does a rock band combine explosive guitars with an intense longing for
meaning. Jon Foreman and Switchfoot, however, yearn for something more
than what pop-culture is selling. "If I'm content as an artist to write
a hit song or have a platinum record, then I'll have failed a lot of my
fellow human beings," says Foreman. "We have the best jobs in the world
because we play music for a living and love doing it, but we didn't get
into this to try and sell something. For us, it's about communicating
and connecting with people on a different level."
That stance earned the Switchfoot vocalist/guitarist and his bandmates
(brother/bassist Tim Foreman, keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas and drummer
Chad Butler) an invitation to attend last December's Nashville summit
for DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade for Africa), the charity organization
founded by U2's main man Bono to promote AIDS awareness and debt relief
for developing nations. "It was incredible," says Foreman, who's worked
with Sudanese refugees in the band's hometown of San Diego. "Here's a
guy who has all the money, fame and notoriety that anyone could ever
want, and he's passionately talking to us about a bunch of poor people
in Africa who will never buy his records. Listening to him speak was
definitely a life-changing experience."
the meeting ended, Foreman walked over and handed the U2 frontman $40.
"I told him I owed it to him for sneaking into a U2 show in London a
couple of years ago," he says. "He laughed and told me he did the same
thing when he was younger. We spoke for a while and then he gave the
money back, saying he felt he had already been compensated. To be
honest, I was relieved because it was my last $40 and I needed the money
to get home."
As for his involvement with DATA and its cause, Foreman says, "I talk
about it quite a bit in interviews and from the stage, but I'm careful
not to be annoying about it. We've never really been a political band.
Our songs are more about the politics of the heart than they are about
foreign politics. I don't think we can solve the outside problems until
we solve the ones within."
On the Columbia/RED Ink debut The Beautiful Letdown, Foreman opens up
with self-revelatory songs about hope, love, faith and the desire to be
more than what he's been sold. In spacious settings, the singer connects
with subtle emotional power, surveying a landscape of mediocrity in
"More Than Fine," digging for painful truths in title track "Beautiful
Letdown" and stepping on a distortion pedal to scream about the
dissonance of the modern age in "Ammunition." On lead single "Meant To
Live," inspired by TS Elliot's "The Hollow Men," he strives to survive
in a world where love and hate breathe the same air.
"It's not a dark album, but it talks about dark things that have
happened to me," says Foreman. "A lot of the songs are about the hope
that's deeper than the wound and how that's something that we can really
hold onto. I think that's something that kids are picking up on and
taking with them." He pauses and adds, "Don't misunderstand—I have no
delusions of grandeur thinking that our songs will single-handedly
change the world. But change is possible and I definitely want to be a
part of that. We always make it a point to talk to people outside after
the shows, and I recently had a kid come up to me and give me a big hug
because he was so affected by ‘Dare You To Move' (from The Beautiful
Letdown). Apparently, he was going through some really rough times and
wasn't sure if he wanted to live anymore, but heard the song and was
inspired. That's incredible. On days when you're wondering what you're
doing playing a show in some small town in the middle of nowhere, you
think about moments like that and realize that you're part of a bigger
story than your own."
Musically, Switchfoot draws as much from the Police and James Taylor as
from the Beatles and Stevie Wonder to create swirling guitar pop, full
of effortlessly arching melodies and textures that shift in continual,
sensual motion. "We've never fit in any of the genre boxes," says
Foreman. "I think that diversity is our strength."
Produced by John Fields (Andrew W.K.) and mixed by Chris Lord-Alge (Goo
Goo Dolls, Michelle Branch), Tom Lord-Alge (blink-182, Rolling Stones)
and Jack Joseph Puig (John Mayer, No Doubt), The Beautiful Letdown
entered the Billboard Top 200 this past spring at No. 85. The album,
which The Orange County Register described as "...a rousing rock
testament of hope, dreams and inspiration," can attribute its early
success to lead single "Meant To Live," which hit the Top 40 on the
Modern Rock Chart (its companion video, directed by Laurent Briet (Radiohead),
subsequently went into rotation on MTV2). Meanwhile, the band has been
tearing up venues across the country during a three-month sold-out
headlining tour. In addition to selling out four nights in Los Angeles,
the quartet shared festival stages with the likes of Jane's Addiction
and Audioslave and recently performed on "Last Call with Carson Daly"
and the "Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn."
Foreman credits the album's raw, live edge to the band's DIY attitude.
"We didn't want to waste time screwing around in a $1000 a day studio,"
he laughs. "So we did all the pre-production in my bedroom. When we
finally recorded the album, we did the whole thing in two weeks. John
(Fields) works fast and so do we. There were no lunch or dinner
breaks—we worked straight through and it turned out great. You can ruin
things if you spend too much time in the studio."
The Beautiful Letdown comes three years after Switchfoot's third
independently-released and critically acclaimed album Learning To
Breathe. In between the two discs, the band won the 2001 ASCAP San Diego
Music Award for "Best Pop Album" and "Best Pop Artist," won the 2002
ASCAP San Diego Music Award for "Best Adult Alternative and contributed
five songs to the gold-certified soundtrack for the Mandy Moore film A
Walk To Remember (including a duet with Foreman and Moore). "We were at
the movie premiere," recalls Foreman, "And David Hasselhoff was sitting
behind us bawling his eyes out with his daughter. It was a bit surreal."
Over the course of the past several years, more than 40 Switchfoot songs
have been used for several nationally televised shows, including
"Dawson's Creek" (five songs), "Regis and Kelly," "Felicity," and many
more. "The context in which the songs are used can be pretty funny,"
says Foreman. "I remember writing a song about spiritual longing and
then seeing it played back during a hot tub scene on some show. The
songs can wind up very far from the edge of the bed where they were
Switchfoot's roots can be traced back to the beaches of San Diego in the
mid-‘90s, when the Foremans and Butler connected as surfers (Fontamillas
joined in September of 2000). Though they competed in national surf
championships on weekends and earned product endorsements from equipment
companies, the real bond came from a common love of music. They decided
to form a band, chose the name Switchfoot (a surfing term), put
themselves through months of sweaty garage band workouts, and then hit
the road. After just 20 gigs, they signed with re:Think records and
released Legend of Chin in 1997. They've averaged 150 shows a year ever
since, while selling more than 400,000 copies of their first three
albums (Legend of Chin, New Way to Be Human and Learning to Breathe)
combined. Shortly after recording The Beautiful Letdown, Switchfoot
signed with Columbia. The album has since become the band's
fastest-selling record to date.
"Tim, Chad, Jerome and I have seen pretty much everything over the past
six years," says Foreman. "We've been at this ever since Tim graduated
from high school. But this all feels like a new chapter. I think this
album is where our future begins."