|photo: Erick Frost, courtesy Fantasy Records|
Last January, Switchfoot put out its latest studio album “Native Tongue.” After finishing a spring tour, the San Diego-based alt-rock band brainstormed new ideas for the next batch of headlining dates.
“We felt like people, ourselves included, wanted more music,” explained bassist Tim Foreman, during a recent phone interview from North Carolina.
All five musicians decided to “throw out all the assumptions and preconceived notions that we had about what a tour should be and start fresh.” One difference involved “opening” for themselves and led to both acoustic and electric performances.
“The two set idea was really intriguing,” Foreman said. “We got swept up and carried away in a beautiful way. It’s been really enjoyable to see this crazy dream come to life every night.”
Switchfoot’s Fantastic Traveling Music Show targets longtime enthusiasts, who can have a say about what songs should be played in advance via https://www.settheset.com/t/switchfoot-vlhs42) and at the gig via a “ballot”-type box.
“It’s really keeping us on our toes,” admitted Foreman. “Every night is radically different. By the halfway point of [this] tour, we played 70 different songs. A lot of them we haven’t played in years and years.”
Despite rehearsing “quite a bit,” Switchfoot “left room for spontaneous invention” and figuring out “what instrumentation we wanted to bring to the acoustic set.”
Foreman plays upright bass (a “new experience”), his frontman brother/guitarist Jon handles ukulele and drummer Chad Butler constructed a special contraption to play in stripped down fashion.
“He built this TV dinner of percussion - a lunch tray-sized wooden board with all sorts of things he can create mini drum kit sounds out of.” Foreman said he’s never seen anything like it before.
Here’s the humorous fall tour trailer, a nod to Wes Anderson’s 2004 film “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”: https://youtu.be/I0apWN5puJc
Over the summer, the band served as an opening act on Bon Jovi’s European stadium tour. The venues were among the largest Switchfoot has ever done.
“It was unbelievable to play in front of their fans,” marvelled Foreman. “They were really receptive. We learned a lot and it was one of our favorite summers ever.”
Switchfoot shot an impressive live video cover of “Livin’ on a Prayer” from a soundcheck in Portland to commemorate the occasion (watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s91WsxlOUXA).
“That song was part of our childhood. To cover it, then go on tour with the band that played it was really fun for us. Jon Bon Jovi was extremely friendly and the whole crew really took care of us.”
Formed in 1996, Switchfoot - rounded out by guitarist Drew Shirley and keyboardist/guitarist Jerome Fontamillas - first gained major attention through the Christian music market, which helped third album “Learning to Breathe” reach gold sales status.
Jon’s lyrics (frequently written with Tim’s assistance) are more life-affirming than heavy handed, so Switchfoot landed airplay at multiple radio formats for 2003’s double-platinum seller “The Beautiful Letdown” (“Meant to Live,” “Dare You to Move,” “This is Your Life”) and its follow up, “Nothing is Sound.”
Throughout the following decade, the band continued a run of alt-rock radio hits (“Stars,” “Mess of Me,” “The Sound,” “Dark Horses,” “Who We Are”) and still maintained momentum at Christian radio.
Before joining Switchfoot in 2005, Shirley attended Riverside’s California Baptist University while he was a member of local Christian funk/rock band All Together Separate. After graduation, Shirley worked with Youth For Christ as a Campus Life director for Inland area high school students.
The “Native Tongue” recording process happened organically following the band’s year-long hiatus from the road.
“We didn’t even realize that we were making a record,” said Foreman. “It was a beautiful season where we found ourselves drawn to the studio for no purpose other than it was bringing us joy.”
A new sense of freedom lent a more relaxed vibe to the creative process, something the bassist likened to being “kids showing up at a toy store every day.”
Clocking in at nearly an hour and mainly produced by the Foreman Brothers, the 14 songs are among the band’s strongest to date. Brent Kutzle of OneRepublic co-produced, co-wrote and played on three songs, including the intense tribal title track, a hip-hop-leaning “Voices” (where his bandmate Ryan Tedder helped out) and the lush, EDM lite “The Hardest Art” with guest vocalist Kaela Sinclair of M83.
“We were never in the same room at the same time, which we’d never done before,” Foreman admitted, about Kutzle. “It forces a different type of collaboration; a real intentionality of listening to what each other is trying to speak into the song. I really enjoyed the experience."
Elsewhere, the adventurous “Dig New Streams” sounds like it could’ve been on a later Beatles album, Bear Rinehart of needtobreathe added keyboards and production for the inspiring “Strength to Let Go” and the quietly gorgeous “Oxygen” is a standout.
“Some of these different color palettes have existed on the peripheral of the band for years, but we haven’t chosen to showcase them to anyone else” - until now.
A version of my interview originally appeared in Southern California News Group papers such as the Riverside Press Enterprise, LA Daily News and OC Register.