Jon Foreman of Switchfoot Talks Vice Verses, Death and the Bro-Am
The band's new album, Vice Verses, recently debuted at number eight on the Billboard charts, and it's definitely worth a listen even if you abandoned your Switchfoot fandom years ago.
Up On The Sun: The name of your new album, Vice Verses, kind of suggests that there are two sides to everything. What's the real explanation for the title?
Jon Foreman: The record is about the polarity of our existence here on the planet, the struggles between the pulls of life and death, and looking for meaning and beauty in between. I think the analogy of a guitar string stretched tightly works really well.
You explore what's almost like a rap style on the track "Selling the News." How did you decide to go with that style, and what's the song about?
It's kind of a spoken word thing. The subject matter of that song is the idea of the media having ulterior motives and just kind of wanting to clear the air about the idea that the news organizations' goal has failed. Ultimately, sensational stories are what sell. As a culture, what we receive is the most sensational stories that are available. [There's] just a conflict of interest there.
On the self-titled track, "Vice Verses," you contemplate happiness and sadness, life and death. I read that you would walk through a graveyard every morning while you were mixing Hello Hurricane. Aside from your graveyard walks, why have you been spending your time contemplating these differences?
I think that we're a culture that runs away from death, for good reason. Nobody really wants to think about the fact that we're going to be lifeless food for worms in a coffin someday. But at the same time, I feel like knowing that you're going to die can be an incredibly rewarding, powerful knowledge. It inspires us to live in ways that we wouldn't if we were ignorant. I feel like that has inspired me to care about every breath. For me it's not a morbid curiosity, it's just wanting to make sure that every moment I have here on the Earth while I am breathing is accounted for.
Even though you had the song "Vice Verses" in the vault the longest out of all of the songs on the new album, you finished it last. What was the trouble there?
"Vice Verses" was the inspiration for the whole record, yet we hadn't figured out [how] to record it [in] a way that fit in with the rest of the songs on the album. We had two more days of mixing left, and we still hadn't recorded the title track in a way that was satisfactory. It was a little bit of a trick to find a way that that track would actually fit on the record. It took us a while to figure it out but finally, in the eleventh hour, we found a way to kind of make that song fit. We feel like that's an important song to have on the record, especially because it's the title track.
What do these contemplations about life mean to Switchfoot as a band? Was there new life or loss for anyone in the band that inspired this theme throughout the record?
Yeah, absolutely. For us collectively, we've been through a lot in the past six records, especially the last couple with Sony. [Around the times that] Nothing Is Sound and Oh! Gravity [came out] were terms of turmoil because the music industry was in a very tumultuous state. All of our friends at the label were getting fired on a weekly basis. It was just a really tough place to make music at that time, so we just cut ties and got off the label.
[We] built our own studio down in San Diego and decided, "Let's figure it all out from scratch and fall back in love with rock and roll." And so we recorded 80+ songs in our studio, and that was the beginning of Hello Hurricane. There are tons of personal [aspects] for this kind of record, but we try to keep the personal stuff personal and the public stuff public. The public stuff is a little bit more driven by what we've been through together as a band. After Hello Hurricane, there was this record where we kind of found ourselves. I don't think we could have made Vice Verses without making Hello Hurricane after having been through all of that together. Hello Hurricane kind of brought us through the storm. It comes from a place of strength, a place of knowing who we are, and not being afraid to say what we think.
One of the most creative promotional plans I've ever heard about was for Hello Hurricane. You hid copies of the single across the world for people to find and share, and perhaps then hide copies of their own. How did that idea come about?
That was just me trying to figure out a way to use technology for good rather than evil. I've always dreamed of ways to kind of make music more of a communal experience where we can all share it together. That felt like a good way to do it, where you get the single and you burn a copy of it yourself and go hide it somewhere else, and then somebody else finds that one. It was amazing because it started popping up all over the globe. Being able to send it to people via Twitter in all of these remote places all over the globe [was great]. People were [sending] it from Italy to South America to Australia and Japan to China, on trains and tops of mountains, the Eiffel Tower, and really creative places. It's amazing to see music travel around the world that way.
Let's discuss your involvement with Stand Up For Kids and the Bro-Am.
The Bro-Am has been going on for seven years. Every year we raise money for homeless kids with different organizations. The last few years we've done it with Stand Up For Kids. Stand Up is amazing. I've known the lady that runs the Oceanside chapter for a while. The kids are so inspiring when you see what they've been through and how confident [they are] in their refusal to succumb to the troubles that they've been through. Their determination...all of these things are so inspiring for me. We want to let them know that their struggle is not in vein and that they're not alone.
The Bro-Am started because when we were living back in Irvine, we were thinking, "Music is starting to get us out of a lot of trouble. These communities really gave to us, and it would be amazing to be able to give back. Let's do a surf contest and a concert right on the beach to benefit these kids." It's been going ever since. It's absolutely my favorite day of the year.
We're trying to bring it out on the road as best we can on this tour. We're collecting backpacks for homeless kids in all the towns that we visit. So bring a backpack! It's going to go to a very deserving individual.
What did it feel like when you won a Grammy earlier this year for Best Rock Gospel Album?
It was fun! It was a blast. It reminded me that there is no greater reward than simply playing music for people that want to hear it. It might be hard to understand, but just doing what I do night after night, every night...to be able to sing songs with people that want to sing along with you and care passionately about these lyrics...that's the reward for me. The Grammy is just icing on the cake.
Besides the tour with Anberlin, what's next for you guys?
From here we'll go over to Europe. It's going to be a blast. We love it over there! We have some great memories. We're going to do a bunch of rock radio festivals across the country. Then [we'll be in] Australia and Canada and the U.S. tour in the spring, so we're pretty busy. Outside of the band I'm going to put out another side project CD. I'm in another band called Fiction Family, and we're going to put out our second release this spring. It's [a] pretty full [year].
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