Interview: Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman

By John Mey­er, The Den­ver Post

[media-cred­it name=“Courtesy pho­to” align=“aligncenter” width=“470”]Switchfoot promotion photo[/media-credit]

Switch­foot will per­form at the Boul­der The­ater on Oct. 7.

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.

John Mey­er
Sports writer
The Den­ver Post
101 W. Col­fax Ave., Suite 600
Den­ver, CO 80202

Office phone: 303–954-1616
Mobile phone: 303–915-5338
Twit­ter: jmey­er26

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