Switchfoot Sorts Out the Storm

By Andy_Argyrakis
Posted: Mon, 11/23/2009 - 16:55

album promo image for Switchfoot Sorts Out the Storm

Check out videos fromGMC'sSwitchfoot: Revealed.

By Andy Argyrakis, senior music editor, GospelMusicChannel.com

If there's any rock act that needs no introduction, it's crossover sensations Switchfoot, who continue to turn in smash albums that are just as musically intricate as they are topically provocative. Though the band's been relatively prolific throughout its decade-and-a-half career thus far, Hello Hurricane comes after a three-year absence from the studio, a painstaking delay for fans, and a creative challenge for the band, stretching members further than they've ever been stretched before.

Labeldrama
Much of the band's mainstream fame thus far can be attributed to its time on Columbia Records, the company that released the groundbreaking The Beautiful Letdown in 2003, followed by 2005's Nothing Is Sound and the following year's Oh! Gravity. Along the way, the gang amassed several unshakable singles (such as "Meant to Live" and "Dare You to Move"), multi-platinum-sale status and household recognition through countless soundtrack slots and late night talk show appearances. But as prominent as the players became during that era, they started to feel like the walls were closing in on their creativity – and spirituality.

"You start out as a band hoping to finish college, and after you drop out, you realize, 'man, these songs mean a lot to me and a lot of others out there,' and you think maybe you should do it for a living," frontman Jon Foreman tells GospelMusicChannel.com as he begins to tell the story of the group's meteoric rise and subsequent season of strife. "Then you get signed to Columbia, sell a couple million records, and that's when you figure out the twists and turns that kind of happen behind the scenes. The past two records were really difficult because so much of our music is communal, but pretty soon, when it feels like the community isn't tied into the reasons you're playing the songs [and it becomes about the record label], that somehow robs the music of its power. So we broke free from everything – our label and management – and started again on our own, ultimately coming back to the reasons we love music in the
first place."

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Independence breeds ingenuity
The rebuilding process led the band to start its very own label, lowercase people records, complete with a recording studio where they wrote more than 80 songs, which would eventually be whittled down to the dozen found on Hello Hurricane. Having no one but themselves to please and as much time as they needed in the studio without fear of running over budget, the band got back to the basics of songwriting, which took them in several surprising directions.

"It was an incredible opportunity for us and it was really a dream to have complete autonomy," Foreman continues. "We wanted to push boundaries of who we were and discover different sides of our sound. Out of those 80 songs, a lot were very technology-driven, some were really out there and others had a dance vibe. But then we came back to idea that we – the heartbeat of this band – feels a little more transcendent than going with current trends, you know? So that was our model for making this record. If it doesn't move you as far as your heart is concerned, then maybe it's time to play a different song."

The dozen that actually made the disc fully embody Switchfoot's anthemic appeal, while also pushing the boundaries well beyond its previous projects. Though Hello Hurricane possesses several shades of The Beautiful Letdown's stadium-shaking prowess, there's also a mixture of down-and-dirty classic rock, coupled with soul-baring acoustic introspection. The similarities to that landmark recording are particularly striking beyond just the material's larger-than-life tone, but also the circumstances under which it was recorded.

"There are certainly some parallels to The Beautiful Letdown, starting with the fact that we recorded it as an independent band and then Columbia came to us and wanted to release it," explains guitarist/part-time piano player Jerome Fontamillas. "With Hello Hurricane, Atlantic came in [on the mainstream side] after we recorded it, so there was this excitement knowing we were going to release it to a bigger audience, which is the same kind of feeling we had right before Letdown."

Moving message for all fans
Despite its presence in dual marketplaces, Switchfoot insists Hello Hurricane was written from the purest possible place of personal and spiritual vulnerability that fans in either scene can relate to. After all, everyone goes through trying times regardless of faith background, and in light of the current economy and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina (which members continue to assist through Habitat for Humanity), it's an especially timely message.

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"We wanted to acknowledge the storms of life and the idea that there are things that frighten us and tear us down," unveils Foreman. "Some of these things are established and we depend on them, but sometimes they destroy our lives. We have no control over whether or not they are going to happen, but we do have control over our response to those storms…There are a few stories from builds we did around New Orleans and Baton Rouge that tie into the connotation, but there's also a personal element to the title given all we've been through as a band."

Adds Fontamillas: "I feel like everyone can relate [to the title] because we all encounter destruction and devastation on some level, but in the end, that can't silence love. Everyone can relate to standing in the face of a hurricane. We want this to be heard by as many people as possible. EMI [on the Christian side, who distributes lowercase people records] has been supporting us since day one and Atlantic is an exciting, new frontier."

An action filled-future
The most immediate means of awareness for the album comes during a marathon tour kicking off this winter, which will find the band performing Hello Hurricane in its entirety during the first set, followed by its greatest hits during the second half. It's an incredibly bold statement, especially considering the brand-new nature of the material, but one fans have thus far accepted with open arms, despite the guys' initial trepidation.

"It's a challenge to play the new material from front to back, but it sounds awesome," promises Fontamillas. Foreman continues: "It's going to be amazing and we're so excited about this tour. In fact, it's the most excited we've been in a long time."

And for those wondering what will come of the leftover songs from the Hello Hurricane sessions, the group is gearing up for a second new album of material called Vice Verses for sometime in 2010. "That's the tentative title for the next album, which will come so soon because we recorded so many songs," Fontamillas confirms. "It will give some of the other songs that we love as well but didn't make it another chance. There are some experimental songs, but we haven't really compiled it yet other than the title track."

Last but not least, the band continues to promote its annual Switchfoot Bro-Am benefit. In addition to assisting local chapters of StandUp for Kids in San Diego, it gives the guys an excuse to go surfing, a longtime hobby that even inspired its moniker.

"Last June was our fifth year and was our biggest yet," asserts Fontamillas. "We get all these surfers competing alongside an all day concert with local bands, followed by our set at the end of the night to raise awareness for a cause we really believe in."

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About the Writer

Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, Illinois Entertainer, 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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