Switchfoot: File Under Alt-Rock
“Our music lives and dies in the sweaty rock club,” says Jon Foreman, frontman for Switchfoot, a San Diego rock band that’s been surfing a wave of popularity recently, occasioned by the swelling popularity of its radio single, “Meant to Live.” With bone-crunching guitar riffs and an all-out lyrical assault on the status-quo, the song has exposed Switchfoot’s music to a mainstream audience for just the second time in the band’s seven-year history, most of which was spent in the often frustratingly insular world of Contemporary Christian Music. The band’s first major exposure came after contributing five songs to the gold-certified soundtrack for the Mandy Moore film A Walk to Remember (“Long story short, Mandy’s a really great fan”), including a duet between Foreman and the pop diva herself. However, it was shortly after this experience that the band realized, “as fun as that was, and as interesting as that was,” touring and playing in front of crowds proved infinitely more satisfying than red carpets and the celebrity zoo. So the guys in Switchfoot made the brave (and/or reckless) decision to do their first headlining tour. The gamble paid off.
“All those years, we’d never headlined a tour, because it’s a big financial risk for a band of our stature. And you never know if you’re going to have anyone show up for the shows. It was amazing, probably 75 percent of the shows sold out, which was a huge surprise for us. From there, that’s when we started planning this tour. We decided to get a couple bigger venues and go out one more time.”
Columbia Records—after becoming aware of Switchfoot due to its involvement in the Mandy Moore project—opted to release the band’s fourth album, The Beautiful Letdown. “The reason we went with Columbia is because we really felt like they understood who we are and they didn’t want to change us in any way. That’s really important, that you can be yourself.” The truth, however, is that Switchfoot didn’t need any changing. The band already had three successful albums to its credit (with combined sales of approximately 400,000 units), a Grammy nomination (“Best Rock Gospel Act”), and boyish good-looks capable of conjuring dollar signs in any record exec’s eyeballs.
But Letdown proves Switchfoot is hardly a collection of pretty-boys propped up with electric guitars and draped in thrift store T-shirts. Foreman’s songwriting talents are significant. In “Gone,” an eminently singable tune that begs Third Eye Blind comparisons, he sings, “Life is more than fame and rock and roll and thrills / All the riches of the kings end up in wills / We’ve got information in the information age / But do we know what life is outside of our convenient Lexus cages?” The record, if occasionally a bit too earnest for its own good, tackles daunting subjects—God, the human condition, moral insolvency, media saturation, time’s transience, the purpose of existence and the danger of being too easily satiated. Perhaps this is what it takes to be truly “alternative” in a genre that’s successfully rendered the word meaningless. “I have a tendency to try and be overly ambitious,” explains Foreman, referring to his songwriting approach. “Maybe I try and fit too much in, but I think that’s why I keep writing music. Once you write the perfect song, what keeps you in music? I’ve got songs left to write and I feel like it’s not the question of whether pop music can change the world because I think a person’s life can change the world.”