You Sing, I Write: Q&A with Switchfoot's Jon Foreman

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Q&A with Switchfoot's Jon Foreman

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Jon Foreman has a busy year approaching. On Nov. 27th he will be releasing the first of four solo acoustic EP's. Fans can purchase it on his website, jonforeman.com. Since Switchfoot has broke with Columbia Records, the band has more freedom to release what they want when they want, giving more back to their fans. Jon was nice enough to sit down with me after his concert at Hammerstein Ballroom as the "Appetite for Construction" tour hit NYC Saturday night to answer a few questions about the inspiration behind his music, as well as the many side-projects he's been working on.

What is your inspiration behind each song you write?
My inspiration for each song is the specific place where I’m at in life. I’ve heard that books come from locations and I think songs are the same way. Songs can be a little bit more ethereal. So maybe it’s a little bit more of an emotional, spiritual place than a physical location. For me, most of my songs come from the problems in my life. When I’m happy I hang out with my friends and go surfing. That’s not when you write a song. You write a song when you’re depressed, angry and bitter and you’re trying to figure out the world.

Tell me a little bit about your solo EP’s.
One’s coming out next week and that one is called Fall. They’re all six songs a pop, they’re coming out on my Website jonforeman.com. It’s pretty amazing to think that I can put them out. I’ve spent a lot of time on them. A lot of these songs are the more personal songs that don’t really belong on a band record. So now I can put out six songs on an EP. I’ll be doing four EP’s. It’s going to be called Fall, Winter, Summer and Spring. I’m working on Winter now, I haven’t even thought about Spring yet, I’ll think about Spring when it starts getting warmer out. I’m doing all the album art myself. I’m handwriting all the lyrics. It’s really fun.

What can be expected for the next Switchfoot album?
I think we’ve learned a lot the past year. It’s been a time of really finding who we are. I think every record kind of has to reinvent itself. The most dangerous place for a band to be is doing something that they’re good at. I think it’s much better as a band to do something that you could actually fail at. We’ve always tried really hard to push ourselves. I think that the difference with this new record is that in the past we were a little afraid of the success that we had achieved with The Beautiful Letdown. There’s just this weird fear that you feel.

Will Botwin, President of ATO Records, stopped by to talk to Jon for a bit during the interview. He’s foreseeing the upcoming year for Switchfoot as a big one.
It’s going to be a beautiful, daring, different, comfortable, fantastic year. It’s going be great. There’s going be a lot of activity next year. They’re one of the hardest working bands in the world and are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, on and off the stage.

Jon explained the relationship Switchfoot has with Will.
A little history on Will, he’s just a great guy. He’s currently the president of ATO Records, they put out the Radiohead record and all that. The history is, he was president of Columbia when we were there. So we’ve got a lot of history with him. He’s just a great guy. You don’t meet good people that often in the music industry. We like to work with good people. And that was the thing, we had so many great relationships over at Columbia. It’s not like anti- it’s more like when all those people leave, there’s no trust. And that’s what music is built on. It’s a relationship, its trust. The moment the trust goes away, then it’s really hard to make music that you feel comfortable with. Any relationship. Marriage, girlfriends, dogs. It’s all like, well, can I trust you. And for us, I feel like it comes to a point that we’re surrounding ourselves with people that we trust so that’s the best place to move from.

Can you tell me about The Real SeanJon project?
Yeah. The Real SeanJon. Puffy hasn’t sued us yet. Which is good. Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe Puffy suing us would be the best thing that I’ve ever been a part of. For record. We started out kind of just joking around. It was one of those projects that was just like, “Yeah, let’s do it, it’ll be fun.” And then four months into it we had 4 or 5 songs and they started sounding really good. And it was this type of thing that we started thinking, “Man this is actually a legitimate project that we’re both really proud of.” And so, that’s kind of where it’s at now. I mixed it myself, basically in my bedroom back in San Diego. So we’re going to try to get somebody else to kind of, remix it. Bring it a little bit more to life than my ears can. I stand in front of guitar amps all day, how good of a mixer can I be?

