek
around some of the world’s best surf breaks in Australia,
New Zealand, South Africa and Bali. They gave the big waves
a spin, visited locals and documented everything on camera.
Champion pro boarders Tom Curren and Rob Machado
even joined them in certain locales.
The results are documented in absorbing new film “Fading West” and
the accompanying album. To help build anticipation, the
movie served as opening act during Switchfoot’s acoustic
tour last fall.
“It worked out great and was really successful,” said guitarist and
former Riverside resident Drew Shirley, in a recent
“That was our way to do a movie premiere event in every city, get people
connected to the movie personally and be there to see the
reaction. We answered questions and [helped them] understand
where we’re coming from.”
During some scenes, lead singer/guitarist Jon Foreman lays
everything on the line emotionally.
“The fans feel they know us more now because we’ve revealed the inner
workings of our lives on the road and our lives as a band,”
explained Shirley, 39. “They really listen with their hearts
to our songs, so it’s cool to be able to share that.”
Switchfoot was started by Foreman, bassist brother Tim and drummer
Chad Butler in 1996. The guys (who competed in
national surfing contests) released three indie albums, made
major inroads at Christian rock radio and added keyboardist
Jerome Fontamillas in 2000.
Major label breakthrough “The Beautiful Letdown” arrived three
years later and went double platinum. Since then, the
quintet has amassed another gold record, eight top 20
alternative radio hits (plus several adult and Christian
rock charters), a Grammy and 11 Dove Awards.
Shirley joined Switchfoot in 2005. Before that, he played in All
Together Separate. The Dove-nominated Christian
funk/rock group from Riverside was comprised of fellow Cal
Baptist students during the late ‘90s/early ‘00s.
The Puerto Rico-born guitarist studied fine arts and music at the
“I was real involved in plays and drama,” recalled Shirley. “I was sort
of a drama nerd. Had a great experience there, just learning
to find my identity.”
Some of his fondest Riverside memories include going to Mt. Rubidoux, the
Old Spaghetti Factory downtown, hanging out and performing
live with ATS at the neighboring Coffee Depot (which closed
in 2000) on Mission Inn Avenue.
“I lived in a rented early 1900s house in the orange groves off Victoria
Avenue for a little while. I just loved driving down
Victoria and smelling the oranges. So awesome.”
Following graduation, Shirley worked with local high school students as a
Campus Life director.
The pop-oriented album “Fading West” debuted at #6
on the Billboard 200 chart. Throughout, Switchfoot utilizes
vintage keyboards, synthesizers, vibraphone, an African tin
gas can guitar (heard on soaring latest single “Love
Alone is Worth the Fight”), all of which led the
musicians to change their usual creative approach.
“We stepped pretty far out of our comfort zone,” Shirley explained. “As
guitar players, Jon and I decided to put guitars on last,
only if they were needed. That was one of our rules and it
dictated the sound would change quite a bit for a
guitar-driven rock band. It’s also a soundtrack, so you have
a liberty there that you might not have otherwise.”
One memorable “Fading West” film segment finds Switchfoot reunited
with African teens in the Kayamandi township they had first
met several years before. Everyone performs together at a
gig and on the new tune, “The World You Want.”
“They ran up, gave us huge hugs and said, ‘I’ve been waiting for this
moment,’” said Shirley. “They were just so ecstatic to see
us again. A lot of them had grown up quite a bit. It was a
fun, beautiful moment and something that’s definitely burned
into my memory.”
Bonus Q&A with
Here is more from my interview last month
with Switchfoot guitarist Drew Shirley, who was heading up
the 5 freeway to an in-store appearance in Long Beach at the
Q: What has the early feedback been from fans
on the new album and film?
A: The setup has been better for this album than any
we ever had. With the movie out, people are really getting
Q: What can you tell me about your using a
gas can guitar you found in Africa on "Love Alone is Worth
Over there, you buy gas in these tin cans. That’s how
they’re delivered. And they make these tin cans into guitars
because they resonate pretty well. This guy made a neck and
some pickups for it. I played it in the studio with a slide.
It adds a lot of vibe and interesting sounds.
Q: How did using fewer guitars change your
approach to writing the music?
A: I found myself layering background vocals, working
on drum parts or just staying out of it for a little while
[laughs] to see what happens.
Q: Are those your kids doing background
vocals on “Who We Are?”
They’re not all mine [laughs]. A couple are. Actually,
they’re all the band Switchfoot’s kids. It was a very cool
memory. That song is very special to us. It not only talks
about identity and what more wraps up identity in such a
crazy way than your son or daughter? It also reminds us of
home when we play it.
Q: The song “BA55” has quite a dark, intense
vibe with the bits of scorching guitar. Is that one of your
A: I really like that - especially the end backwards
guitar solo that has the Led Zeppelin flange on it.
