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"Fading West"

Interview with Switchfoot guitarist
Drew Shirley

  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 phone interview. 
  “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 university. 
  “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 Switchfoot

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 time. 

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 interested. 

Q: What can you tell me about your using a gas can guitar you found in Africa on "Love Alone is Worth the Fight?"

 A: 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?”

  A: Yeah. 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 favorites?

  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.

  A: That 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 that?

  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?

  A: Yeah. 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 U?

  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 IE].

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?

 A: 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. 

From newwavegeo.com
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See Switchfoot's Love Alone Is Worth The Fight
 [Official Video]

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A chat with Switchfoot leader, Jon Foreman — about surfing, music,
family, and faith

Click Here

  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 play.

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 do?

  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 else.

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 in your
marriage and your family while still doing your job. How do you balance the
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 music to?
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 common.

  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 favorite songwriters?

  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.



Switchfoot Singer Jon Foreman’s Face Slashed In Surfing Accident

  GRAMMY-award winning band Switchfoot postponed their hometown record release show originally scheduled for Jan. 15 at a San Diego nightclub due to an injury within the band. Singer Jon Foreman was treated for a wound sustained to his face during a morning surf session and though he will fully recover, he was unable to sing for a few days.
  “I had a little conversation with my board and it turned into an argument. The board won the argument,” joked Foreman in a phone call with Radio.com.
  Riding a popular Cardiff, CA surf spot known as “stuckout” the avid surfer went to make a routine top turn, “Something I’ve done hundreds of times and just slipped and went the wrong way, recounted Forman.”
  “I wish I could tell you I was saving a kitten from the jaws of a shark but nope,” Foreman said with a chuckle.

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