Paste Sessions: Switchfoot Is Hard at Work Looking for America

The SoCal rockers visited Paste to play three songs and chat about their vision of Trump's America.

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“This is the reality we’re living in. I don’t want to be ignorant; I want to be right there in it,” Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman explained at the Paste Studio recently. It’s been a year since the release of the SoCal rockers’ 10th album, Where the Light Shines Through, and although Switchfoot is unsure how to make sense of the political events that have overtaken the country since that release, they will continue to be vocal about them. The group makes this clear on the album’s track, “Looking for America” featuring rapper Lacrae, with the opening lines, “The doors are locked where they once stood open/ A wound of fear where we once stood hoping/ The shattered glass where the bullets broke in/ I’m looking for the place that I was born.”

“I am less sure about what America means now than when I wrote that song,” Foreman told Paste. “I do have deep questions about compassion and goodness and kindness, and want to see those as being at the top when you think of my country, and not a question of whether we’re going to nuclear war.”

Switchfoot  has maintained messages of positivity and compassion in their music since their formation about 20 years ago. They earned widespread recognition in 2002, when four of the band’s songs appeared on the soundtrack to the film A Walk to Remember, in which a character played by Mandy Moore covers their song, “Only Hope” in one scene. That exposure was followed by their major label debut in 2003 under Columbia Records/Red Ink, The Beautiful Letdown.

“I feel like there’s an opportunity for music to be that, this scaffolding for the soul to reach new places that you couldn’t get any other way.”

With 10 albums under their belt, Switchfoot now tackle topics of the utmost importance to them and their fans. The first track they played at Paste, “Live It Well,” takes inspiration from the band’s longtime mantra: “Life is short, live it well.”

“For us as a band, we’ve come to this conclusion that we want to do what we love with the people we love,” Foreman said. “I feel like I’m thrilled to be able to say I do that for a living.”

Their next song, “Float,” is one of the most danceable on their newest record, and it’s no coincidence. Foreman wrote the track for his friend, Jeremy Courtney, who lives and works in Iraq to help Syrian refugees. When Foreman was unsure how to help Courtney, he decided, “What if we had a song that could make his family dance?”

It is writing music for fans and opening themselves up to new knowledge and new experiences that remains the driving force for the band to continue performing and creating. “I think for me, music has been that thing that has opened my mind to realities that I wasn’t aware of before. We’re sheltered from realities we don’t know. The fact is, I don’t know it all. The moment somebody else tells me their experience, it allows me to reach new places in myself, new shared experiences,” Foreman explained. “I feel like there’s an opportunity for music to be that, this scaffolding for the soul to reach new places that you couldn’t get any other way.”

With their constant mission of social activism through their art in mind, Switchfoot has also held an annual surfing contest and concert, the Switchfoot Bro-Am, to help homeless youth of their hometown of San Diego, Calif. They launched the event 14 years ago, and it has grown every year since. “Surfing and rock ‘n’ roll kind of kept us out of trouble when we were kids,” Forman said of the event’s origins. “What if we could give back to our community through those mediums?”

Fourteen years later, the BroAm still takes place every year, partnered with other local organizations that give back to San Diego’s youth. “It is definitely our favorite day of the year. If you want to see the heartbeat of my hometown, to see people coming together for a cause that they believe in and helping kids out, it feels like this amazing celebration of my hometown,” said Foreman. “Every year it’s our chance to celebrate these kids and cheer them on and say, ‘Your story matters.’”

Check out Switchfoot’s full Paste session, when they performed “Live It Well,” “Float,” their album’s title track “Where the Light Shines Through” and “Dare You to Move.”