Switchfoot takes next step

Alicia Layton
Staff Writer
November 26, 2003

Jon Foreman's eyes embody the distinctive quality of Switchfoot. Through the booming amps and the stuffy clubs, the frontman uses them as a window to pierce into the audience, sending the band's message of hope.
For the past month and a half, Switchfoot has been touring with this message across the country on its tour supporting their fourth album, "The Beautiful Letdown." Jon Foreman explained this title comes from the fact that "everything in life that is beautiful has been tainted by imperfection, and everything painful in life has brought a greater understanding of truth."

Foreman's brother Tim, bass player for Switchfoot, said that from their second album on, they have been learning great responsibility with their music.

"There's great responsibility that comes with music," Tim said. "Out of that responsibility, we've gained an intentionality about things."

The band expressed its "intentionality" at its show on Oct. 31 at Trees, 2709 Elm St. in Dallas.

Plano junior Darren Smitherman said the show "felt so good" compared to other concerts he had been to. "Every single song is motivating, pushing you to think harder and live life more abundantly," he said.

Tim Foreman reacalls college as a time of questioning about everything in life, for expamle, "Why am I sitting around on this planet?"

Switchfoot has decided to respond to this questioning through "Socratic dialogue," Tim said, in which they answer questions with more questions.

"It's an important form of poetry, he said. "I'm the type of person who doesn't like answers to be spoon fed to me. I think people that listen to our music are often the same way. We're inspired by questions that make us think about life."

It is apparent that Jon and Tim Foreman, Chad Butler, drums, and Jerome Fontamillas, keyboards, care about their audience. During concerts, Jon makes his way to the edge of the stage and bends down to sing directly to individuals while holding their hand. Even a fence separating him from the audience in an Indianapolis show failed to stop him. He scaled the fence and balanced on the top of it to reach people, making security guards nervous. His balancing skill was possibly acquired from surfing while growing up in California.

The members of the band are also sure to make themselves available after shows to those who want to talk with them. It is here they find out exactly how their music impacts people. Tim said some of the most powerful stories he has heard are suicide related.

"There have been a lot of encounters with kids who heard 'Dare You to Move' right as they were about to kill themselves," he said. "I can't explain how intense that is for someone to tell you that your song gave them a new lease on life. It definitely tells us that our music is bigger than ourselves."

Their music is showing signs of being big. They have five songs on the gold-certified soundtrack, "A Walk to Remember," as well as more than 40 songs of theirs used on major television programs such as "Dawson's Creek" and MTV's "Tough Enough." Their song "Meant to Live" has been making its way up the modern rock track Billboard Chart for 15 weeks and currently owns the number 11 position.

Plano senior Wes Folks called "Meant to Live" the "anthem of our generation." The song's chorus cries, "We were meant to live for so much more. Have we lost ourselves?"

Tim talked about the irony of the song being promoted in pop culture.

"We have a single [entering into] the top 10 that is talking about the emptiness of pop culture," he said. "We're meant to live for more than TV screens and magazine pages. I think it ironic and exciting that they are the ones embracing that."

Ayo, assistant program and music director for KDGE-FM, 102.1 The Edge, said Switchfoot was something the station mulled over for quite a while because they were worried their heavy sound would misrepresent the radio station.

"Ultimately, what heard was a really great Edge song hidden under a layer of crunched guitar," he said. "What was hidden under that layer became more important to us than the [KEGL-FM, 97.1 The] Eagle-flavored coating on top of it. It has a beautiful melody and lyrics that have a decent amount of tangible depth to it."

In the KDGE-FM, 102.1 The Edge's "Cock Fight," the song beat every record that up against it five nights in a row in which point it's automatically retired, Ayo said.

Todd Cooper, guitar tech and stage manager for Switchfoot's past tour and close friend of Jon and Tim's since middle school, said he does not feel fame has gone to their heads at all.

"The entire band is made up of pretty grounded individuals," he said. "It seems that people who are affected by fame are the ones who look to others for their identity for their strength and self-esteem. The guys in Switchfoot don't really need anyone to tell them who they are."

Switchfoot, however, is using their status to promote something they believe in. The band has made itself an ambassador for Debt, AIDS and Trade for Africa (DATA), founded by Bono of U2 -- who Tim described as a hero of the band, after it attended a DATA summit meeting in Nashville last December. The band even had the chance to visit the White House to meet with some senators about the issue.

Jon Foreman explains at shows that 2,600 people die a day because of the epidemic in Africa and told the audience, "Everyday of your life can change the world."

Whether through DATA or their music, Switchfoot is wants to change the world. Cooper said he anticipated the band's future influence since he has known them.

"They were always some of the most driven, active people I've ever met, and still continue to be," he said. "They do everything to the extent it can be done ... I always knew they would do something big, I just wasn't sure in what capacity."