The Reverb Interview: Jon Foreman of SwitchfootBy Reverb Staff | October 7th, 2011 | No Comments »
By John Meyer
The Denver Post
Ten days after the release of its eighth album, “Vice Verses,” Switchfoot will play a sold-out show Friday at the Boulder Theater. Coming after the success of “Hello Hurricane,” which won the band’s first Grammy (Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album), “Vice Verses” could be even bigger for the San Diego band. Denver Post reporter John Meyer interviewed front man Jon Foreman this week by telephone.
When you played Red Rocks in April, you said “Vice Verses” was your “best attempt at a worship record.” Did you go into the studio with that in mind, or did it evolve?
For me, music has always been a spiritual endeavor, some records more than others. I feel like transcendence can happen in a few ways with music. A lot of times it happens in spite of you (laughs) and other times, you happen to be seeking it out. I think “Vice Verses” is probably a combination of both, but ultimately there’s a sense of honesty in this record that’s kind of unabashed — not self-abasing, but not afraid to be critical, either. That honesty is what creates kind of a sentiment where you can actually have a true spirituality.
When you have a record like “Hello Hurricane” with its mainstream appeal, does it take courage to make a record like “Vice Verses” where your faith is so up front?
There is a certain courage and risk involved, whenever you take the mask off and just shoot from the hip. With this record, I think we reached the point where, on a good day, we didn’t really care what anyone else thought. I feel like that recklessness is necessary for the kind of rock and roll that we make.
How are the new songs playing on tour? Do you take the stage feeling like this is really a special time in the evolution of the band?
Yeah, this is a really, really special time for us. To put out our eighth record –- even just to say that, that’s amazing. How many bands actually get a chance to make eight records and still care deeply about each other? That’s something that we’ve always had — Heaven forbid we’d ever lose it. We really like making music together. It’s not animosity that fuels the music. I love the Police, but their years of tension felt like what fueled some of their best records, and finally they imploded. For us it’s a different fire.
The true test of a song is to play it in front of a bunch of other people. I was just debating with our guitar player, Drew (Shirley). He’s always of the opinion, ‘Let’s practice it a few more times before we play it live.’ I’m like, ‘Let’s just practice in front of people. Let’s play it live.’ You can practice all you want, and the only way you know whether you know it or not is to play in front of people. So for me, and for all of us as a band, that risk is no longer terrifying. It’s daunting, but it’s also invigorating as well. It’s been a lot of fun to play these new songs live.
Like so much of your work, this is an extremely personal record. Some of these songs are confessions, and they sound a familiar theme in your music: “The tension.” The tension between good and evil, of examining who you are versus who you want to be. And there’s the tension of making music with clear spiritual themes while playing to mainstream audiences.
Our goal was to bring out the polarity of life. Hopefully on all of the songs on the record, that thread kind of runs through it, the thread that pulls this all together, the tension.
When you talk about that polarity of life, what do you mean by that?
I guess there’s a couple of different concepts. One would be, in a world where we make so much of our lives an attempt to escape the tension, to run away from the things that pull us tight, “Vice Verses” is an attempt to make a record that actually raises the tension and says, ‘No, actually the tension is needed.’ For our lives to be beautiful, we need to be stretched tight between death and life, almost like a guitar string. That’s where the beautiful notes happen, when we’re pulled. And instead of running from one (pole) to the other, to actually live right in the middle, it takes a certain amount of courage, but I feel like that’s where life happens. Risk is required.
There’s a million analogies you can pull out. I think of surfing. I think of the risk that’s involved when you’re first dropping in, and yet it’s actually when you embrace the fact that the safest spots to be on the wave are often the spots where it takes a little bit of courage to get there. But the moment you step off the shore and into the ocean, you kind of have to embrace that. And that’s the tension you live in, while you’re in the water. The same thing is true within a marriage, for a country — the moment we make our aim to avoid struggle or pain, we begin our demise.
Did U2 show you the way, in the sense that you could be true to your spirituality and be a mainstream band?
My dad was a huge music guy. He grew up playing in rock bands around Southern California, covering the Beatles and the Stones and the Doors, all those folks. He was my introduction into rock and roll. I was in a Led Zeppelin cover band in junior high.
U2 for me, I loved a lot of their stuff. I’ve heard it said that when Bob Dylan came out, suddenly he opened doors to subject matter that couldn’t be talked about before. People didn’t think about mentioning civil rights or protest songs. Of course it’s been going on before Bob Dylan, but he opened up to the mainstream a lot of things that might have been closed before.
For me, (U2’s) “Joshua Tree” was a treatise in honesty and yearning and hope. That was what I listened to, that one and “Rattle and Hum.” Other than the Beatles and Zeppelin, that was pretty much all I listened to when I was in junior high. There’s all these bands that have been around for years that I could care less about, like ’80s hair bands. (“Joshua Tree”) felt like it was honest and true. That’s what I was drawn to, when I was a kid.
You’re always looking for heroes to celebrate in your music. Why?
You can sing songs of depression and frustration and angst. Those are all needed and necessary songs. But at some point, you want to be able to sing a bigger song than that. You want to grow up, you want to sing about deeper elements of life and maybe move past some of the pain. For me, I’m always looking for those songs, whether it’s The Sound with John Perkins (on “Hello Hurricane”), or even Dark Horses (on “Vice Verses”). That’s a song that was inspired by the homeless kids in our hometown of San Diego.
You want to have a reason to sing, something you’re singing about bigger than yourself. So many times you’re singing about this personal element of your own life, but you want to move past that. The song can be an element to get there.
John Meyer is a Denver Post writer and a new contributor to Reverb.