Q: Neal Avron and Mike Elizondo returned to
work on this album, having previously done
"Vice Verses." What was it like working with them again?
A: They know how to bring out the best in us and how to
manage us in the studio. We all really like to produce and
we all like to be working on stuff and taking a stab at it.
They help us all do things in a timely manner, in an
articulate way. Make sure we don’t accidentally erase things
on the computer.
Q: One part of the film I particularly
enjoyed was when the band played a metal fest
Down Under and came across like a
fish out of water.
happens sometimes. We just want to play music in whatever
place we can and make new fans in those areas. It’s funny:
the people that come up to you at those shows in dreads,
high heels, makeup and tight leather pants and say, ‘I love
your band. I have all your albums.’ And I’m like, ‘whoa. I
never would’ve expected that.’ It’s all good. It’s music.
It’s cool for us to be in that environment.
Q: You’ve referred to yourself as a “tone
collector” before. Are the other guys usually open to
letting you explore varied sonic terrain when you record?
A: Yeah. That’s one of the cool things about having
your own studio. We’ve recorded the last three albums there.
You get to know the gear and the room. You get to amass amps
and pedals and have things all in one place where you can
use them the way they’re supposed to be used. You’re able to
try stuff. I would usually be there later into the evening,
just trying to make sounds and try some new ideas.
Q: Speaking of sounds, you have a new tube
amplifier company called Revival. What prompted you to start
A: I love guitars and amps. It’s something I’ve
collected and done for awhile. My guitar tech at home has
been making me amps for the last couple years. We just
decided to start a company and let people hear [what we
like]. I play guitar for my profession. To have my own
guitar amp company is a great legacy and thing to be able to
share and mentor other players with tone. Show some people
how get the sounds I get. I like to ... give away what I
know to someone else coming up. Having an amp company is a
way to do that for me. We’re probably going to launch the
web site soon.
Q: Will there be several different
models on offer?
We’ve got an 8” combo, a 12” combo and a head and cabinet.
The white amp, we were inspired by an old amp from the ‘50s.
Q: Are you taking orders now?
A: I don’t think we’ll open it to the public just yet
because we’re dealing with pros and tastemakers right now.
People in the industry, guitar player friends. The list got
really long fast when we said we had some ready. They’re
almost all spoken for. I believe the next run we’re going to
offer to the public on the web site.
Q: Turning to some local background info,
what initially lured you to Riverside to attend Cal Baptist
A: I had a friend who went there. He said, ‘I had a
great experience at that college.’ I thought I’d go check it
out. It was just far enough from San Diego to where I could
still drive home and do laundry.
Q: When you were a member of All Together
Separate here in Riverside, what was your take on the IE
music scene at the time?
A: There were a few ska bands and a lot of emo bands
when that was starting as a title genre. When that sort of
movement happened, I think Riverside had at least three or
four good up and coming bands. Being in a suburb of LA, I
went to tons of shows in LA and Hollywood.
Q: After ATS had run its course, were the
Foreman Brothers aware of your work and then asked you to
join their band?
A: Yeah. We were friends for awhile before that band
broke up. It was really uncanny the way it happened because
Jon said, ‘do you want to play a few shows with us on
guitar?’ I said I was going to be free for awhile because my
band decided to break up. It was really incredible timing.
Q: Has San Bernardino station KCXX/103.9 FM
always been a big Switchfoot supporter?
A: We’ve played shows for X103.9 multiple times. I used
to listen to them and still do on my drives through [the
Q: And you did a holiday charity drive show
for them at M15 in Corona last month.
A: That was really fun. An interesting venue right
off the freeway.
Q: When you perform in the IE, do any of your
old college pals turn up?
It’s funny: ex-girlfriends and people like that.
Q: Since you’re a collector of fine footwear,
do you get excited whenever Switchfoot teams up with Macbeth
for a new signature shoe?
A: I do. Just got a new pair of ‘em last night at the
in store and saw it for the first time. It’s really low
profile. They’ve been a great company to work with and
they’re just around the corner from my studio. It’s pretty
handy when you need to stop in for a new pair of kicks. It’s
our second shoe with them.
Love Alone Is Worth The Fight
with Switchfoot leader, Jon Foreman — about surfing, music,
family, and faith
Q: OK, we have to ask you about your surfing
accident. How are you doing?
(See story below)
JF: Yeah, I’ll be fine. A little
more stitches than I had hoped. But, you know, you got to pay to
Q: You guys released this film
in December that goes with the album you just released this month,
kind of following you as you play music and surf all over the world.
What’s the connection for you between surfing, your music, and your
life that makes surfing such a huge part of who you are and what you
JF: I think surfing and music are
both places of release and self expression where there are no rules,
and you can find a different form of freedom that you can’t anywhere
Q: Where does the title
“Fading West” come from?
