Jon Foreman: "You have to think of these [songs] as journal entries. You can write one a day and sometimes even more. It doesn’t mean that every one of them are brilliant or that all of them are meant to be heard—yet they’re all a snapshot of your world."
With Hello Hurricane, Switchfoot is set to thrive throughout the upcoming year with a newfound independence: a new home studio HQ, a new label, and a return-to-roots creativity and sense of purpose. After ten non-stop years of working as the world’s most humble multi-million selling rock band, the hard-charging North County San Diego-based quintet saw recording sessions for their aptly-titled seventh full-length album as a unique chance to reassess, reflect and rededicate.
Switchfoot got their start in 1996 when the Foreman brothers and Butler came together around a mutual love of surfing and a passion for rock music spurred by such personal Southern California guitar heroes as Rocket from the Crypt, Drive like Jehu, Boilermaker, Three Mile Pilot and Heavy Vegetable.
The band released their debut album, The Legend of Chin in 1997, followed in 1999 by New Way to be Human, an album that marked the band’s debut on the Billboard “Heatseekers” chart (at #31). From the beginning, the band was a road-ready unit, building up an increasingly larger fanbase with each subsequent tour. The year 2000 saw the addition of keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas to the fold and the release of Learning to Breathe, an album that saw Switchfoot taking creative steps forward while earning eventual RIAA gold in the process.
The album spawned a Grammy nod and a spot on the RIAA platinum soundtrack to 2000’s A Walk to Remember, as Jon Foreman received the Les Paul Horizon Award for the Most Promising Up-and-Coming Guitarist. The next year found Switchfoot stepping out with their Columbia Records debut, A Beautiful Letdown, a Top 20 Billboard 200 hit that scored double-platinum success on the strength of a pair of gold certified singles, “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move.”
As they navigated these new waters of success, the band outdid themselves again with the 2005 arrival of their fifth studio album, Nothing is Sound, their first with longtime touring guitarist Drew Shirley. With “Stars,” an RIAA gold certified hit single, the album debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 before rolling to RIAA gold itself. They continued their success with 2006's Oh! Gravity.
As for Hello Hurricane, the members of Switchfoot could not be more motivated to bring the new music to their grass roots grown fanbase. “I think it is a landmark record for us,” says Butler, turning serious. “It’s a new chapter in so many aspects of our lives, personally and professionally. I think we’re in the best possible place we’ve been in as a band.”
NRT's Senior Editor Angel recently spoke in length with lead singer, and principal songwriter, Jon Foreman about the new album, the band's ongoing calling in various ministries and what's next for one of the biggest bands in Christian music.
Hi, Jon. Thank you for joining us here at NewReleaseTuesday.com. I understand Switchfoot has taken a different approach to creating music this time around. Would you pull back the curtain on your recording process, and tell us how Hello Hurricane came about?
It all started after we had broken ties with Columbia Records. That’s when we began to look for a new way of doing what we do in order to release the kind of music we believe in. Our first step was to take a break from recording music together. In the meantime, I did some solo recordings and released an album with Fiction Family. Eventually, we decided to build our own recording studio so we could become completely independent and not have to pay for studio time. Then once we got into the studio, we tracked more than 80 songs! The freedom we experienced at that time was truly beautiful. But we soon came to the realization that only 12 songs would be heard on the project. As we were trying to figure out who we wanted to be and define what we wanted to do for the next ten years, a darker side of the recording process emerged. Ultimately, it was a very good process for us to go through because it allowed us to come to a new assessment of what we do as a band. It was a great outcome for us! During that time, we were able to redefine ourselves after being together for more than ten years.
With over 80 songs to choose from, did you find it difficult to narrow down your track list?
Yeah, it was very tricky because there were a lot of songs that meant so much to us on a number of different levels. What ultimately ended up being the criteria used to determine whether a track made it onto the album was “Is this the type of song you would want to die singing?” That was the first criteria, which weeded out a lot of the songs we enjoyed musically, but lyrically, just didn’t seem to have the same gravity. The second criteria determined whether the songs fit together as a cohesive unit—and that’s a big part of this record. I believe this album-—more so than anything we’ve ever done in the past—-is very much a cohesive statement all the way through. For me, that was another important aspect of our criteria-—so much so that when we go on tour this fall, we’re going to play Hello Hurricane in its entirety, from start to finish, in some of our favorite clubs because we want this album to be heard as a unit. I feel like this tour is going to be a unique musical experience, and anybody who wants more information about our upcoming shows can go to www.switchfoot.com or www.myspace.com/switchfoot.
After having a spent good deal of time living on the East Coast, especially in Virginia, the word hurricane is not something that I use lightly. For me, hurricanes represent all of the unknown storms that rip through our lives and tear us apart. Often times the fear generated by the threat of the storm’s impact is not based solely on what we know about it but more so on the things that we don’t know about it. We don’t exactly how hard it’s going to hit, or know where it’s going to hit, or who will be the most the affected by the storm. So the idea behind the album title doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with whether or not the storms come but how we face them. In other words, what it really comes down to is the way we treat each other before, during and after the storms.
I would like to share a story about a woman I met who kept a positive attitude, even in the most challenging set of circumstances. Last year, while we were on tour with Relient K, we stopped in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to help build a house with Habitat for Humanity. The house was for a woman who had lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, including one of her legs. She’s an amputee who was relocating to Baton Rouge to make a fresh start in life, and at the time, she was just learning how to walk on a prosthetic limb. Despite her hardships, her attitude was not one of anger—not one of bitterness or despair. Instead, she found the strength to embrace life’s challenges. She said, “I walked out of my house in New Orleans on my own two legs, and I’m going to walk into this house the same way.” For me, that kind of determination is the impetus behind Hello Hurricane.
