Fiction Family: Switchfoot's Jon Foreman and Nickel Creek's Sean Watkins make music

Wednesday 3rd June 2009

Tony Cummings reports on the unlikely musical marriage of two San Diego veterans now working together as FICTION FAMILY

Fiction Family
Fiction Family

Take two of America's most prolific and respected songwriters, Jon Foreman of San Diego rock band Switchfoot and Sean Watkins of new bluegrass ensemble Nickel Creek, and you have an unlikely musical marriage. Yet the duo, under the name Fiction Family, have delivered a masterful album featuring tales of murder, adventure, lost love and war. Jon Foreman told Christianity Today how the two singer/songwriters had met up: "Nickel Creek and Switchfoot were on the same bill at a street fest in San Diego. It was cool to say 'hi' since we were both from the same town. After that, we said maybe we should write a song sometime and traded email addresses. A couple weeks later, we saw each other at a local coffee shop. I had a melody and a thought, and I gave it to Sean. The next day he finished the song, and that was the first taste of the fun to come. After that, we started writing more, then after a couple of songs, we thought an EP would be kind of cool to have. We literally went from three to five songs making up a cool EP, to adding a few more and thinking we could make this a real record."

The musical marriage took a long time to reach fruition and it was to be more than four years before the 'Fiction Family' album was completed. Explained Foreman, "It was whenever we felt like it or had the time. There wasn't a moment when I was like, 'Oh man, I gotta do that song for Sean.' It was very much like true recess for school when you can go out and play. That's the best way to make music - there's no one with a timeline, deadline, or telling you 'that should sound like this because this is our marketing plan,' which kills music. When you're doing it with a friend for fun, it feels like the songs can be exactly what they're supposed to be - nothing more, nothing less." Watkins took up the story: "We weren't in a position to record in a real studio and spend money on the clock. We didn't really know what we were doing at all and that's why we had to do it at home. It became kind of a musical vacation to work on between this busy season of touring with our bands. There was a lot of corresponding, sending MP3s and ideas back and forth pretty consistently throughout the last few years."

'Fiction Family' contains some decidedly unusual sounds. Watkins told, "
The end of 'Please Don't Call It Love' is just me in my garage with my pump organ and electric guitar with a spring reverb and bass. And then the end of 'We Ride' is sort of a box that has filters and echoes - you just twist knobs and it makes it sound dismantled. All those sounds are from the recording, though, so nothing's synthesized. It's just taking sounds from the actual track and twisting them around."

On the track "Throw It Away" there's something that sounds like a sitar. Explained Sean, "It's actually just a crazy buzz that happened that made it sound like a sitar, but it's not."

Jon is very appreciative of the direction Sean took some of the material. He said, "When you're by yourself, there's not a sparring partner. Sean would take the songs to places I wouldn't. It's amazing to think how we both put on two hats - the producer hat and the artist hat and we both traded. It's allowed both people to be very artistic and free, but while keeping each other in check too." Added Watkins: "We know how to balance. Both of us have both of those sides, and we can switch. When one of us is being one way, the other one can balance it out."

Forman was asked how, given Switchfoot's popularity with both mainstream and Christian audiences, the material on 'Fiction Family' would translate to both? Said Foreman, "I don't think either of those words exist in the way many people think they do. I believe in a God that transcends soul, matter, time and space, so when I'm writing a song, I'm not thinking about the we/they. There is no we/they if we're all in a journey toward truth, though I suppose that can sound really new age-y. I'm a believer, but I think that the boxes that are commonly put on Christendom by the post-modern world can be really destructive to the way we produce art and produce love to those around us."

Watkins feels there is a future for Fiction Family. He said, "I would love to continue. Jon and I talked about more Fiction Family stuff; it's kind of open-ended when we have time. I also have this band called Works Progress Administration [including Toad The Wet Sprocket's Glen Phillips, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' Benmont Tench, Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins and members of Elvis Costello's band]. We just meet as friends in the studio with everybody having fun and just sort of experimenting with music. We have a record and are now trying to figure out what to do with it, but it will probably come out in late summer. So that's the next thing, but we'll definitely Fiction it up!" CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


Be the first to comment on this article

We welcome your opinions but libellous and abusive comments are not allowed.

We are committed to protecting your privacy. By clicking 'Send comment' you consent to Cross Rhythms storing and processing your personal data. For more information about how we care for your data please see our privacy policy.