INTERVIEW: Switchfoot ignore critics, continue to rock

By Stacy Kess


(U-WIRE) SAN DIEGO -- Youth of America, your new anthem is here.

But be forewarned, it isn't angst-ridden and dark or even the least bit angry like youth anthems of yore; instead, it's upbeat and positive, about beauty and pain, packaged in pure rock and roll form. And, it's readily available to you on any modern or alternative rock station in the United States.

Please rise for your new anthem, "Meant to live," by San Diego band Switchfoot.

"We just call it rock and roll," said frontman Jon Foreman. "We wanted people to know we are a rock band first and foremost."

Together with brother Tim on bass and drummer Chad Butler, Foreman has done exactly that. And with the addition of guitarist and keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas two years ago, the band was able to produce a critically acclaimed album, 2003's "Beautiful Letdown" on Columbia Records. Add to that "Meant to live," the first single, climbing into the top 20 on modern rock charts and topping playlists at radio stations across the county. Not to mention a tour schedule that makes presidential campaign trails look like cake and numerous music awards -- including a San Diego Music Award. After write-ups in Rolling Stone, it's certain the band has achieved mainstream success after three previous albums.

"That's not something we ever really wanted as a band," Foreman said. "Success for us as a band would be defined as having the time to do something we have a passion about. Success would be defined by the music we play."

Foreman said if success is heavy radio play, then that is what Switchfoot is. But as for mainstream, he'll take it or leave it.

"[The songs] are like a journal of sorts. When you write them at 3 o'clock in the morning trying to figure out the meaning of life the last thing on your mind is success."

And while critics and writers attempt to fit this new mainstream success into a genre more specific than rock and roll -- Foreman says the band is what it is.

"Writers want to put a neat and clean handle on you and want to box you up and put a label on you for the masses," he said. "We try and let the music speak for itself."

Success hasn't changed the band's tour that much either. Rather than hit the arenas and amphitheatres on its 2003 tour, Switchfoot is playing 5,000-person shows at venues like the Metro in Chicago, the Roxy in Los Angeles and St. Andrews in Detroit.

"That's what this tour was about -- playing small shows," Foreman said. "It's a sweaty rock club and everyone is singing along. That's the vibe of this tour."

He said while the band likes the intimacy of the venues, the shows are often sold out, leaving fans outside with no ticket. To remedy the problem, he's taken an acoustic guitar outside to the waiting, ticketless fans and played a short set -- just for them.

What truly defines Switchfoot is intelligent lyrics, strong hooks, powerful guitar riffs and beautiful bass lines. And surfing.

The San Diego natives Foreman, his brother Tim and Butler, avid surfers and skateboarders, named their band after a term used in their sports.

But in the end, it all comes back to the music.

"These are very honest songs about where we are coming from," Foreman said.

"Beautiful Letdown" was produced at home in San Diego, some in Foreman's bedroom and the others in one take in the studio. He said that gave the album an energy as close to live performance as can be achieved on CD.

"There's an honesty you can have in your bedroom that you can't have at $1,000 a day in a studio," Foreman said. "We had really practiced these songs and knew them inside and out and when we got to the studio we knew what we wanted to accomplish."