One Fine Night at the Roxy: Switchfoot Adds to the Noise?
- Thursday, February 20, 2003
It’s an unusual day in sunny L.A., with the light rain bouncing off the cars driving down Sunset. A few buildings down from the infamous Viper Room, across the street from Tower Records where crowds are getting wet standing in line to meet Kelly Osbourne, this reporter waits at the Red Rock Eatery, where one of the actors from “Beverly Hills 90210” sits intoxicated at the bar, to interview what might be the next big rock act—Switchfoot. The band is driving upstate from its hometown of San Diego, and the weather is slowing up the traffic. (Rain in Southern California is considered a hazardous road condition.)
Through the open window, one can see a large billboard featuring three fresh-faced rockers. If you squint, you’ll see the band’s name is Tonic. But who knows? Next year those faces could be siblings Jon and Tim Foreman, friend Chad Butler and new member Jerome Fontamillas, thanks to a newly signed general-market deal with Columbia Records, in addition to its Christian label deal with Sparrow.
“This is definitely a turning point for us,”
Jon says over the phone on the way to the venue, “It’s an interesting thing to be seven years down the line and be marketed as a new band. We’re very excited to see what the record label has up its sleeve.”
Despite his excitement about new opportunities with Columbia, Jon is proud of the band’s slow rise. And while the rise from Christian music to mainstream success has been attempted (think Susan Ashton) and conquered (think Sixpence None the Richer), what Jon Foreman finds most interesting is the fact that Columbia has embraced what he considers to be the most outspoken album of the band’s four-CD career. The first single being marketed to mainstream radio is an aggressive rock tune called “Meant to Live.” “We were meant to live for so much more/ Have we lost ourselves?/ somewhere we live inside,” the chorus challenges.
“It’s ironic to me that the world is interested [in hearing] the songs that are the most personal about my faith and where I’m coming from,” says the lead singer.
An hour before sound check, the members of Switchfoot finally arrive, plopping down to order some burgers and fries. Tonight’s venue will not only be the site of the concert, it will be the “studio” for a live DVD taping. All four wear sloppy attire, fitting for a band serious about its art. They quote Paschal and Kierkegard. They no longer sport the pretty boy-band haircuts of their last album. And the tousled, I-just-rolled-outta-bed look works for them.
Jon Foreman may look like a rock singer, but he would kill to have a voice of soul. “I always wished I could sing like Aretha Franklin. That’s what I’m trying to do with my voice. I’d like [to sing like] a big black woman,” he laughs. In fact, the album’s title track, “The Beautiful Letdown,” was actually conceived as a gospel tune when he first wrote it. “That’s the way I hear this song,” Jon says, “as a big gospel number.”
Inspiration for Switchfoot’s songwriting comes from many things, says Foreman. “Everything from beauty to pain points to the eternal. I’m noticing in all of our albums, there’s been the idea of coming to terms with a longing that can’t be fulfilled in this present tense,” Jon claims. “I think this is universal.”
Looking for an example, he turns over his right shoulder and stares out the open window of the restaurant. We see the sun is starting to peak through the rain clouds, casting a beam of light over the crowd lined up across the street. Foreman also notices the plethora of entertainment-themed advertisements lining the strip, and then we notice a homeless man sleeping in the garbage at the foot of the billboards.
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