by Jeff Royer
The sandy-haired Jon Foreman is shaking his head in wonder. He just learned that his band, Switchfoot, has passed the million-and -a-half mark in album sales. He’s a rock star now, and there’s no going back.
The irony of the situation is not lost on Foreman, whose career-making single, “Meant to Live,” is a big, fat raspberry in the face of commercial success.
“It’s pretty much denouncing success in the way the world defines it,” chuckles Foreman, who serves as the band’s singer, guitarist and primary songwriter. “Our songs in general are disillusioned with the post-modern world and fighting for something more meaningful. I find it really ironic that those very songs are the songs that have brought us something that we never really wanted.”
That’s not to say that Foreman is unhappy with Switchfoot’s recent success. On the contrary, this is precisely what he and the rest of the San Diego outfit have been pursuing for the past eight years: the biggest forum possible in which to communicate Foreman’s large-scale ideas. There are songs about faith, about love, about searching for meaning; you can hear the earnestness all throughout “Meant to Live” and the band’s current Top 40 hit, “Dare You to Move,” in which Foreman croons, “Welcome to the fallout / welcome to resistance / the tension is here between who you are and who you could be.”
“I just look at my songs as by-products of a lifelong search for truth,” Foreman explains. “I feel like that’s something that everyone can relate to. I’m on a journey, and I’m just singing about where I’m at.
“I’m really glad that these songs are becoming famous,” he concedes, “but as for people knowing what I look like, that’s kind of … an interesting by-product.”
Videos, TV spots, live performances everywhere from TRL to the late-night curcuit: Whether Foreman likes it or not, the success of the band’s breakthrough album, The Beautiful Letdown, has resulted in an inconceivable amount of people knowing what he looks like. Switchfoot has become the it-band of the moment. Add to that hype the fact that the band delivers artistically, and you’ve got a super-power waiting to happen.
“It’s crazy. It’s a different world for me,” Foreman relates. “We’ve been at it for a while. It’s our fourth record. I feel like we’ve played every dive across the country. It’s just really great to be playing bigger rooms and having more people singing along.”
When Foreman says they’ve been at if for a while, he’s not kidding. In fact, he first started playing around with his bassist almost 26 years ago. In a sandbox.
“I’ve known Tim since he was born, because he’s my brother,” Foreman laughs. But he quickly assures that there are rarely any Oasis-style throwdowns in Switchfoot, and when there are, well, it’s usually constructive.
“With a family, you have the ability to slap somebody upside the head if somebody starts acting too big for their britches or something,” he chuckles. “There’s always gonna be someone who can talk some sense into you. And that’s good. I feel like that’s one of the big benefits of being in Switchfoot, is the camaraderie and the fact that we’re in this together.”
The band’s worst-kept secret is the fact that Switchfoot stems from the Christian music market. And I don’t mean that in a P.O.D. or Blindside kind of way. What I mean is, they’re walking up on-stage to collect Dove Awards every year alongside Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant.
But Switchfoot’s “saving grace” in the eyes of the sermon-paranoid public is the fact that they don’t sound Christian. They simply sound like a good, solid rock band whose lyrics reflect years of introspection, both spiritual and otherwise.
“I guess my attitude would be the same as Johnny Cash or U2 or Bob Dylan, where at some point the labels become ridiculous,” Foreman states. “My faith will never be a genre. I just call it rock and roll.”
“We’ve been very honest about our beliefs and our doubts and are just trying to speak honestly. These are very intimate, subjective songs. At the same time, I feel like everyone knows what it feels like to try and figure out why you’re here on planet Earth,” he says. “Fears, doubts, pain, love, hate, joy – these are things that all of us can relate to. For me, it’s never been about trying to find some song that the world can sing along. It’s just trying to sort out the thoughts in my own head at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
As “Dare You to Move” continues to hurtle up the charts (will it be even bigger than “Meant to Live?”), Switchfoot is already making plans for the next record. With 40 songs already in the bag, it’s just a matter of finding time between tours to select which tracks make the final cut.
“As a band, we always say that the next record is always the make-it-or-break-it,” Foreman says. “It doesn’t matter what you did on your last record, it matters what you’re gonna do on the next one. So even now I’m looking forward to recording a new record and redefining what Switchfoot is.
“I’m really excited about seeing what the future looks like,” he bursts. “I think it’s just a continuation of where we’re at right now. I’m just trying to figure out why we’re here on this planet and singing about it.”
He makes it sound so simple.