Interview: Switchfoot Drummer Sounds off on God's Grace

The alternative rock band Switchfoot snagged their name from a surfing term that describes how surfers change their stance to move in the opposite direction. It’s a fitting moniker for the San Diego band given they’ve had highs and lows – not unlike the tides.

Few know this better than Chad Butler. In an interview with The Christian Post, Switchfoot’s drummer describes the tug-of-war between life and death, darkness and light on their latest album Vice Verses. It’s a topsy-turvy world, the skinsman says, and we can only navigate it by giving our lives to God’s will.

CP: Christmas is just around the corner. What does Christmas mean to you?

Butler: Over years of touring it has probably grown in significance. It’s a holiday that has always been important to me as a believer though.

As a husband and father doing what I do, now it represents a homecoming. I get sentimental just being on the road and seeing holiday decorations. Tomorrow I’m flying home to see my family and put up our Christmas lights together. It’s a big deal to me.

CP: Switchfoot formed in 1996. When you first came together as a band, was mainstream success one of your goals?

Butler: Our dream as three kids growing up in San Diego was just playing songs. We dreamed of playing to 100 kids in clubs and having a small following.

Going outside of San Diego was new to us. Just being capable of putting out a CD back then was a dream coming true for us. We had recorded cassettes before that.

Now we’ve traveled halfway around the world and had people sing our songs to us. We’ve learned to dream bigger dreams.

CP: Your new record Vice Verses is an emotional rollercoaster. There are some very dark songs and some very optimistic ones. Why was it important capturing that range of emotions?

Butler: There’s a contrast and a polarity we tried to capture on this record. It’s about life, death and everything in-between. It frames the whole album.

Our first song “Afterlife,” for example, is about living right now in the moment and the last song “Where I Belong” concerns knowing we’re made for a world to come. The whole record plays with the tension between the two.

CP: One song on the new record, “Selling the News,” looks at problems with our current news media and even calls “suspicion the new religion.” What inspired that?

Butler: We instantly responded to that song as a band. It felt like a complete social commentary.

The beauty of it is that by commenting on the world around us we include ourselves in that. I’m a sucker for the TV screen. I have a very short attention span and I’m enthralled by the chatter around me. It’s a difficult thing in the world we live in to avoid such distractions. That song is calls out the way the world works around us.

CP: The title track of Vice Verses features a lyric that says “every blessing comes with a set of curses.” Do you believe that?

Butler: There are two sides to every story. The hope that I believe in is deeper than even the positivity and pain we experience. It has to go deeper than the wounds and the scars we have. Pain exists, but hope exists in spite of it.

Over the years I’ve developed a better understanding of redemption. The more I understand how messed up the world is, the more I believe there’s a creator who’s got his hands wrapped around my individual life. The trust that I have in that creator’s infinite wisdom has grown despite my lack of understanding in the present sense. It’s given me a deeper belief in Christ. I don’t have a complete understanding of God, but my pursuit of him is continuous. My journey is always following him.

CP: Switchfoot has recently done charitable work with the children’s organizations StandUp for Kids and Invisible Children. Why did your band want to work with these organizations?

Butler: The common thread there is kids. It’s so important to take the next generation and do good work to raise great leaders for the future. It doesn’t matter if they’re kids in Africa or kids in our own backyard. Our role is to shine the spotlight on these organizations as they do very important work. We’re trying to tell a story of those who have been counted out by society and champion them for the hope they have in their eyes despite their circumstances.

CP: Switchfoot has played together for 16 years and counting. What does your band stand for after all this time?

Butler: We’ve been given an amazing platform for playing these songs every night. These songs have to move us and give us an emotional and spiritual connection to our music. We want to connect with people through those songs.

The most fulfilling moment is when people are singing along with us and they come up to us after the show with stories of how we’ve helped them personally. We have a voice for asking big, honest questions in our music. That lends itself to an ongoing conversation with our audience about life. Each new record is a chance to push the envelope more with our level of honesty. The goal is to talk about deep topics like God, relationships, the politics of our hearts and what we all wrestle with in life.

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