|courtesy Big Hassle|
A version of my interview originally appeared at nctimes.com/entertainment
Switchfoot is among the best known rock acts to emerge from the San Diego area during the 1990s.
Successfully crossing over from Christian to alternative radio with ‘03’s double platinum CD “The Beautiful Letdown,” they can claim other gold albums and several hits – including the current top 10 modern rock single “Dark Horses” - in various genres since then.
Besides music, philanthropic work is an integral part of the band, which regularly supports Standup for Kids (a non-profit that receives proceeds from Bro-Am, the annual Switchfoot-founded surfing contest/concert), Invisible Children, the self-established lowercase people, Habitat for Humanity, To Write Love on Her Arms and more.
Continuing that charity support, Switchfoot front man Jon Foreman will perform an acoustic set to benefit Invisible Children alongside indie rock singers from The Get Up Kids, The Almost, Sleeping at Last and mewithoutyou at the Troubadour in West Hollywood on Dec. 15. Tickets are $15 via ticketfly.com.
“I’m really honored to be part of that event with a lot of friends on the bill,” said the singer/guitarist last week, from a tour stop in Richmond , Va. “I’ll probably be doing mostly solo stuff.”
In addition to a return appearance at 91X’s Wrex the Halls (“the show is like a big party where you get to [reconnect] with friends you haven’t seen in a long time”), the entire group will do a sold out Q&A session and acoustic set Dec. 14 at Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles.
Foreman is especially excited about it because “we’ve never done anything like that before. It’s going to be an expose on how we made the new record [‘Vice Verses’]. We’re going to bring in gear from the studio and pull back the curtain on how we go after the vision we have for the music. That’s going to be a blast.”
He also had a good time this past October, after joining Taylor Swift onstage in Phoenix for a cover of Switchfoot’s “Meant to Live” (a tune she’d been performing regularly on tour). Both musicians’ Twitter followers were buzzing afterward.
On eighth studio album “Vice Verses,” Switchfoot – rounded out by bassist Tim Foreman, drummer Chad Butler, guitarist Drew Shirley and keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas - enlisted producer Neal Avron (Yellowcard, New Found Glory) and wanted to emphasize more bass and drum sounds.
“Being a guitar player, I tend to think of guitars first, but it was probably me trying to be mature and see things from the other side,” Foreman explained with a laugh. “Maybe I’m just a frustrated drummer at heart. We wanted to give Tim and Chad a chance to shine and let the foundation speak for itself.”
Focusing on rhythmic elements led the guys to “practice more restraint with layers. We tried to be concise and economical and very deliberate about how many things we put on top of the rhythm section.”
The album is Switchfoot’s strongest since 2005’s “Nothing is Sound.” It ranges from Nirvana-esque opening track “Afterlife,” some ample feedback and gang chants in “Dark Horses” and the intense, yet hopeful rocker “Rise Above” to ominous programming anchoring “The War Inside” and the U2-ish “Blinding Light.”
Lyrically, Foreman’s subject matter revolves around the polarity of life. The quiet, prayer-like title track dates back to prior “Hello Hurricane” sessions; the band definitely knew it would be slated for the successor.
“Having that concise directionality going into the project really helped steer the lyrics and song selection from the start. ‘Hello Hurricane’ was just walking to see where you ended up. On ‘Vice Verses’ [the album], we had a definite destination we headed towards.”
Although the title track had been played before in concert, recording proved difficult. “We tried to put it into the band blender, but it just didn’t fit and was resistant to that approach. It ended up closer to the way it started - true to the seed of the song and really minimal.”
Foreman uses a spoken word vocal technique amid orchestrated pop keyboards on the politically-charged “Selling the News,” quite a departure for Switchfoot.
“It’s always nice when you can let people into a new room in the house,” he said. “At the airport, I’m reminded how inescapable the sales element of our media is and I feel surrounded by news that isn’t news…For me, the song is diving into the idea that anything is for sale and you’re making money off how sensational something is.”
Still, the singer didn’t have any particular media organization in mind, while writing.
“It’s not ranting or railing against the system, but lamenting how narrow-minded our idea of the news is.”
Spiritual-tinged album standout “Where I Belong” clocks in at nearly seven minutes and caps everything off with moving sentiments and a group chant recalling The Alarm or U2’s “40.”
Foreman thought about the live experience and sought to “encapsulate the present and future and all that we’ve been through to sing at the end of the night…anthems remind me why I’m here on the planet. That was the inspiration.”
He was “blown away” by the positive reception the album and “Horses” single have received to date. “You never know how things are going to translate from your head onto CD and such. The reason I make music is to communicate with other souls. That is always paramount.”
Although Switchfoot had been nominated for Grammys in the past, “Hello Hurricane” finally helped the band snag one in the Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album category earlier this year.
“Man, it was wild,” recalled Foreman. “For us, winning was very gratifying. To be acknowledged by your peers: I don’t think there’s a bigger award you could win, you know? But it also reminded me that nothing is more rewarding than what I do night after night.”
Looking ahead into 2012, Switchfoot is scheduled for a world tour and another round of U.S. dates. Foreman also has another album by Fiction Family – the folk tinged side project with fellow local guitarist Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek – tentatively due next spring.
“It’s been ready for a long time. I originally mixed the record myself and didn’t like it. I finally talked everyone into letting a professional [Adam Hawkins, who handled ‘Verses’] come in and do the job,” he explained with a laugh.
Switchfoot plays 91X FM's Wrex the Halls, 6:15 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, Valley View Casino Center, 3500 Sports Arena Blvd., San Diego, $19.91-$54.91, 91x.com.