Hope That Has Legs: Switchfoot's Tim Foreman on New Album
While some bands’ main purpose is to sell a slew of records, others place more importance on making a difference in the lives of listeners (and it wouldn’t hurt to produce a compelling, envelope-pushing sound while they’re at it). In the case of Switchfoot, socially conscious songwriting peppered with spiritual euphemisms has put the San Diego-based players’ albums amongst the most meaningful of our time, and it just so happens that people buy it.
“We’ve always been big believers in music as being a catalyst for change, and a lot of our songs have that heartbeat,” notes bassist Tim Foreman of the trend that continues with the brand-new Vice Verses (Credential Recordings/lowercase people/Atlantic). “Really early on, we committed to finishing a tour with something tangible beyond just words and emotion, whether that’s building a house with Habitat For Humanity, or working with homeless kids in San Diego through [our outreach celebration] Bro-Am. Next year will be our eighth year of that day-long event with surfing and music on the beach where it gives us a chance to lift up homeless kids who haven’t necessarily chosen a life on the streets, but were forced into it as a result of various challenges. We want to put our singing into action and encourage people coming to the shows to roll up their sleeves and get involved. When someone actually gets physically involved, like when they’re actually swinging a hammer building a house, there’s a pretty powerful change that takes place.”
The dozen tracks on Vice Verses certainly make such sentiments evident, but the fivesome is also willing to walk the walk. Not only do the guys roll up their literal sleeves for all of the aforementioned efforts, but they’re willing to expose every crevice of their souls through their music, from life’s joy and anguish to even their most intimate vulnerabilities, in hopes of taking listeners on a journey through the human psyche.
“The title of the record probably means something different to all of us, but for me, it’s a concept that a lot of the more beautiful things in life are birthed through struggle,” relates Foreman. “This album is collection of verses birthed through difficult experiences, but we’re a band that likes to look beyond the pain towards the hope that exists. The record doesn’t focus on the pain, but we’re not afraid to take an honest look at how we arrived at our hope. If we don’t acknowledge the pain, we’re left with a flimsy hope that doesn’t have legs. In this album, I’ve been thinking a lot about something my dad taught me as a kid. He said ‘never trust a man without a limp,’ and now that we’ve been together for a long time and are on our eighth record, we’ve hit a few bumps along the way where maybe we have that limp now. As a result, we’re able to speak more accurately about the hope exists in spite of pain.”
As for some of the struggles in the Switchfoot camp, they include a grueling tour schedule that’s dictated a delicate balancing act with family life, and a do-it-yourself work ethic that includes recording material in their own studio and operating the indie record label, lowercase people – while still partnering with both Christian label Credential Recordings and the mainstream Atlantic Records – for wider distribution. But even with the toil of life on the road, plus business affairs challenges, Switchfoot sounds refreshed, if not downright revitalized, throughout the new collection.
“I think it’s one of our brighter records thematically and even musically,” continues Foreman. “There’s a bittersweet aspect to songs like ‘Blinding Light’ and ‘Souvenirs,’ but I still hear them as hopeful songs. For me this record deals heavily with a longing for home, both looking at home in this life and looking for home beyond this life. Songs like ‘Afterlife’ and ‘Where I Belong’ are bookends of the record that [respectively] talk about not waiting until the next life to be who you’re supposed to be and expressing a hopeful longing for seeing the Creator’s face at the end of this life.”
Not only do those messages come across loud and clear, but the musical direction is incredibly focused and direct, possibly stemming from a more streamlined session when compared to 2009’s Hello Hurricane marathon.
“With every record, there are a lot of songs written that are left on the cutting table,” reveals Foreman. “For Hello Hurricane, we recorded full versions of 80 songs, but with Vice Verses, we were a lot more focused really going in betting on our strongest horses. We had 14 songs picked and 12 came out of that process, which allowed us to make a strong musical statement, as opposed to spreading ourselves too thin. I would say it’s probably our most soulful record lyrically as well as musically, landing somewhere in between U2’s Achtung Baby, Beck’s Odelay and the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication.”
Given that diverse influence pool, coupled with provocative themes throughout the project, Switchfoot’s audience is sure to expand even further regardless of faith. Just for the record, the group’s sold more than four and a half million albums cumulatively, while selling out major tours of its own and also splitting time between Christian and mainstream festivals (from Cornerstone to Lollapalooza and pretty much everything in between).
“I think we’re fortunate to have a really diverse crowd,” muses Foreman. “Every time we look out, we see people in their late 20s and early 30s kind of like us, but also really young kids, teens and older people as well. I’d say our sweet spot has always been the college age because I think that’s the time in life when you begin to ask the big questions, which is something we’ve always done in our music. Hopefully they can use the songs to explore the things we’ve learned along the way, and more often than not, the things we don’t understand. That’s the age when you’re asking those all important questions like ‘why I am here?’ and ‘what’s it all about?’”
Perhaps the redemptive chorus from Vice Verses’ title track offers the best response: I know that there’s a meaning to it all / A little resurrection every time I fall.
Copyright 2011, watchgmctv.com. For permission to repost or reprint, click here.
About the Writer
Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, IllinoisEntertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, MTV.com and Vibe.com. He’s also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel’s very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).
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