Are you ever afraid to write a song? I mean, maybe at Columbia you were held back a bit?
I mean everyone does the whole big, bad record company thing where they blame the big, bad record company for all of their problems. And I don’t see it that way. I think we had some great years over there. There’s a lot of the things that I think happened over there that were really wrong, that even they would regret, like putting Spyware on our C.D., putting the copy protection, pulling all of our product off right before Christmas. Those are the things that they regret too. But, ultimately, when you’re writing a song…I think the biggest thing that we were afraid of was that we got to a point that we sold more records than any of our heroes. Like back in San Diego, we grew up listening to Rocket from the Crypt, No Knife, Heavy Vegetable, these are people, who big to us was selling 30,000 records. So then you sell almost 3 million records and it’s just a weird thing, like what does a band that sells 3 million records do? You know. I think that was the only time I’ve been afraid as a songwriter. Just kind of, almost afraid of writing something too big. You want to kind of bring it down a little bit. I don’t know. But, I don’t even know that that fear is justified because I’m sure honest music can happen at a big level too.

A lot of songs on The Beautiful Letdown so many people can relate to and your whole world-view is very open to everyone. That honesty – I think that’s why people are so drawn to it.
Yeah. I think it is too. I feel like with the solo EP, that’s kind of the beginning of a different way of communicating that. You can go use a megaphone and talk to an arena, or you can kind of bring it in and do like, what I’ve been doing lately which is an after show, where I just play down the street. I might even be doing one tonight if there’s kids out there. It’s just fun. And I think that’s the beauty of music. It’s a communication where it’s going back and forth.

Everytime I've seen you perform, it's been this type of venue, size-wise, it's kind of medium. Do you see yourselves playing at Madison Square Garden or Continental Airlines Arena? Because you don’t get that interaction, you don’t get to see faces that you get to see at these venues.
I don’t know. I think we’d have to write songs that belong there. I think we’ve got a few songs that might translate, but I think for us . . . I didn’t grow up going to big shows. I grew up going to Soma. The first incarnation, it’s been basically established in two different places since then. The Ché Café, Soma, The Casbah I’d sneak in. The Belly Up. I played there before I was 21, we’d get kicked out after we played. We played with Phantom Planet back in the day at the Viper Room and we both were underage.

When you guys first started out, you were labeled as being a Christian band. How do you feel your music and lyrics have evolved throughout the years to what it is now?
Well, you know it’s funny. When we signed to Re:think Records it was because Charlie Peacock was the guy running it. It was because he was a believer. Ultimately when you start out you’re just playing wherever anyone will let you play. We’ve played coffee shops, we played bars, we played churches, we played everywhere. To us, it never was a big difference. We didn’t see it as a genre. And then you go to Nashville and you realize there’s a whole music section that’s devoted to Christian music and you realize there’s lines drawn and there are all sorts of “we are this, they are that.” And so that’s where we got really nervous. We’ve never called ourselves a Christian band. We’ve always kind of felt that somebody should stay at my house for a week, see how I treat people, and then if you want to call me a believer after that by the way I live my life and treat people, then that’s an honor. That’s like the biggest honor we can receive. But for us to fly our own flag and say, “Yeah, we’re into feeding the homeless and loving people and that’s what we do,” it comes across kind of tacky.

How would you describe your music to people who’ve never heard it before?
We’ve always called it music for thinking people. That and guitar-driven pop. Rock. You know, rock ‘n’ roll whatever that means. I feel like, the bottom line is back in the 60’s and 70’s, being a rebel meant sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And when that becomes the norm, then what is the rebel voice for the kids? What’s the rebel voice for today? For me, I feel like the most icono-classic person I could think of, beyond Bob Dylan, beyond whoever, Marilyn Manson would be Christ himself. I feel like his position in society is, in many cases, they pegged him into a role . . . the way I understand the Scriptures; they’re exactly against who he was. The idea that he was for the underdog, he was for the poor, he was furious with the religious right for his time. For us to put words in his mouth is a really dangerous place. I feel like rock ‘n’ roll is a good outlet to be able to kind of, speak that rebel voice through 2,000 years later. Even the religious right need to hear the gospel. All the way through the Pharisees. It’s a matter of saying I’m the problem. I guess it’s a matter of saying I’m not pointing the fingers and drawing that we-they line. Saying, no, we’re all in this together. Let’s not try and say there’s a Christian section because it’s not true. It’s false. It’s a lie to some extent.


5 comments:

Diana Vilibert said...

you rock :) awesome article.

Tammy said...

I love it! Especially the pic of a music reporter in action at the bottom. Yay Annie!

pris said...

I think what you're doing is pretty cool... keep it up =)

Anonymous said...

wow...

Karen said...

Awesome interview! I'm a long-time Switchfoot fan. Foreman's words make me like him and the band even more. Keep up the good work!

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