Southern California rock quintet Switchfoot has always worn its heart on its sleeve. Christian influences shaped much of the band's early work and image. Charitable work with organizations like Invisible Children, To Write Love on Her Arms and the Boy Scouts of America lays bare their living, breathing, social justice-concerned heart. Even the annual Switchfoot Bro-Am, now in its 10th year, is much more than a San Diego surf contest and beach concert, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to help homeless children.
But Jon and Tim Foreman, Chad Butler, Jerome Fontamillas and Drew Shirley have doubled down on revealing their inner selves with "Fading West," Switchfoot's forthcoming album and documentary of the same name. Produced by Flagler Beach native Matt Katsolis, the film follows Switchfoot as they ramble through the U.S., South Africa, Bali, Australia and New Zealand, riding waves, making music and spreading their laid-back good vibes to anyone along the way. Frontman Jon Foreman chatted with Folio Weekly about evolving as a songwriter, challenging accepted music industry knowledge and the unique format of Switchfoot's upcoming "Fading West" tour.
Folio Weekly: First, what compels a rock 'n' roll band to make a travelogue/surf documentary?
Jon Foreman: We grew up watching surf films, and my favorites were the ones that took you on a journey or followed the chase. We thought, "That's kind of what we do as a band on tour after tour — what if we combined the music and the surfing and made our own film?" That idea percolated for years until we met up with [Matt Katsolis] and his film company, who were very excited about the concept. So we said, "Let's do it," self-funded the whole thing, and set off around the globe.
F.W.: The upcoming "Fading West" tour will feature performances different from the standard Switchfoot show, right?
J.F.: Yes. We'll show the film, have an intermission when people can tweet us questions, then come out and play the show before answering questions.
F.W.: After selling millions of albums and touring the world, do you feel like this is an opportunity to give Switchfoot fans a deeper look at the band?
J.F.: Exactly. As a songwriter, you're always looking for ways to tell a story. But there's only so much story you can fit into three-and-a-half minutes. So the film is a great way to tell more of the story about who we are and what our journey has been like.
F.W.: After 17 years and nine full-length albums, has it become harder to tell new stories?
J.F.: That's the challenge: to continually pursue new ways of expression. When you dig into the same ground for years, it starts to dry up. On "Fading West," we're using new instruments to tell new stories and express new ideas.
F.W.: You released a three-song EP last month to tease the full-length, which comes out in January. Any particular reason?
J.F.: I love EPs because they allow you to fully digest a few songs at a time. Three to four songs for me are about all I can take at once, even if I love a record. Recorded music has been widely available for less than 100 years, which in the course of human history is such a small amount of time — especially given how integral music is to the human experience. So there are no rules. There's what everyone does, but that's not to say it's right or wrong. I love playing with that.
F.W.: Switchfoot has hosted a surf contest and beach concert for 10 years, so obviously you guys love mixing it up.
J.F.: That was one of those dreams come true. We were talking once about the things that kept us out of trouble when we were kids, and for me that was music and surfing. So why not give people those two things and benefit homeless kids in the process? The Bro-Am started really small and has grown bigger than any of us can handle. It's really a community event to support the kids and show them they matter — their story matters — the place that they're at doesn't necessarily have to dictate their future.
F.W.: You've got two dates on the East Coast of Florida in October. Hoping to catch some late-season hurricane surf?
J.F.: I hope so! We've caught a couple of hurricanes down there, although if there aren't any coming through, it seems like you're not going to get any good surf. But any chance to get in the water is good. Plus I have lots of friends in Florida. I love it there.
F.W.: Switchfoot has been around for nearly 20 years. Did you ever think you'd make it this far?
J.F.: We never looked that far down the road. But we love delivering rock 'n' roll to people around the world. It's the best job I could think of.