American rock band Switchfoot has seen its popularity surge over the last few years, but you’ll detect something deeper behind their meaningful lyrics
Switchfoot are not your average rock ’n’ roll outfit. They haven’t bought into their own hype, make a point of hanging about to talk to fans after gigs and have a smile and a warm greeting for everyone that crosses their path.
When they get on stage though, you better watch out! Their high-octane live performances are legendary, as is their commitment to giving the crowds some serious sing-along moments.
But what began as a trio in the late 90s has become a five-piece with a message for the world – starting with their name. “The name is a surfing term,” explains Chad Butler, the drummer and founding member.
“When you’re facing the waves, and you switch your feet, changing the direction that you’re standing on the board, then you see it all from a different perspective. That applies to what we’re trying to do with our music, always experimenting with different styles and perspectives, but it also applies to our faith, and trying to see the world from another angle.”
Jon and Tim Foreman are the other two from the original set up and are the frontman and bassist respectively. Jerome Fontamillas plays pretty much everything, flitting mainly between keyboard and guitar, and Drew Shirely plays guitar too.
If you listen to the finely honed songs they produce, you might wonder why there’s not a bit more clearly Christian content, but Jon’s got an answer for that.
“I think the role of the prophet is to say the eternal truths in a way that their generation can understand. That’s what we’re all called to do here on earth – speak truth in relevant ways. “I think our sets, for the most part, are like worship services. We played The Roxy in New York, and the crowd was singing louder than I was: “I lift my hands and pray to be only yours. I know that you’re my only hope.” It’s very moving when you close your eyes and hear 600 people singing together – a definite worship moment.
“Our message to the world is that life is worth the living, and this demands questions. What is worth living for? How is it best to live? Seek God and he will be found by you.”
If this sounds like a grandiose claim for a rock band to make, you ought to remember that Switchfoot may be on a major label and climbing the charts, but they also take the time to play events like the BigChurchDayOut.
For Jon, crafting songs is a great way to get a message across. “Don’t misunderstand – I have no delusions of grandeur, thinking that our songs will single-handedly change the world,” he says.
“But change is possible and I definitely want to be a part of that. We always make it a point to talk to people outside after the shows, and I recently had a kid come up to me and give me a big hug because he was so affected by one of our songs.
“Apparently, he was going through some really rough times and wasn’t sure if he wanted to live anymore, but heard the song and was inspired. That’s incredible.
On days when you’re wondering what you’re doing playing a show in some small town in the middle of nowhere, you think about moments like that and realise that you’re part of a bigger story than your own.”
For Jon’s little brother, Tim, it’s all one big dream come true. “I never dreamed that music could be a legitimate career choice!” he confesses.
“I never looked at it as a job. We love playing music and that’s why we started the band. I feel very fortunate getting to travel around with my best friends and play songs that we’re passionate about.
“As a band we’re very ambitious and love to dream big. Every show we try to make it different and better. We make a different set-list every night and take the music very seriously. But we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We realise that the occupation of rock ’n’ roll is ridiculous!”
Ridiculous it might be, but that occupation allows the band to form a real connection with their fans. For the main songwriter, Jon, this opens up a great opportunity to impart some wisdom. “All of the songs are personal and deal with issues I struggle with, but for the most part, they’re about trying to understand the world around me,” he explains.
“If there’s any intentionality, it’s honesty. That’s something we’ve always tried to be. If you come to one of our shows, you’ll find the same people on and off the stage. What we do on stage is fairly important, but the way we live our lives off stage is immensely more so.”
Nowhere is this more clearly expressed than in the song ‘The Beautiful Letdown’.
“The letdown is the idea that your hands are ripped away from all the things that the earth has established. Sometimes, your fingers are torn off in the process. When all those things are stripped away and all that remains is who you truly are, that’s where the kingdom of heaven lives.
“Christ didn’t come for the people who have their hands on the money. He didn’t come for the people who didn’t need a doctor. He came for the sick, the poor, the broken, the losers, and the ugly jerks. He came for you and me, and that act is basically the beautiful letdown.”