In the recent past San Diego has been best known for the springing
Blink-182 on us (ok it’s Poway but that’s close enough to San Diego). But
there is a lot more going on in San Diego County than the pinup boys of
Blink. From the hardcore metal of Cage to the power-pop of the Happy Regrets
and then there is the melodic modern rock outfit Switchfoot, who have been
working hard under the radar for years establishing themselves as formidable
soundsters with a knack for turning out addictive melodies and heartfelt
As a band Switchfoot has always stood a bit apart from the crowd, now that
people are so hung over from the poor-me sentiments of nu-metal and the
post grunge era, Switchfoot’s positive message and uplifting songs may
just be what the doctor ordered. The inspiration for their positive outlook
may be a turn off to some because Switchfoot is basically a Christian band.
However, you have to actually look for that message because the band doesn’t
beat you over the head preaching but instead subtly weaves their message
in throughout the music in a very similar way to Collective Soul’s debut
album, which was laced with Christian messages that most people didn’t
pick up on. Unlike Collective Soul, Switchfoot has not abandoned their
focus as their career progressed.
It all began in San Diego as the three members of the group, frontman Jonathan
Foreman, his brother Tim (bass) and drummer Chad Butler grew up together.
Their first connection to each other was through church but it was on the
beaches of San Diego where they really connected as surfers. They became
quite well known in surfing circles, competing in national championships
and earning product endorsements from surf equipment companies but they
eventually discovered their mutual shared love of music and decided to
form a group.
Instead of opting for the traditional
surf music or the punk that is popular with many So Cal surfers, they instead
decided to make music that fit into the modern rock category that was ruling
the airwaves at the time courtesy of bands like Dishwalla, Matchbox-20
and Tonic. When it came time to selecting a name they opted for the surfing
term “Switchfoot,” which is used to describe when a surfer changes his
footing on the board while riding a wave. In a way it was the perfect name
for the group because unlike most modern rock bands, their songs do seem
to switch perspective and direction quite often.
From the beginning it looked like fate had smiled on the group. A demo
tape that they recorded in Jonathan’s bedroom shortly after the band formed
somehow made its way across the country and into the hands of Charlie Peacock,
a respected signer/songwriter and producer in the Christian music world.
Peacock loved what he heard on the crude
demo and offered the band a deal on his EMI imprint “re:Think Records”.
Peacock took the band under his wing and executive produced their debut
album, “The Legend of Chin.” The album made an immediate impression
among underground modern rock and Christian rock fans and earned the band
the ASCAP San Diego Music Award for Best New Artist. The same honor that
Jewel had received shortly before her career took off in a big way.
Fans latched onto Switchfoot because of their well-crafted melodies and
sentimental lyrics. Although some have criticized the band for being a
bit too sentimental in the lyric department, there was no denying the music’s
overall appeal and the group setout to win fans over on the road, which
would become a second home to them over the next few years as they traveled
the world exposing their music to all who would listen. It seemed a lot
were listening as their fanbase grew across the world but the band couldn’t
seem to break into the mainstream in a major way.
Their second album, “New Way to Be Human,”
built upon the foundation of their first and opened the doors further for
the band in Christian music circles. The title track went on to earn a
Dove Award for the Modern Rock Song of the Year for 1999. Their star had
indeed risen in Christian music as that song became the most played Christian
recording of 1999.
In the secular world they began to make an impact as well. Their third
album, “Learning to Breathe,” began their major breakthrough to the mainstream.
The video for the single “You Already Take Me There” got healthy airplay
on MTV2 and the album went on to earn the group their first Grammy nomination
Meanwhile, television producers caught
on to the group’s appeal and their music has been featured more than 30
times in television programs ranging from “Dawson's Creek” and “Party of
Five" to "Felicity" and “Jack and Jill”.
All told Switchfoot’s indie releases have
sold upwards of 400,000 copies but their major break came from the most
unlikely of places--teen pop singer Mandy Moore.
When the producers of the film, “A Walk To Remember”, went looking for
music to include in the film they turned to Switchfoot. The bitter sweet
movie marked Moore’s debut as a leading lady and actually shocked many
when the film was released due to it’s maturity and Moore’s remarkable
acting ability. Many were ready to write off the film as just another teen
singer turned actor vehicle but instead the movie was greeted with acclaim
and the detractors were soon silenced when they discovered it was a serious
The producers of the film turned to Switchfoot
to provide the signature song for the film, “Only Hope,” which Moore performed
in the film (Switchfoot’s original version was also featured during the
climax of the movie). The ultimate irony came when Switchfoot and Jonathan’s
music was featured as prominently in the film as Moore’s. The soundtrack,
which included 5 Switchfoot songs, went gold and helped expose the band
to a larger audience but more importantly it caught the attention of executives
at Columbia records, who offered the group a record deal.
Critics and longtime fans all seem to agree that Switchfoot’s major label
debut, “The Beautiful Letdown,” is their best work yet. The title is ironic
because the album is definitely not a letdown to fans. The group seem to
capitalize on their strength this time around and while the band remains
Christian at it’s core the spiritual content of the lyrics is approached
in a practical manner so there is no fear of alienating the secular audience
because once again the message is there for those who choose to find it
but is also written in such a way that secular fans won’t feel preached
to or in most cases pick up on the Christian angle.
The band is careful to point out that while
they are indeed a Christian band, their music is meant to appeal to everybody.
When asked how they feel about the Christian label, Tim said, "It's an
annoyance if people use it to write off your music".
They shouldn’t fear people writing off their music. While the lyrics may
come across as overly sentimental to some, overall the music is compelling
and highly enjoyable if your tastes run to the modern rock sound. Like
all of the group’s efforts, “The Beautiful Let Down” varies from full on
modern rockers to middle of the rock indie rock and bittersweet ballads.
Jonathon’s rich soulful vocals should appeal to mainstream modern rock
fans as it fits nicely in with other vocalist in the genre like Johnny
Rzeznik, Josey Scott and Brandon Boyd.
The album is chock full of appealing tunes
from the instant classic modern rocker “Meant to Live”, the equally rocking
yet melodic “Ammunition” and “Adding to the
Noise”, to a mid-tempo number like “More Than Fine” and the somber ballads
“On Fire” and the beautiful heartfelt “Twenty-Four”. The band gets a little
funky with “Gone” but their finest moments come with the radio friendly
“Redemption” and the moving emotionally charged “Dare You To Move,” which
was the leadoff track from their “Learning to Breathe” album.
All told Switchfoot have once again topped
themselves and the music on “The Beautiful Let Down” is more than strong
enough to complete the band’s journey from the underground to the mainstream.
If you are looking for a strong group of melody makers in 2003, all you
have to do is look to Switchfoot, a band like last month’s featured melody
makers, Jimmy Eat World, that has steadily and patiently prepared for their
moment of truth and face it with their talents but also with their integrity
the official site for more info on the band
To/Purchase Switchfoot's Music
Live photos by Adam Bielawski
Group Photos Courtesy DreamWorks Records
All Rights Reserved
Keavin Wiggins is the founder and editor of Rocknworld.com
Adam Bielawski is an antiMUSIC Network Contributor.