Switchfoot steps toward stardom
By Steve Morse, Globe Staff, 1/9/2004

Rock 'n' roll frontmen can be a notoriously self-centered, me-first breed, so it's a welcome change to talk to Switchfoot singer Jon Foreman. His band is soaring with the modern-rock hit "Meant to Live," one of the more thought-provoking tunes on the radio.

In it, Foreman asks the disturbing question: "We were meant to live for so much more -- have we lost ourselves?" That's a long way from just wanting to party and pick up chicks. Call it a message against materialism.

"It means that yes, I do need money to eat, but I need more than just a new cellphone or a new car," says Foreman, whose band has become bona fide stars on MTV.

"We've never defined ourselves by how many records we sold," says Foreman. "It's doing our job passionately that concerns us the most."

The passion is evident on "Meant to Live," a grinding tune with distortion-laced guitar that flies out of your speakers. Some observers have called them a rip-off of Creed. There is a resemblance in that particular song, but the rest of Switchfoot's album, "The Beautiful Letdown," is a more expansive work that incorporates not only guitar rock but a wide body of music from synth-pop to yearning, Sting-like ambience. Many of the arrangements are quite intricate.

"I really appreciate records like the Beatles' `Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,' where you have a French horn on one song and a full orchestra on the next and everything is produced for the song. Many bands today, however, want songs that just sound the same, as if they were produced in the same box. But I feel the song is king and every track should be different," says Foreman, 27.

Switchfoot, which formed eight years ago at the University of California at San Diego and is named for a surfing term, is in the vein of other Christian-tinged acts from Lighthouse to U2. They do not preach on the album, however, preferring to state simple spiritual opinions and ask probing questions without lecturing, which is probably why the band has become so popular among mainstream listeners.

In "This is Your Life," Foreman sings, "Today is all you've got now/ Yesterday is dead and over/ This is your life, are you who you want to be?" In "Gone," he affirms the band's anti-materialism with the line, "Like Al Pacino's cash, nothing lasts in this life."

The hit "Meant to Live" was a reaction against T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" and Eliot's line, "We are the hollow men . . . We are the stuffed ones." Foreman wrote the song when he woke up one morning in his apartment on the beach in San Diego.

"Even though I wrote it in the third person, it's really about me," he confesses.