JF: We grew up on surf movies in
the summer, where it’s just basically a couple of guys chasing waves
around the world. We liked the idea of fading west, following the
sun, the kind of old school aesthetic that the term has.
Q: In the film, fans get to
see you guys on a journey, chasing waves around the world and
playing music, but also living in the tension of being husbands and
fathers, being away from home to do your jobs
as a band. What have you learned over the years about staying sane
marriage and your family while still doing your job. How do you
two while you’re gone?
JF: I think the biggest thing that
I’ve learned is to run the marathon, not the sprint. By that I mean,
don’t let the little problems that you face in the hour in daily
life cast a shadow over the larger joys that you have, over the
course of the years.
Q: We watched the film this
week, and one of the favorite things said was, “We bring the songs
we believe into uncomfortable places, because we feel like that’s
where they need to be heard.”
Where’s one of the most uncomfortable places you’ve brought your
How was it received?
JF: We have opened up for a lot of
bands that might surprise people. We have opened for Static-X,
and obviously the film that we were on in Australia, and so those
are shows that I think, for me, that might be surprising for people.
For me, you know, even if I’m not a fan of the band in general or
maybe it’s not the style of music I want to put on for my daughter
and me when we’re waking up in the morning, there’s always something
that I can learn from it. And I think those are the things that are
surprising; that it’s not the differences, but what we have in
The craziest show we’ve ever had, the one
we were the most nervous for, was opening up for Napalm Death
in the UK. That was a tough one.
Q: What made it so tough? The
fans that were there?
JF: Yeah, Napalm Death is kind of
a–especially over there–it was definitely a clashing of styles.
Q: A lot of people want to
call Switchfoot a Christian rock band, but really you guys are
Christians who make up a rock band. It’s evident that your lyrics
come from a place of faith, though. In your writing, what does it
look like to weave truth into your songs without really writing
Christian worship songs?
JF: I think that’s a larger
question, because first you have to define what worship is. I might
argue that all music is worship. By that I mean, what you do with
your life is ascribing more to what you invest your time in. If you
spend a lot of time on your phone, you’re ascribing more worship to
that. Anything can become, by that definition, some form of idol or
deity or ultimate worth in your life.
I think that music, for me, is mere tuning
a song with words; to some degree you have a beautiful endeavor of
cosigning God’s blank checks and you’re actually co-creating. You’re
certainly not the creator with the capital C, but you’re embarking
on an endeavor, you’re using the building blocks that have been
given to you by the author of time and space.
For me, when I’m writing a song, I’m not
really thinking about the differences between us. Again, I don’t
really see…when I go to the church, I see hurting people, when I
play bars, I see hurting people. We’re all in desperate need of a
Savior, and the groups that we put ourselves into mean a lot less to
the creator than they do to us. As far as when I’m writing a song, I
think I’m writing first and foremost for myself.
Q: Who are some of your
JF: Well, I love anyone who tells a
great story and has a great melody. From Bob Dylan to
Miles Davis to Dr. Dog, and Elliott Smith. You
know, I think there’s so many. Music is at a beautiful place right
now where there’s so many great new ways to be inspired, and I’m
really excited that a lot of stuff is getting heard not only on the
internet but even on the radio.
Q: It seems like the songs you’ve written
as a solo artist are a little bit more worshipful and written
blatantly about God. What prompted the separation of the two six
years ago when you did
Limbs and Branches?
JF: I think Switchfoot is a little
bit more of a backdrop and the solo endeavors are a lot more of a
whisper. And with that in mind, it’s a lot easier to kind of tell a
secret and have that kind of song, keeping in an environment where
you’re not pounding away with drums and electric guitars.
Q: So you’re about to head out
on tour with Switchfoot all the way through April, but you also
break off and do solo shows once in a while, one of which will be in
Waco. Aside from the obvious fact that you’re alone without the band
and singing your own songs, what would you say defines the solo Jon
Foreman from Jon Foreman the lead singer of Switchfoot?
JF: For one, I’m going to bring my
best friend Keith that plays the cello. He is amazing and brings so
much to the table. For me, again, it’s a chance to kind of talk
story, and we write the set list pretty much every night for
Swithfoot, but with Keith, there are even less rules.
Q: You obviously have Limbs
and Branches and the four EPs as a solo artist, but when you play
alone, do you do some Switchfoot stuff as well?
JF: Yeah, sometimes. You know,
that’s the great thing. Again, it doesn’t really matter. The other
day, we covered “Royals” by Lorde. So, the other thing is, anything
can happen and there are less instruments, so there’s less rehearsal
and it’s basically off the cuff. It’ s a beautiful thing.