Jon Foreman Talks about Oh! Gravity.
The band Switchfoot needs no introduction. Here lead singer Jon Foreman talks about recording and writing songs for their album, "Oh! Gravity."
“We’ve always used music as a vehicle to explore our own questions and frustrations,” says Switchfoot singer/songwriter/guitarist Jon Foreman of the band’s new album, Oh! Gravity. Oh! Gravity. is Switchfoot’s sixth studio album, their third for Columbia Records. After 2003’s double-platinum selling, The Beautiful Letdown, and another gold selling album, Nothing Is Sound, Foreman sums it all up by saying, “I’m in therapy and I write songs. It’s all an attempt to try to come to terms with reality.”
The San Diego-based band has often combined a spiritual bent with a critique of some of modern society’s hypocrisies on songs like the Top 5 singles “Dare You to Move” and “Meant to Live,” as well as such tracks as “Politicians” and “Happy is a Yuppie Word” from their last album, 2005’s Nothing is Sound.
Produced by U.K. vet Tim Palmer (Tin Machine, Pearl Jam, The Cure, Mother Love Bone, U2), Oh! Gravity. expands Switchfoot’s sonic palette while at the same time dealing with social issues on songs like the alt-country blues of the song, “Dirty Second Hands,” in which Foreman sings of the dehumanization that comes with technology (“With an army of me/We invent our own enemies/Man verses machine”).
“Although it ends up pointing the finger at us, rather than the iPod or the combustion engine,” laughs Jon.
Other politically motivated songs include the title track’s generational appeal for love, peace and understanding (“Sons of my enemies/Why can’t we seem to keep it together?”), “American Dream,” with its biting truth, “When success is equated with excess/The ambition for excess wrecks us” and “Awakening,” about trying to recover the innocence of a child in the midst of an ever-harsher reality. Their A&R exec, Grammy-winning producer Steve Lillywhite, helped the band achieve the song’s Police-like world beat and epic, wide-screen scope.
“I feel like I get born-again a lot,” says Foreman about the song. “I feel like I can easily drift into being dead as well. There’s a crusty shell we get as we get older that shuts us off from being blissfully oblivious. We’ve all been hurt. It’s a way of portraying the thing we often try to protect and hide—our innocence—as a strength.”
The group was founded in 1996 by Jon and his brother Tim, along with Chad on drums as Chin Up. After only a handful of shows, they were signed by Charlie Peacock to re:think Records as “Switchfoot,” a surfing term meaning to shift your feet on the board to take a new stance facing the opposite direction.
In 2003, the band was signed by Columbia Records, which along with Sparrow Records put out The Beautiful Letdown, selling two million albums in the U.S. alone and producing two Top 10 pop and Modern Rock singles, “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move.” Last year, the band released Nothing is Sound, which debuted at #3 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, and promptly went gold, yielding the radio hit “Stars.”
Coming off a pair of hit records, the band approached their new album, Oh! Gravity., with a quiet confidence and a desire for musical growth. Their first move was hooking up with veteran U.K. producer Tim Palmer.
“He was just a great person to come along and assist us with the goal we were attempting to achieve,” says Jon. “A good producer doesn’t project his dreams upon you. He’s a good listener more than anything else, and that was what Tim brought to the sessions.”
Switchfoot’s expanding musical scope can be heard on the sawing alt-country of “Head Over Heels,” the exotic instrumentation and Middle Eastern flavor of “Circles,” the REM-esque pulse of “4:12,” the lush Brit-pop melodies of “Yesterdays,” the Echo and the Bunnymen/Smiths influenced “Burn Out Bright” and Motown sound of “Amateur Lovers.”
“We were listening to a lot of Motown Records at the time,” explains Jon. “I guess whenever white guys try to play soul music; it comes out sounding like the Stones.”
After all the success and the rewards, Foreman insists he’s not feeling any pressure to top his band’s superb track record, but is coolly confident about the new album.
“It can kill the art worrying about how a record’s going to do,” he says. “For us, success is making music that is gratifying to you. The break-even point for the record that my band made back in high school was selling 300 copies. To us, that was success.”
With new songs like “Faust” and “4:12,” which question the world’s material obsessions, Foreman admits rock stardom is a double-edged sword with which he’s still grappling: “It’s that mixed drink you have to pour out so you can start with the pure stuff. And go back to the reason you loved music to begin with. We took a chance on this record, not to sound selfish, but to make something for ourselves. What other people think can’t change our minds about these songs. And that’s a good feeling. Because either you believe in it or you don’t.”
Oh! Gravity. is good enough to make a true believer of anyone.