How God, surfing and Bono inspired this San Diego band

Music that hits me the hardest touches me on a spiritual level," says Jon Foreman, frontman for the San Diego band Switchfoot. He should know: His alt-rock group spent seven years making big waves in the Christian-music community. But thanks to the success of Switchfoot's self-empowerment anthem "Meant to Live," they're starting to get what they always desired -- mainstream rock stardom.

Foreman, his bassist brother Tim and drummer Chad Butler were surfing fanatics when they formed the group in 1996 ("Switchfoot" is a surfing term). After only twenty shows, the Christian label re:think signed Switchfoot, giving them access to the same fan base that supported spiritual rockers such as Evanescence, MxPx and P.O.D. in their early.

But the band wasn't interested in proselytizing. "We're Christian by faith, not genre," says Tim. The band's goal was to combine its spiritual side with old-fashioned rock-star appeal -- much like their idols U2. "When I was a kid, my dad made me listen to 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For,' " says Jon. "He said, 'Son, this is what a song should sound like.' "

Columbia Records snapped up the group's fourth album, The Beautiful Letdown, and marketed it to a mainstream rock audience. Smart choice. Letdown blends the past ten years of modern-rock radio, ranging from quiet jam-band pop ("This Is Your Life") to a funky, hand-clapping singalong ("Gone") that could be the best song Third Eye Blind never wrote. In the grungy "Meant to Live," Jon demands, "We want more than this world has to offer," while the band lays down guitar licks straight outta Seattle.

"That song and this album are about the few things in life I can really trust," says Jon. "Everything eventually fails me, but when I look at the sunset or the stars, I'm reminded what it's like to be alive."

Switchfoot's mainstream success has had some unexpected benefits. Jon recently met up with U2's Bono to help out with an AIDS-in-Africa charity. "I handed him forty dollars," he says, laughing, "and told him, 'This is for sneaking into your show in London.' "

(September 24, 2003)