Rarely 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."
When 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 #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 originally written."
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."
THE HIGH NOTES:
2003 San Diego Music Award for "Album of the Year," and "Pop Album of the Year"
2002 San Diego Music Award for "Best Adult Alternative"
2001 San Diego Music Awards for "Best Pop Album," and "Best Pop Artist"
1997 San Diego Music Award for "Best New Artist"
5 songs included on the Gold certified soundtrack "A Walk to Remember"
Over 50 songs usages on major TV (WB, FOX , CBS, Columbia, MTV, ABC, and Disney)
New "Meant To Live" video playing MTV, MTV2, and Fuse
Gibson Guitars' 2001 Les Paul Horizon Award (awarded to guitarist/lead singer Jon Foreman)
--- from the official Switchfoot website