"Hello Hurricane: The Songs" by Switchfoot's Jon Foreman Part 2/2 Jon Foreman, lead singer of Switchfoot, talks in-depth about the songs on the new album, "Hello Hurricane," releasing Tuesday, November 10, 2009.
"Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself." --Soren Kierkegaard
"The capitalist culture of consumption... does not provide meaningful sustenance for large numbers of people." --Cornel West
This is a subject matter that I speak of with holy reverence. Having grown up on the East Coast I know firsthand of the houses lost, of the dreams turned into nightmares. I take my shoes off and recognize that this is a matter that is dear to our nation, especially of late- with every passing hurricane season. Last year, with Habitat for Humanity we helped to build a house for a woman who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane had taken her city, her house, and her leg. As she relocated to Baton Rouge and learned how to walk as an amputee, her mantra was this: "I walked out of my house and my life in New Orleans on my own legs, I'm going to walk into this one the same way." This is the spirit that I wanted to capture with this song, and moreover with this record. The storms of life might take my house, my loved ones, or even my life- but they cannot silence my love.
Yes, the reactionary impulses of hate, fear, and despair really are defenseless against the storms of this life. And yet, this selfless love really might be stronger than death. Perhaps, the kingdom of the heavens really is at hand, ready to give, ready to love. And with this love as my song I will overcome. In surrender to divine love I will find my strength. "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love another."
"Everything can be taken from a man but ... the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." --Viktor Frankl
“Everything alive must die. Every building built to the sky will fall. Don't try to tell me my everlasting love is a lie.” --Jeff Tweedy
I am continually searching for meaning in my life. Why am I here? Why is there so much pain? This cold, dark stream of sorrow runs through my life. Why does it run alongside of the warm beautiful waters of joy and beauty? Why do the two rivers collide and intertwine? The dark and the light. The death and the life... Most of my songs become outlets for these questions. The music becomes place for the cognitive dissonance to chew away at something other than a broken heart or an ulcer. The music becomes a place to sort through the dark and the light. I love crosswords, sodoku, solitaire- games with a simple victory that allows me the momentary thrill of setting the world right. But song- writing feels like a similar discipline to me. A puzzle of letters and math, theory and rule, expression and passion.
The lyric of this song attempts to start at the womb and follow a human soul through life. And so it begins: the heart beats, the eyes open, breath floods the lungs for the first time- what incredible experiences! What extraordinary sensations! I wanted to write this from a father's perspective, from the eyes of the father of life. One look into the eyes of his son and the father is smitten for life. The possession that the young infant has over the father is complete. Always yours. The second verse speaks of the pain. This pain is always with us. We are born into a world of pain, the pain of losing a child, the pain of rejection, of racism, sexism, fears... these experiences rip us to pieces.
Everyone feels pain. I look to those who have been through more pain than I will ever know for guidance on the subject. The Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Victor Frankl survived several Nazi concentration camps with his life and his hope intact. He lost more than I'll ever know... his wife, his parents, and his family did not survive. His understanding of pain is in direct opposition to our western world that is often found running from pain at all costs. Frankl’s “Case for a Tragic Optimism” speaks of turning suffering into human achievement and optimism in the face of tragedy. The memories, the pain, the scars, these are yours. Yes, the things that you and I have lost. These are yours and they have meaning. No, these could never be The Ultimate Meaning in our lives, but let these scars drive us towards "turning suffering into human achievement and accomplishment."
The bridge in the song is the acknowledgment of my own shortcomings. As a man born into beauty and pain, there is a moment of surrender where I lay down my life. This is a free volitional action, a gift, just as the father's love was given to me- this became the response. A simple surrender to the Infinite Maker of The Finite acknowledging that I need his love. The meaning in my life is often found in surrender rather than mastery.
“Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” --Jack Kerouac
Here's the second song that I worked on with Mike. We tracked a lot of it the day after we wrote "Your Love is a Song." I wanted to see what it would be like to work on a rock tune with him because I hadn't heard much of his work in that area. His passion and knowledge about fuzz tones were an incredible surprise to me. He brought out a song called “Bugman” as a reference (a blur song off of 13, a more obscure blur record that had some messier pinkerton overtones) and I knew we were on the right track. The demo I had done was much more subdued and with eclectic instrumentation (more of a cheap dust brothers concept). But he brought out a few Deviever guitar pedals and the song took turn towards the rock side of things.
We are the children of the scar. Our lives flash so quickly before us... This song was loosely based on a poem that I wrote a few years back. You only get one shot with your bullet soul, I want to make all that I can out of my one shot. Life is not perfect or ideal. Life is full of messy, bleeding dreamers. That's where things begin- Broken hearts making a broken record. But that's not the end of the story...
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken." -CS Lewis
I like old instruments, often better than newer versions. It's hard to describe, feels like old guitars bring a life and a story to the conversation. When you write songs on an old guitar the guitar tends to speak up for itself from time to time. "Yet" was written on an old National steel guitar that I bought at a pawnshop on tour. It was a finger-picking tune played with a slide and very unlike the version on the record. Tim and I both thought that the folk interpretation of the song didn't really rise to the potential of the melody or the lyric. We spent a day at my house trying to find the right instrument to carry the song. We tracked the acoustic and electric guitar that day. We stumbled on the bass intro later. We were singing the final version of the song down and I felt like the end bit wasn’t quite right. It needed a bit more to tell the story. So I wrote a new lyric to go over top of the chorus chord changes.
