The San Diego alt-rock band Switchfoot’s new record, Nothing is Sound, once again finds Foreman questioning everything, as he did on the band’s two and a half-million selling breakout album The Beautiful Letdown.
Switchfoot’s non-stop touring schedule—they performed 400 shows over the last two years—gave Foreman plenty of time to gnaw. In fact, Nothing is Sound was recorded on the road. The band was so busy that they didn’t have time to take a break to make a record. So they set up their instruments and recording equipment in the dressing room every night and would lay down tracks in between interviews and soundcheck.
We talk with guitarist Drew Shirley.
What have you been up to since the holidays have ended?
Well we released the album in September and we’ve basically been working on music. While we were home we figured we’d work on new songs. We’ve also been doing a little relaxing at home and surfing.
I wouldn’t mind a little warmth and surfing.
Yeah, you know a couple of the guys just got back from Fiji. That was the killer, once-in-a-lifetime surfing trip.
I’m jealous. And speaking of jealous, you have a lot fans but this album proved you were here to stay.
It’s funny because a lot of people think Nothing Is Sound is our second album because The Beautiful Letdown was such a hit that everyone thought it was our first album. But in reality it was our fourth album. The band has been around for eight years and touring the country nonstop. We understand that. We understand people notice things when they come into the public eye. But we have an amazing fan base across the country and the world. We are thankful to be doing what we are doing. It’s great to have songs on national radio. We just want to keep doing what we are doing. We love making music and keep writing. We’re glad people dig us.
It’s amazing that people think you came from nowhere.
I always like being the underdog. It’s cool being the underdog because there are no expectations and you get out and just play. When people have a lot of expectations it’s easy to get let down. But when you are the underdog its like ‘come on, lets go.’
After The Beautiful Letdown there were expectations—or had you been working on Nothing Is Sound before there were expectations?
That album was tracked on the road. We were touring heavily on The Beautiful Letdown so we had to record an album but we were going to be on the road for six to nine months more. It was a great experience where a lot of the songs came together in different parts of the country. I remember buying a telecaster in Buffalo, which we were just talking about, [we had talked about my being from Buffalo previous to starting the interview] and I went to a music store and bought one and used it for a lot of songs and we tracked parts backstage. There were a lot of expectations. So for what people thought was our sophomore album they expected it to out sell the first. We try to just live in what we do with the people around us and not let the numbers affect us. It’s after the fact that I let the numbers get us—because I’m a little slow [we both laugh]. When I see the numbers I can’t believe how many people listen to us. I think Nothing is the best album we’ve done to date. It has so many dimensions and has a live feel. We demoed then we played live and then recorded them. If people threw tomatoes we stopped playing them. [We both laugh]
In the last decade it seems fans are lucky to get three good tracks on an album. But Nothing Is Sound is solid throughout. You get your money’s worth.
Thanks. Going into the album we had thirty, maybe forty songs. John is a super fluent writer. It’s his way of dealing with the world. That’s cool to hear that you liked it.
I find the songs to be addictive. “The Setting Sun” sounds cheerful and there aren’t a lot of rock songs like that right now.
A lot of music is about the teenage angst. We love music and we really love playing. We like being in a band. What is wrong with that? You can write songs like “The Setting Sun.” You know that song is kind of ironic. Going into the studio we weren’t going to put that song on the album because the lyrics aren’t really happy but the music came out to sound very positive. It’s one of those happy songs about how we are all going to die one day. So John had a real internal struggle because he didn’t think it portrayed—the music didn’t portray the lyrics. But we realized that even in sorrow you can have some sort of hope. It is kind of longing for the day when it is all over and that can be on the peaceful side and not on the depressing side.
I love that you guys were really debating this internally. I don’t think a lot of people realize the extent to how much bands analyze their own material. I think the mindset is ‘it sounds good, we can sell this, let’s put it on an album.’
True, but we always say our songs are our kids. You watch them being born, you watch them grow up, and then you watch them fall into the wrong crowd and then you see they take a turn for the worst and then some get all A’s and graduate Magna Cum Laude. [We laugh] But some of my favorite songs are the ones no one ever notices like “The Shadow Proves The Sunshine.” To me that is the scud missile track. It’s the stealth bomber because it really goes deep and my memories with that song run to my heart. We put a lot into the music. We put a lot of thought into the music and what we are trying to be good at.
I thought it was a gorgeous song without being fluffy. It’s not corny.
That song came together in South Africa. It definitely not fluff. We worked with these kids that lived in shantytowns and AIDS was running rampant. It’s amazing that they sing and dance—I mean how do you sing and dance when you lose your parents? It is a beautiful song that really is a heavy beautiful song.
The songs have soul. I love songs that have soul—I’m tired of songs that are meaningless rock tracks. Well, unless I’m listening to AC/DC.
And then you don’t care.
Right. [We both laugh]
I heard this song that I liked and thought it was about a relationship and thought it had this hidden meaning and then recently I read an interview with the guy and he said he wrote it about his fish. I wish I didn’t know that.
That is why I don’t ask those questions because I don’t want to know. It screws you up. Do you feel like the band is still getting closer to each other?
I really do. I know the other guys and not only do I trust them—these are really my best friends. We live our lives together. We all hang out. The chemistry musically shows that. “We Are One Tonight” reminds me of how close together we are and that is rare.
+ Charlie Craine