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Jon Foreman (Switchfoot) Interview

by Susan Lloyd

[Hello Hurricane] feels like a brand new record ... a brand new era of Switchfoot."
--Jon Foreman

It's been nearly three years since the highly successful San Diego based band Switchfoot has released a full length studio album, and while the wait has been long for Switchfoot fans, they've not been left high and dry. In the interim between Oh! Gravity and Switchfoot's upcoming Hello, Hurricane, the band has had a hit single “This is Home” featured in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, released a collection of hits entitled The Best Yet and has continued to tour nationally and internationally. The band also broke ties with Sony Records, created their own label, and built their own studio. The entire Hello Hurricane album was recorded there and with the production skills of Mike Elizondo, the album is ready for release on November 10th of this year.

Jon Foreman, front man for the band, has also released four solo EP's and has formed Fiction Family with Sean Watkins (Nickle Creek). Fiction Family released their self titled album earlier this year. With all that activity, it seems Switchfoot fans may be satiated in their desire for new Switchfoot material, but I've seen the opposite happen. Visits to the band's community message board have revealed that fans are near ravenous in their hunger for the new Switchfoot album.
In order to build the anticipation for the upcoming release, last month Switchfoot released their first single “Mess of Me” in a unique way. Select people were given a download of the song online and asked to burn it and hide it making it's location clear on twitter. As fans found hidden CD's containing the track, they were also to burn, hide, and twitter. A unique approach to be sure, and the single ended up making its way around the world.

Hello Hurricane releases November 10, with the band backing the new album by touring across the United States. Because there has been so much time between albums, fans and critics are anticipating great things from Switchfoot's first indie release. With so much to look forward to and so much new music to investigate, I knew talking with Switchfoot was a mission to be accomplished.

Featured in this article is the interview I recently had with Jon Foreman. I was headed to shoot a show in North Carolina, and Jon had been doing phone interviews all day, but we managed to synchronize our schedules for a brief time in order to talk about the new album and the upcoming tour.

Titletrakk: I appreciate so much you taking time to talk to me today.

Jon: Cool. Thank you for YOUR time.

TT: Oh, no problem! Well, we’ll get right to it. You have a new album coming out, obviously, and I know you are really excited about it. I think just two days ago a promo video came out, one that was 4 minutes long. In it you talk about some criteria you set for these songs. I believe you say “if you’re not crying, why are you singing it?” That’s a really high standard. How did you guys come about that standard for these songs?

Jon: Well, (laughs), for this record we came up with that standard because we had to define who we were and who we wanted to be for the next record. We stepped away from everything we had done as a band and kind of took a deep breath and entered into our own home studio… well, I guess it’s not a home studio, but it’s our studio down in San Diego that we built from scratch. And it’s one of those things where we had unlimited freedom, you know. No record company, no real restraint. And so we had to define some sort of boundaries around what we wanted to do. Especially after tracking like eighty songs that were radically different from each other. We had to come up with some sort of constraint as to who we are and why we are doing music and that became the rule of thumb.

Hello Hurricane by SwitchfootTT: That leads into my next question. With all of that freedom, you really didn’t have anyone looking over your shoulder, you’ve got all the time in the world, you’ve got freedom to make your own decisions. Was that more liberating or was it more paralyzing?

Jon: It’s both you know. Every blessing is a curse and that was certainly a blessing and a curse in itself. To be completely boundless in everything means that we have to kind of invent our own boundaries, you know? I think that was ultimately a healthy process to have to go through. At the time there were some dark moments when we were trying to figure out what we wanted to do. Because for us it felt like a new beginning. It felt like a brand new record, brand new studio, brand new era of Switchfoot. So what do you want to do for the next 10 years of your life? And there’s five incredibly creative people all in a room with all sorts of ideas that may or may not line up. And 80+ songs that we are kind of sifting through trying to figure out which ones are gold and which ones are silver. And which ones are crap (laughs). I think it was definitely a process and I think we emerged on the other side much stronger as a band and much more sure of who we are. But there were moments along the way that felt a little bit more hopeless.

