Faith guides Switchfoot

Jon Matsumoto
Special to the Mercury News
Published: Friday, March 19, 2004

These are heady times for the San Diego rock band Switchfoot, whose first album for Columbia Records has steadily gained momentum since its release a little more than a year ago.

The band has gone from relative anonymity outside San Diego to rising-star status. It has become an MTV staple. This disc, ``The Beautiful Letdown,'' has gone gold (500,000 copies sold in the United States.)

Bassist Tim Foreman sounds pumped up over the phone from Los Angeles as the quartet prepares for ``The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.''

``It's been very hectic at times,'' Foreman says, ``but the funny thing is, when I look back at what the band has accomplished, I don't remember playing in front of thousands of people at a stadium but rather those times when we've played in small, packed, sweaty rock clubs with fans singing along. That's just an amazing feeling.''

The members of Switchfoot -- vocalist Jon Foreman (Tim's brother and the group's songwriter), keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas and drummer Chad Butler -- don't appear to be the types who will lose their heads over a little fame and fortune. ``The Beautiful Letdown'' is packed with songs about searching for deeper meaning.

Tim Foreman believes that hope needs to be cast against pain in order to have any deep relevance. ``I haven't found anything within this life that won't eventually let me down,'' he says. ``Even the cell phone I'm talking with you on will break in the next couple of months. It's just the idea that true hope and meaning have to be beyond all of this.''

``We've always been very honest about what we believe in,'' Foreman says. ``At the same time, we've never pretended to have all the answers.''

Switchfoot also dislikes having its sound categorized. Its popular single ``Meant to Live'' is a hard rocker in the grunge-metal vein. Other tracks gravitate more toward pop-rock, and one contains some hip-hop elements. The group's broad influences include U2, Radiohead, Pennywise, Led Zeppelin (the members of Switchfoot used to perform in a Zeppelin tribute band) and singer-songwriter types such as Bob Dylan and James Taylor.

``It's certainly difficult for people to categorize this record, which I don't think is a bad thing,'' Foreman says. ``It's natural for people to listen to an album and then put it in a simplified genre. I do the same thing. If I listen to an album and I tell a friend about it, it's easier to say, `Oh, it's punk rock' or whatever. It's an honor that people can't listen to the album and describe us in one sentence.''

Like U2, Switchfoot sees itself as socially conscious but not political. There's a note from the band in the CD booklet for ``The Beautiful Letdown'' encouraging people to put words into action when it comes to issues such as AIDS and poverty.

``Our songs are more about the politics of the heart and the struggles that go on in there,'' Foreman says. ``That definitely involves looking out for the poorer nations and people in the world.''

The band is also proud that its songs have sometimes served as an understanding and hopeful voice to young people in emotional crisis.

Though reflective and spiritual, Switchfoot is also about sheer fun. The band members are avid surfers who met through the sport. The band also retains its deep affection for its hometown. A concert DVD called ``Switchfoot -- Live in San Diego'' will be released Tuesday.

``The San Diego scene is alive and well,'' Foreman says. ``It's always been amazing. It tends to be very left of center. It's not often that it gets heard outside of our local scene. Everyone seems to be rooting for each other. It's a lot different from Los Angeles in that respect. . . . In San Diego if one band succeeds, it's a win for the whole scene.''Switchfoot