The song is about hope. Hope is always reaching towards the future, reaching for what has not yet come to pass. Once the hope is attained, it can no longer be called hope. Hope isn't the sort of thing you can pull out of your pocket and show off. Hope is a "holding on" of sorts, an expectant belief, a desire as of yet unfulfilled. I wrote this song from a really dark place, looking for some form of hope. And maybe searching for hope is a form of hope in itself. There's a moment of honesty when your mask drops, when you can no longer pretend to have it all together. When this pretense is gone you breathe in your first real breath. When you are no longer pretending to be something you're not, you're left with a truly honest assessment of the situation. Very little is left, "Faith, hope, and love remain. But the greatest of these is love."
“Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.” --Lewis Carroll
"And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." --Friedrich Nietzsche
there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too clever
I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody's asleep
Sometimes I lose the plot. I feel like I'm hopelessly lost underwater, as though I can't figure out which way is up. I know that there's a song somewhere inside of me but I just can't remember what it is. I want my life to be the poetry of the Poet himself, I want to sing- to be a melody intertwined with The Melody Himself. But sometimes I'm hopelessly lost, broken, spent. I fall in love with the ones and things that take life and love away from me. I need The Song Himself to sing through me. I need The Word Himself to speak into me.
Here's a song that we worked on maybe more than any of the others. There are so many versions of this song. The demo leaned towards Massive Attack. The next version was even darker- tracked with Daryll. Most of the elements that we tracked with Daryll made it to the final cut (except some incredibly moody drums that we did with him). We kept trying to find a pulse that would be constant but wouldn't feel like a dirge. The next iteration of the song sounded much more like Sade with a really memorable bass line that Tim came up with. But still, we all felt like the song was stronger without these superfluous elements. So we used the always effective "mute button" on pretty much everything. The song is singing about itself- struggling for melody, for life, for meaning. Singing about rebirth, the song spends most of its time in the grave and comes to a bright glorious finish, held out until the very end. To match the lyric we saved almost every instrument for the end of the song. In my opinion, the essence of the song was the only thing that survived on the record.
"Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough... The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread." --Mother Theresa
“Our churches have done little more than reproduce and radiate this brokenness of our culture... Many congregations do nothing but outsource justice." --John Perkins
So here we are at the end of the world. And the beginning. Here we are at the dawn of the next generation. Y2K has passed us by. MLK, Kennedy, Elvis, Lennon, Cobain, MJ... they have all left the living. They have left us searching, wondering, hoping... I read the headlines, I watch the news. Iraq, Rwanda, Iran, Darfur, Tibet, Columbine, OKC... Towers falling, mothers, brothers, sisters, fathers... passing from life to death. We're killing one another, destroying each other. Sometimes the state of the world can bring a man to his knees. It could make you cry. I get angry. I get overwhelmed. I give up... almost. Sometimes, I find myself staring into a blood red dawn, still awake from the night before. Still wondering why this new day has so much of the old darkness, the old sorrows, the old hatred. I feel so alone. I feel so alone in this world of pain.
All my heroes are the ones who ran after the higher vision, the news that stays new. We've been chasing lesser gods, gods who do not know our names, gods who will die alongside of us. The kingdom of the heavens does not come to us in our wealth, it comes to our in our poverty. Our money, our knowledge, our medicine, our sex, our privilege- these are double-edged swords, dependent upon our own shaking hands for guidance. With our two hands we build up and destroy, we hold and break the future. My own hands are shaking. I reach for the new day with fear and trembling. I'm reaching for a bird called hope, for the one true song who could bring me home. I'm waiting for dawn. I'm dreaming, reaching for the other side.
At the end of the record there is a reprise that goes back to the first song. For me this is a reminder of the repetitive nature of all that we call life. Wonder, surrender, joy, forgiveness, hope- yes, give us today the daily bread of our moment by moment existence. This life is so fragile- at any instance one of us could slip beyond this life into the infinite unknown. It's as though every breath we take has been given to us on loan. We are surrounded by mysteries, miracles, wonders, and tragedies that we will never master. Yes, I will die one day- of this I am certain. But I'm not dead yet! No, tonight there is breath in my lungs- pushing, pulsing, yearning to break free... I will dream, for dreams are the seeds of what may be. I will wonder, for without wonder, how could life be wonderful? And I will sing.
Yes, until my pending death I will sing. In the face of indifference, I will sing. In the face of adversity, I will sing. I will sing about the pain. I will sing about the mystery. I will sing of the hope, the cage, the bullet, the winter, the dreamer. I will sing of all of these. I've seen miracles there in your eyes. It's no accident we're here tonight. We are once in a lifetime.
Posted September 09, 2009 | Jon Foreman is the lead singer, and principal songwriter for Switchfoot. The group's new album, Hello Hurricane, will be released on November 10, 2009.