TT: I actually have a copy of the album. I’m going to review it for Titletrakk as well, and I love it. I want to talk specifically about a few of the songs. The one that really stood out to me the first time I heard the album through was “Free” I felt it was really gutsy. As far as a Switchfoot song it kind of went in a direction I didn’t expect. But I loved it. This is my thought on it and I want to hear if I’m getting close: If Johnny Cash was alive today I feel like this is a song he would write and record. What are your thoughts on that?

Jon: Man that would be the biggest honor. I’m an unabashed Johnny Cash fan and so I will take that as a compliment. I think what we wanted to do with that song was take the blues and update it. It works almost entirely off of the blues scale.

As far as the situation that I find myself in most often is one where I feel constrained by myself more than anyone else, and that’s something you can’t run from. So, I don’t know, I think I’d love to hear Johnny Cash sing it (laughs).

TT: I would too, I think it’d be awesome. But I love what you did with it, and yeah the sentiment behind it Oh! Gravity by Switchfootand the concept behind it are things that people can really relate to. The other song that really got me was “Sing it Out” I think it might be one of the most soul-bearing songs I’ve heard. It has a very psalm-like feel. Did you spend a lot of time in the psalms and this was the result or where was this one born?

Jon: “Sing it Out” became kind of an anthem for the record because in many ways that's what we were trying to do with these songs. To, I guess, approach life and these issues and the obstacles we were facing in the song and overcome them through song. It is kind of a psalm of sorts. The production is an attempt to match the lyric, where in the beginning the first verse /chorus and the second verse and chorus the instrument is actually doing the rhythm, so it feels very primordial and groundless, floating. Then the bridge says "I'm holding on" and suddenly there's an acoustic guitar that's giving a semblance of time. So that's the idea that becomes the roots that ground the song to some form of time. It was really an enjoyable song to come to the end of. We had a lot of different versions of it so I'm really proud of how it came out. It's definitely our attempt at a modern day psalm

TT: Well, I think it's gorgeous and it is one that's going to speak to a lot of people. It's worshipful. The last thing that I want to ask you about is about the tour that's coming up. Its a little different format for you guys so tell me a little about that and if there are any surprises we can expect from you guys on this tour.

Jon ForemanJon: Yeah, the tour is pretty ambitious for us to do all the new songs back to back just as they are on the record. So basically just Hello Hurricane track 1 to track 12. Which I'm really excited about because we've spent so much time on this record really trying to create a cohesive musical statement. To be able to deliver to people first hand and see their reaction in the live concert setting is going to be a real enjoyable experience for us as a band. We've never done that, and we are excited about it, but it's also going to be a bit of a challenge because you know, we've got other songs that we've been playing that mean a lot to us and to a lot of the people that would come to see us. You can usually throw one of them in a set and gain a lot of ground and establish a lot of rapport, so to only rely on the new songs gives us a little bit of a challenge. But we've been a band for so long that it's almost about trying to challenge yourself and trying to find new ways to deliver the music.

TT: I'm really excited about that concept and the way you are going to do the concert. I've got an opportunity to see you guys in Atlanta, so I'll definitely be there.

Jon: Awesome!

TT: Looking forward to it. Again, I want to congratulate you. I think the album is fantastic. Whatever pain and suffering and craziness you guys went through to create it was worth it. I anticipate that this is going to be the one that people talk about for a long time.

Jon: Thank you so much! I really appreciate the encouragement.

TT: Good deal! I'm pretty sure our time is up. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me.

Jon: Thanks for chatting with me as well. See you in Atlanta.

Hello Hurricane releases November 10th. For more information about Switchfoot, the upcoming album, and their upcoming tour, you can visit their website at http://switchfoot.com

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Susan Lloyd is a professional photographer in Charleston, South Carolina who specializes in shooting concerts. She holds a degree in Music Education and has worked as a worship leader and as a youth minister. She is passionate about all types of music and enjoys encouraging and supporting bands who seek to glorify God. She also loves movies, animals, traveling, and making new friends. She and her husband have three kids and have been married for nearly 17 years. More info about Susan's photography can be found at www.susanlloydphotography.com or www.susieq3c.wordpress.com