LONDON Switchfoot has come a long way. After their album The Beautiful Letdown went double-platinum in 2004, Switchfoots ensuing projects have been getting better and better. The group recently released their latest project Oh! Gravity..
Despite being critically acclaimed on a worldwide scale, the five-piece Californian rock band remains as humble as ever, long having claimed to be Christian by faith, not by genre. Switchfoot frontman Jonathan Foreman likes to emphasize that who you are offstage is what really matters, and that life should be your testimony as a Christian.
The following is an exclusive interview with three of the five Switchfoot members Jonathan Foreman (lead singer), Jerome Fontamillas (background vocals, keys, guitar), and Drew Shirley (guitar) offstage at Londons Shepherds Bush Empire during their European tour.
How is the European tour going so far?
Jerome: Its amazing.
Jonathan: Its something to be thankful for. You can come half-way around the world and you have people singing along. Thats an honor.
Any memorable experiences?
Jonathan: [In Germany], we went to the club next door, and there was a jazz session.
Jerome: In Hamburg.
Jonathan: Yeah. There was a club next door that was
Drew: a bit open-minded.
Jonathan: A little bit of mic-nite. So there were all these guys with trumpets.
Jerome: Flute players!
Jonathan: It was a club where we found out that the Beatles used to play in. So [I nudged the guys] and said We gotta play there! So we went over there, and it was great. We had the flute player join in on Let Your Love Be Strong
Jerome: Faust, Midas, and Myself. (Both tracks from Oh! Gravity.)
Jonathan: Yeah, Faust Its stuff like that that keeps it fresh, you know?
Its great that your music is spreading all around the world. I was in Korea two years ago and your music was playing in a restaurant there.
Jonathan: Cool. Ive got a lot of Korean friends. Our first record The Legend of Chin was named after a friend who is Korean.
So whats the next step for lowercase people (the online magazine founded by Switchfoot) ?
Jonathan: Its kind of one of those dreams that you start off with a lot of passion, and not really have any idea or experience of what youre getting into. We partnered with Geneva Global and thats been great because they have a lot of experience. I think its a lot more of opening our eyes and looking around and hopefully diving in where people need us and our help. There are a lot of incredible organizations that are helping people around the world, and we dont want to be stepping on somebodys toes. That requires a lot of thought. So were kind of figuring out what the next place to hit is. You only get so many punches, and you want to make each one count.
Lets talk about your new album. Whats the main message you want to get across through Oh! Gravity.?
Jonathan: I think its not as simplistic as having just one message. I think every song has something to say maybe in different layers. Its kind of like a relationship. If I was gonna sum up my relationship with Drew, there probably will be a lot of different aspects and facets that we have. In the same way when were working on a record, youre dealing with so many different layers. So for this, if I were to sum it up, I think itll be the idea around gravity, like the title the idea that everything keeps falling apart when its supposed to be together. It seems like we daily defy the law of physics, the law of gravity.
(Holding up the album cover) Whats the concept of this drawing? Is that blood on Jeromes head?
Jerome: Could be!
Drew: Jerome had a head-bleed that day. (laughter)
Jonathan: We put a lot of the songs in artwork. When you open it up (opens album cover) there are all these hidden stories that we put in there. Different symbols and things that we think are important to the song.
What do these symbols mean (points to a drawing)?
Jonathan: Well, all of them are very subjective and can be interpreted in different ways. All the songs you can see down here: Circles, American Dream, Yesterdays, Dirty Second Hands this is a clock a boat and we liked the idea of the bird but birds have been done so much. Theres a surfboard and a whale there.
Back in the days, you had all these different records you can look at. You have it up, you know, it was a very discernable element of music where you can look at the record as you listen to it. We wanted something that was as large as a record to be able to look at the whole time youre looking at it. It was fun to make.
Well, it does look fun.
Jonathan: Every one of these were drawn separately
Drew: and put together like a collage.
Jerome: Yeah. Like this was a certain section, and that was a section, etc.
Is that an octopus there?
Jonathan: It can be whatever you want it to be. I thought it was a snail.
Drew: I thought it was a fruit necklace.
So, have you guys heard about the U2charist? Its an adapted Holy Communion service that uses U2s songs in place of hymns.
Drew: Yeah, I read about it.
What are your thoughts on that?
Jonathan: When Handels Messiah was performed in opera houses, people were outraged. Why is this music being sung outside the church? You shouldnt do it. With Johnny Cash, he wanted to play gospel but certain records wouldnt let him come out with that. I think its a struggle well have to continue to deal with. Its a timeless struggle. You have faith, commerce, and art colliding at the same point. As musicians, we believe in God, we like music, and we also try to pay rent. This is something you wrestle with every time you pick up your guitar. But I think its cool; it sounds exciting. Its like everything; you have different challenges you face with that kind of approach.
Would you like your songs to be sung in churches?
Jonathan: Part of me would be honored, you know, but part of me thinks it might be taking it out of context almost. There are just so many anthems to God from celebrity rock clubs My idea of worship is more like straight Old Testament songs. Im a little bit more traditional (smiles) a bit conservative.
You like them being distinguished?
Jonathan: Yea, like oil and water. But I like modern music. I like U2!
So how do you live out your Christian faith when youre offstage?
Jonathan: I think the term Christian is something that has to be said about you, from a third party, rather than boastfully saying it yourself. Its easier for me to say, I can fly, I can jump off of a building and live, I could do all these ridiculous things but the harder thing is for us to actually do it. As far as what we do offstage, we certainly dont have any book, where it goes do this, this, this, and everything goes perfectly. Thats the whole point of the song Amateur Lovers (Oh! Gravity.) the idea that Ive got a lot to learn. I think all of us [are] still learning screwing up daily.
Drew: Practicing faith screwing up daily.
Jonathan: Yeah, so were all learning from it and hopefully moving forward. I think to call yourself anything more than a sinner is a lie.
Jonathan: Thinking that youre better than somebody else. I think thats another thing that keeps us at where we are at. Singing songs at clubs, pubs, and bars even churches . There is no safe place. There is no industry that is not tainted with greed, pride, lust, fear all these negative things including the Christian music industry. So to think that youre going to be applying a record or a product or a book thats outside of that is almost untrue.
For us, its about living everyday to the fullest. Were trying to practice daily the Kingdom of Heaven for the Audience of One.