What message did you want to convey through the song “Mess of Me”?
Lyrically, this song comes from the concept that as a society we’re generally looking for the quick fix. We’re looking for someone or something that will ease our pain and solve our problems. In our fast-food, cell-phone society, we’re continually hoping to find what we need quicker and faster, yet often times the problems inherent in our world are more deeply embedded in who we are, how we treat people and how we treat ourselves. Whether you call it the original sin or the death drive, it’s something that is very much a part of the human condition.
Another idea behind the song came from a quote by Walt Whitman who said, “Every man dies; not every many truly lives,” and the realization that we’ve been given another breath and another day of life, as gifts. Our days are not obligated to us. Out of those gifts, I want to make sure I’m spending the rest of my days alive.
You penned the rock song “Free” in an elevator. Please tell us how that came about.
I wrote “Free” in an elevator, and I think that might have happened in Las Vegas. I often try to tell people that I don’t go out and write songs. I feel that they come to me—at least the good ones do, you know? “Free” was a song that came to me very quickly. It was one of those moments where, by the time we reached the floor we needed to get to, the song had pretty much written itself.
That’s amazing! I’m also astonished by the fact that you wrote more than 80 songs for this project within a two-year period.
You have to think of these things as journal entries. You can write one a day and sometimes even more. It doesn’t mean that every one of them are brilliant or that all of them are meant to be heard—-yet they’re all a snapshot of your world.
What will happen to the songs that didn’t make it onto Hello Hurricane? Do you have any plans for another album?
We already have another album slated for a future release, along with its title track. Hello Hurricane is obviously an alliterative title with the first letters of each word being the same. So we decided our next project would also carry the same theme because we wanted it to be a continuation of Hello Hurricane. We’re going to call our next album Vice Verses. In fact, our next record was going to feature many of the songs that we really love but never felt right about putting onto Hello Hurricane, but since then, we’ve written a few more that we feel stronger about. So we’ll see what ends up happening, but it will definitely be called Vice Verses.
I hear you’re launching a new web site, www.theworldyouwant.com, which will spotlight goodness, beauty and truth in everyday life. Would you tell us a little more about the site?
This is essentially a chance to shine the spotlight on people who are impacting the world in meaningful ways. I feel as though a lot of people look up to us and put us in the spotlight, so this is our chance to put the spotlight back on them. Every day we’re alive, we change the world—all of us—and it doesn’t matter whether you have a mic in your hand or not. Since there are some incredible people who are making this world a better place, we wanted to highlight their efforts while making it easier for everyone to get involved. This web site will feature user-generated content that will give you an opportunity to nominate the people you know who are creating the world you want.
I’ve often heard people say, “How can one person make a difference?” Do you have any words of encouragement you would like to offer to help people understand that their efforts can truly have an impact on the world?
Our perspective on the spotlight and on the stage in America, and all around the globe, is totally backwards; it’s completely wrong. In fact, it’s not what you do when your onstage that’s most important-—it’s what you do when no one’s watching you. That’s what determines your character and who you are because you’re not performing-—you’re simply being yourself. So these are the elements of your character that you can’t fabricate. With that in mind, it’s a very sobering thought that brings it all down, away from any form of applause. While it is true that the people who have most impacted the world, many of whom are Mother Teresa-types, will never be known in this lifetime, yet they are the ones who will have the greatest impact on the next generation. So if the world is upside down-—and “the last shall be first,” and “the first shall be last”—-then even though I’m up onstage singing now, maybe I’ll be tying shoes laces in Heaven. [Both laugh.] We need to understand how important it is to develop an infinite perspective on life.
What was one of the greatest obstacles God has helped you overcome?
Oh, man, there are a lot of things! I think the ego always gets in the way, and it doesn’t matter who you are. Generally speaking, I believe great art happens when we’re not thinking about ourselves and when we can interact with the world around us, like children who are finger painting with very beautiful colors. I was recently talking to a friend of mine, who is an up-and-coming actress, and she said that the rule for improvisation is “Yes, and . . .” It’s when you agree with others and their ideas in a scene, and then you add your part and your ideas to what’s already there. I feel like that’s what we do when we’re interfacing with creation. You know, it’s a creative process that begins when you say yes, and then you agree to be a part of creating and recreating further. So you’re co-signing a check with God, to some extent, where you’re actually into what is and creating what is not—but I feel that can only happen when you take yourself lightly. That's why I think the biggest obstacle I ever had to overcome was myself.
Thank you for sharing such an incredible analogy! That was one of my biggest obstacles as well—so you’re not alone!
Can we look forward to you and Shaun Watkins joining forces again in Fiction Family? If so, when can we expect another project? [A question submitted by Ichiben at the NRT forums.]
I actually recorded a few songs already, and we should be releasing another album sometime next year. It looks like Aaron Redfield (drums) and Tyler Chester (bass), both of whom had previously toured with Fiction Family in support of our debut album, will also be joining us as we record our next project.
Jon, I really enjoyed listening to Hello Hurricane and thought it was a phenomenal album! Before we go, please tell us what you want this record to ultimately accomplish in the hearts of your fans.
Thank you! I feel like our world gets so small in this postmodern era of computer screens, cell phones and television screens. Yes, they connect us with the rest of the world and this great horizon; however, we end up staring at them for approximately eight hours a day. I would love to see this record open up the windows in our room. I believe there are moments like that throughout the day when we look into the sky, and we’re enlightened by the wonder of it all because without wonder, life cannot be wonderful. If this record could be one of those moments that takes us away from ourselves and our self-interests and reminds us of the wonder of being alive and the once-in-a-lifetime element of living, then that would be the goal.
Posted November 09, 2009 | Angel, a concert photographer and writer, frequently conducts artist interviews for NRT. She loves Christian music and currently lives in FL with her husband.