Switchfoot: San Diego surfers creating a buzz

Monday 1st December 1997

Steve Perry talks to SWITCHFOOT

How does a trio of self confessed San Diego surf bums end up with a record deal with Charlie Peacock's re:think Records? Switchfoot's Tim Foreman explains how. "You hear all these stories about this band that recorded a cheesy little demo, and they ended up with a record deal. That's what happened to us! We recorded the demo in a bedroom; it's real painful to listen to because the cymbals were so loud," he laughs.
"A friend of ours who worked with Chordant Distribution had a copy." chimes in Jon, "and (it somehow got) to Charlie Peacock. We didn't know that, and one day we got a message on our answering machine from Charlie. We were going, 'No Way!' Everything happened really fast," he continues. "He called us in November, then we recorded the album during Christmas break."

When I got to meet the band at Greenbelt I realised that this was no mediocre American group wheeled in to fill out the spaces in the fringe venue. They played a blistering Mainstage set. The first thing media people always do when they come across a new band is try to pigeon hole their music and I am no exception to this rule. Yet the thing that made Switchfoot's performance so intriguing was that I couldn't pick a label to describe it. Certainly the classic rock trio is there with Jon Foreman on guitars and lead vocals, Tim Foreman on bass and vocals and Chad Butler on drums. Add in a few dashes of jazz, a bit of blues with an alternative feel and you should get the picture.
Perhaps the best comparison to make is with another rock trio, PFR, who interestingly enough were also produced by Jimmy Lee Sloas. Certainly there were many disappointed faces here in UCB when PFR sadly split up and Switchfoot perhaps come closest to filling the space they left.

Although Tim and Jon had been playing together for some time in a variety of bands Switchfoot was only really formed early in 1996 when Chad Butler joined to complete the trio. So what is it like to work with the legendary Charlie Peacock as a boss? Jon explained how Charlie took the music to a new level without taking over. "I don't see him as a boss...I guess he is...but I see him so much as a friend and mentor rather than a slave driver!"

If you hadn't already worked it out, Tim and Jon are brothers but this family tie doesn't seem to be causing too many problems with the working relationships in the band. The two brothers get along superbly, a fact that Tim attributes to the way they grew up. As preacher's kids, the Foreman brothers spent a fair amount of time moving around the US with their parents and they feel their relationship was strengthened because other friends were repeatedly left behind. In fact talking to the band you might even be forgiven for thinking that Chad was the third brother such is the commitment that the band members have to each other. Jon summed it up like this, "It's almost like being married, you spend almost all your time with these guys, travelling, playing, relaxing, there's so many decisions! It's like you've said 'I do!'"

The major question that I've not asked that must be burning on everyone's lips is "What on earth does Switchfoot mean, anyway?" Well, the clue is in the fact that the band are all avid surfers, and the name is in fact a surfing term which describes how a surfer turns around (switching feet) so he/she is facing in the opposite direction. You may have guessed by my description of the band's music that this change of direction often happens in terms of their musical style, but more than that Tim, Jon and Chard also see a spiritual dimension demonstrating that the band have taken a different perspective in their songs from the world at large.

Believe it or not, these guys grew up with the Jesus Music of the early '70s. When they were young kids, their parents toured with such bands as Parable, Lovesong and Blessed Hope. Chad tells his interesting perspective on his earliest musical influence: "My mom used to sit in front of the speakers at Keith Green concerts when she was pregnant with me and play drums on her stomach. I guess that's why I ended up a drummer!"

One of the outstanding songs on 'The Legend Of Chin' is "Life And Love And Why". Comments Tim about it, "In a sense it is a prayer, because it is a very heartfelt lyric." Jonathan adds, "The lyric says, 'Ask me for what am I living/Or what gives me strength/That I'm willing to die for.' A lot of people in this day and age are searching for something to base their lives on. Something to live for. Something to hope for. As Christians we have something to hope for. Christ gives us something to die for. We've got something that gives us strength. The simplicity of that is an awesome thing. The bottom line is, we have what the world is looking for."

The song also seems to be about how people can blind themselves to those simple answers. Continues Jon, "A lot of times, we don't really examine life, or think about things too deeply. It's easier to go through the motions day by day: get up, eat, work, sleep. When you really start thinking about life, why you're living it, and what's going on, that's a step in the right direction. It's good to ask those questions. It's getting harder to do that, though. The world's getting faster. There are so many distractions. There's a billboard everywhere you look. There's always something to be done, something to watch, or something to hear. To actually stop and think is a difficult thing to do; it requires effort." 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.

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