By John Meyer, The Denver Post
Switchfoot takes its name from a surfing term, but it could also describe their approach to spirituality in their music – one foot in this world, the other in the next. Their most recent album, Vice Verses (released Sept. 27) is one of their most openly spiritual efforts. Frontman Jon Foreman told a Red Rocks audience in April that Vice Verses would be their”best attempt at a worship record,” and it certainly is that. Denver Post reporter John Meyer interviewed Foreman before the band’s sold-out show Oct. 7 at the Boulder Theater.
John Meyer: There are a bunch of songs on Vice Verses that are prayers: Afterlife, Blinding Light, Thrive, Restless, Vice Verses, Where I Belong. What’s it like to write and perform songs like that, especially when you’re hoping to reach a mainstream audience?
Jon Foreman: I never subdivide humans into categories of Christian or Muslim or atheist or agnostic. I feel like, even early on, playing all sorts of places – whether it was coffee shops or bars or colleges or churches, whatever we could – there’s hurting people everywhere that are trying to look for meaning and purpose and beauty, finding it in relationships or a sports team or a song or in religion.
For me, I’ve always been attracted to people who are telling the truth, so that’s one thing we’ve tried to do as a band — just tell the truth. From day one, we’ve never been one to shy away from what we believe. We’ve always been very straightforward and honest about it.
We’ve also not wanted to fly anyone else’s flag for them. I get a little bit leery of Christ when it becomes a moniker to sell albums, but at the same time I’m always honored to be affiliated with the name of Christ. That’s something that, from day one, we’ve been honored to have people say that about us. Maybe it’s not something that we can say for ourselves, ‘Oh, yeah, we are Christ-like.’ That seems like something somebody else has got to compliment you with.
JM: But in that context, I’m fascinated by your crossover appeal. In February you were here to play at a mainstream event, the Big Air ski competition in downtown Denver. Then you came back in April for The Calling at Red Rocks, a full-on religious gathering. Now you’ve sold out the Boulder Theater, and I guarantee there aren’t a lot of Bibles on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder on most Friday nights. I know you’ve said “For us it’s a faith, not a genre,” but how do you pull it off – keeping your faith message in your music and still making music that is exciting for people who just want to be entertained?
JF: Telling the truth is attractive. This is where we’re coming from. We’re not selling anything, but we’re also not hiding anything. I think that’s my best understanding of why people want to hear us.
The other thing is, we’ve never segregated anything in our minds. When I’m writing songs, I’m an unbeliever in many cases. I’m trying to convert myself. These are songs of hope, which means they’re looking, they’re searching, they’re yearning. I feel like the moment you arrive at your hope, you can no longer call it hope. You can call it maybe a dream come true, or an actual event that transpired, a hope that became reality. But while it’s still called hope, it’s this ethereal thing you’re looking for. And in many cases, that the way our songs are. They’re pushing for a world that doesn’t exist yet.
JM: Right. And there’s a difference between joy and happiness, the eternal joy versus, “Happiness is a Yuppie Word.” That seems to be a theme in your music, too, joy versus the illusion of happiness.
JF: And music can be a vehicle to unpack these things. I’ve been recently writing prose for the Huffington Post, where I kind of spit out everything that’s on my mind relating to a certain event or whatever. You can cover a lot of ground with that, but I still believe that song can actual cover more ground than logic. In many ways, poetry comes before prose. Even human history used to be recorded in song, and only recently has been recorded in books. I feel like the human story might best be understood in song, rather than in the ones and zeros of Wikipedia online.
JM: I recall on an early U2 DVD, on the making of “The Unforgettable Fire,” The Edge talks about how sometimes writing songs is a matter of getting out of the way in the writing process and letting it happen. Clearly it’s an ambiguous way of saying God is in the room, God is present in the process. Do you agree? Do you feel that when you write?
JF: I’ve heard that said, from almost every form of faith, that to write songs you have to be some form of believer. Of course, even an agnostic is a believer of sorts. There’s doubt and belief present everywhere. To believe one thing is to doubt something else. For me, when I’m writing a song, I’m very aware that my favorite elements are the transcendent elements where I can’t see my fingerprints on the song. I can’t hear me in the song. Those are the times I feel like the song almost wrote itself.
I’ve always equated it to archeology. You go out with a shovel, you’ve got a good idea where you want to start digging, but ultimately your job is to dig, and the hope is that you discover this lost city that you really had nothing to do with. You uncover a civilization that existed for thousands of years before you, and all you did was dust it off and present it to the world.
JM: Another question about U2. You’ll see Bono on DVDs in a concert and he’ll say, “the Spirit is in the house.” Do you feel that, particularly when you can tell you’re reaching an audience on a spiritual level? Do you feel the spirit in the house?
JF: I do. I might use other language, but I definitely feel moved by music in innumerable ways. For me, music is absolutely a communal experience, where it’s meant to be shared, and at times it feels like this incredible, overwhelming unity that comes out of it.
For more of Meyer’s interview with Foreman, see Denver Post Reverb.
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