Writing a single album can be a daunting task, but for Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman, it wasn’t enough of a challenge. The Wonderlands is a series of four EPs, each themed around different times of the day. Sunlight, Shadows, Darkness, and Dawn make up the The Wonderlands. It’s a deeply personal series of albums, creating a sort-of confessional encompassing the contrast between light and dark, and the way that tension creates a sense of wonder and beauty.
October 23, Foreman will play a series of 25 concerts in 24 hours that focus heavily on these new works. Paste checked in with him about the albums so far, the influences behind the project, and his plans for these upcoming shows.
The Wonderlands is a huge project, working with 24 producers throughout the process. How did you go about finding producers and selecting who you wanted to work with on these albums?
Jon Foreman: So a lot of these guys are friends of mine, and I felt like they would have something to offer. Andrew Wessen from Grouplove, Charlie Peacock, Jeff Coffin from Dave Matthews Band, Darren King from Mutemath, Ryan O’Neal from Sleeping at Last. I pulled from people I felt like were the people who could get me to the places I wanted to go. For one of the songs I sent [Darren] a link to a YouTube video of me, performing the song live on a Casio keyboard at an after-show somewhere, and said, “Hey, here’s the song, can you produce it? You don’t have to keep any of what you’ve heard but this is the bare bones of it.” So the challenge was taking the idiosyncrasies of all the different tracks they were giving me and trying to keep the unique element of that song, while keeping it a cohesive body of work as a project.
Was it challenging to work with so many producers?
Foreman:I was never in the room with them while they were producing the tracks, because the whole time this project was being made I was on tour. It was an entirely musical conversation where I would send notes back on what my thoughts were and they would send notes back to me. The biggest portion of our conversation was speaking with music back and forth. So that was the biggest way I was challenged, was by the nature of the project, using notes rather than words to communicate.
You’ve said that the four albums correspond to different moods throughout the day. Do you have a favorite time of the day, one that you were looking forward to exploring?
Foreman:My favorite times of day are sunrise and sunset, so Darkness and Dawn. That moment where, I think photographers call them the “golden hours,” those are the times for me where the whole world takes on a different look, and the light and darkness are held in tension. For me that’s what this project is about, is that tension. For that one moment—maybe half an hour, maybe five minutes—I feel like the darkness and the light are shaking hands, and there’s a balance.
Would you say your faith played a significant role in the writing of these albums?
Foreman: Well, my belief is that faith plays a role in everything we say and do—the way I treat the cash register clerk, the way I drive. If we say faith doesn’t have anything to do with any portion of our lives, I think we’re just lying to ourselves. The way I see it is agnostic, Jewish, atheist, Christian—the way we treat each other, that’s our religion. So in these songs there’s a lot of outspoken dialogue about belief and doubt, and the way those two intersect. I love the idea, with this project, of using light and darkness as a metaphor for tension. Not just of light and dark, but of life and death, and fear and love, and faith and doubt, and so a lot of these songs deal with those things.
Is there a reason you chose to pursue this as a solo venture?
Foreman:A lot of this stuff feels really confessional in nature, and it’s a whole lot easier to confess where you’re the only one in the room, so this particular project felt like it needed to be one voice singing it. It’s pretty personal stuff, so it feels like it should be mine.
Speaking of personal stuff, the song “Caroline” off of Sunlight stuck out to me, as you repeat “I wonder out loud / where your heart is now / Caroline.” It’s a very personal song about a girl who lost her way. Is there a Caroline out there that you’re still wondering about?
Foreman: Yeah, absolutely. Her name might not be Caroline, but it’s a true story.
What was it like writing that song? Was it hard to go back over those feelings again and drudge up those memories?
Foreman: You know, all these songs are true stories, and I think better out than in. I love using music as a way to mine various parts of myself that I can’t get to any other way. Whether it’s my own song or someone else, I think music has that power to kinda get underneath the skin and get to the heart of the matter.
The Wonderlands project concludes with 25 concerts in 24 hours. What inspired you to put on so many performances in such a short time?
Foreman: It feels like it’s that season of my life where I’m trying to fit too many things in, so this feels like the grand laughable opus of that season of my life, trying to cram 25 things into 24 hours. It’s gonna be a ridiculous affair, you know. I want it to be fun, and grandiose and laughable all at the same time. We’re gonna be playing a wedding, with a mariachi band at a Mexican restaurant, at an outdoor amphitheater that has a pipe organ, at local clubs that I grew up playing, at the church down the street. I kinda wanna just tell a story with one day, and it was inspired by the after-shows. A lot of times, after Switchfoot was done playing, I would go out in the back parking lot or coffee shop or the bar down the street and play a few more songs. For me this is like taking that to the logical extension, and playing 25 after-shows all in a day.
What is it like, planning the logistics of 25 concerts in a row?
Foreman: Oh man, we’re still in the thick of that. (laughs) I’ll tell you when it’s over. It’s one of those things where one day, you think it’s the best idea you’ve ever had, and then the next day or maybe even an hour later, you think, “This is the dumbest thing we’ve ever thought of.” So it’s gonna be somewhere in the between, hopefully both.
Do you have any grand finale planned for once you’ve finished all 25 concerts?
Foreman: Yeah, maybe jump out and go surfing. Seems like a good way to finish.
What’s next for you after The Wonderlands?
Foreman: We’re currently tracking the next Switchfoot record, hoping that will be out next year, and I’m really excited about it. We got together a few months back, just kinda dreaming what the next season of life looks like for us. Every record, we break up the band and start from scratch because we never wanna be doing what we do for a paycheck. So we always ask ourselves, “Do we still have something to say, is this our passion, is this what we feel like we’re supposed to be doing for the next three to five years of our lives,” and the overwhelming answer was, “Man, we’ve still got so much that’s still left on the table and we gotta go for it.” So I’m thrilled that we’re making another record and that we’re here in the studio.
Any plans for more documentary work, like Fading West?
Foreman: You know, I love the idea, but maybe not for a little while. Documentaries are a lot of work. You can quote me on that. (laughs)
You collaborated with 24 producers for The Wonderlands, but if you could pick any artist to collaborate with on one of your solo albums, who would it be and why?
Foreman: Oh man, that’s a good one. I think I’d love to work with Bob Dylan on a track. I don’t know that it’d be a good move artistically, but there’d be a whole lot of stories out of that.