The beach bumming boys of San Diego’s Switchfoot were so cold during a recent tour date in Denver that singer/guitarist Jon Foreman had to splurge on a $75 winter coat. But given the fact that the band’s latest album, The Beautiful Letdown, recently sold over a million copies, Foreman could’ve bought a polar bear to keep him warm.
Based on our chat with the Switchfoot songwriter, it seems that becoming famous in the pop music world hasn’t affected Foreman or his bandmates Tim Foreman (Jon’s brother), Jerome Fontamillas and Chad Butler. For example, Foreman told us: “More than anything, I’d like to be home with an acoustic guitar, a glass of wine and my wife. [That] sounds like heaven to me.” Maybe Switchfoot has remained so grounded because the band has been around for almost 10 years now, with three indie releases already in the bag.
But Foreman and the guys have tasted mainstream success. Over 40 Switchfoot songs have been featured on shows like Dawson’s Creek and Felicity (even though Foreman doesn’t watch TV). Switchfoot has also opened for bands like Foo Fighters and Wilco, two groups that not only influence Foreman, but also happen to dig Switchfoot’s music.
With the hit ditty Meant To Live playing nonstop on pop radio, a lot of press has been given to the song’s content, since the tune is about how our society is lacking some kind of real meaning. Even Foreman confessed that some days he looks back at the “meaningless dribble” of his life and thinks, “I’ve wasted my time.” Hopefully he didn’t feel that way after our interview.
PULSE WEEKLY: When you, Tim and Chad first started Switchfoot, did you ever imagine that you would end up platinum-selling artists?
JON FOREMAN: It is amazing and we’re really thankful, but we had no intentions of selling this many records. We grew up in a scene where our heroes were the indie bands in San Diego who sold 30,000 records. So to sell a million records, it’s a strange twist. The way I see it, we believed in these songs and we really wanted to see them get out there. I guess the goal was to make sure that the songs got famous.
PW: Well, it worked. Has fame changed your close relationships in any way?
JF: No, no, no. For example, the guy who changes the strings on our guitars and helps us out onstage, he’s my best friend from junior high. We’re one big family out here on the road. Maybe fame changes relationships with people outside of that circle – they might laugh a little harder at your jokes or something like that – but within the group, people are still going to make fun of you if you say something stupid. [laughs]
PW: Now that you’re touring all the time, how do you keep in touch with your love for surfing?
JF: It becomes increasingly harder to surf on the road, but we go out whenever we can. Actually, [during] our first tour, we ended up spending a considerable amount of time in London. We heard there was a good swell in France, and we counted our pennies and realized that if we were going to get to France, we were going to have to save a lot more money. So we checked out of the hotel and slept on the streets that night and made it down to France the next day.
PW: Wow. Was it worth it?
JF: Definitely. Stories like that, that’s part of what being a band is. I’m really thankful that we weren’t successful on our first three records, and that we had the chance to define who we are and understand the world a little better.
PW: I can see that mentality in the lyrics on the new record. Like, for instance, in the song Gone, you say, ‘Life is more than fame.’
JF: The stage, in general, is a very bloated thing, and it can tend to become a little bit distorted. If you don’t have both feet on the ground, it’s easy to do a lot of stupid, crazy things. In our culture, somebody who’s up onstage is more significant than someone in the crowd, which is ridiculous. In my opinion, the things that mean the most are what you do offstage, the way you treat people.
PW: What’s one thing that you do to stay grounded?
JF: One thing we try to do at all our shows [is] break down the barrier between the stage and the crowd. That means after the show you don’t become reclusive, you hang out with people and you make friends, talking about music and life. That’s something that’s been really hard to do lately because of the fame thing. Instead of wanting a conversation, people want an autograph.
PW: How do you feel about the way TV shows use Switchfoot songs?
of all, I take it as a compliment that someone from a different art
form would find our song appropriate. Sometimes it’s a little
unfortunate if it conflicts with why I wrote it; for example, if the
song is about the meaning of life and it ends up in a hot tub scene.
But at the same time we don’t have any control over those things,
so I try not to worry about it. We must have had someone in Hollywood
who really loved our music because for a while there we had a lot of
different things on different TV shows. I think maybe they got fired
recently because we haven’t had anything for a long time. [laughs]