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Switchfoot: An Interview With Jon Foreman

Switchfoot: An Interview With Jon Foreman

When we hear music we are hearing the culmination of a process. Sometimes that process is fraught with pain or pleasure or both ... all at once. So we get to enjoy songs that represent years of experiences and life-shaping. Jon Foreman has a thing or two to say about this songwriting process. The Switchfoot frontman has spent more than a decade on a journey he documents through music. Whether it's the surf-tinged sounds of his band or his introspective "seasons" EPs Jon's journey brims through the music, giving it an hopeful honesty.

Check out this vintage interview of Jon Foreman I dug up from my archives. Doesn't matter what Jon is doing he always has something thoughtful to offer. This interview is a great example. 


WILLARD: As a songwriter, what emotions do you tap when writing? Do you tend to linger with certain emotions over others?

FOREMAN: There is a deeper portion of our being that we rarely allow others to see. Call it a soul maybe, this is the place that holds the most value. All else can drift but this. When this dies our body has no meaning. We handle this portion of our being with extreme care. Life tears at us and scars us as children so we adopt facades and masks to hide this part of us, to keep this sacred part of ourselves from the pain. And yet, we long to communicate this deeper place ... to connect with each other on this spiritual level, for we know that this is the only part of us that will last.

These spiritual transactions remind us of the true meaning and yearning that cannot be found on the surface. Many times songs allow us to communicate these deeper places. Music is admitted under the skin without permission. Pain is a common emotion in many of my songs mainly because I often don't know other ways to express it adequately. In my songs I wrestle with the things that I don't understand.

I often use music as a handle for very emotionally explosive substances: love, sex, God, fear, doubt, politics, the economics of the soul—these are daunting thoughts in the back of my mind that I rarely visit without the safety gloves of song. 

WILLARD: Describe your writing process? (Is it spontaneous? Does it take discipline or is it something that just comes naturally for you?)

FOREMAN: There's a book called The War of Art that tells us, "The muse honors the working stiff." It's like Paul [the Apostle or Saint Paul] working out his salvation with fear and trembling because it's his God who works predestination or free will, sunshine and rain. They're both very needed. It's both/and. Some songs come to me and other ones, I chase them down. Most of the time a spark of beauty or truth will start a fire of a song but fires rarely produce goodness on their own ... you need to control them and put them to work. 

WILLARD: How much does experience play into your songwriting?

FOREMAN: Experience is all I have. I equate song-writing with archeology. Every day you dig. You dig into different places within yourself—even finding places that you've rarely been. And buried within the soil is song. Sometimes the song is average, or derivative, or something you're not proud of. And other times you discover a lost city, something that has always been there. You don't feel as though you wrote it but rather as though you found it. 

TDS: Recently Switchfoot left its label and decided to produce their own music. How has this shaped your music?

FOREMAN: We've always been very "hands on" with our music. This is a project where we allowed ourselves to take more risks than ever.

TDS: How do you measure success as an artist?

FOREMAN: I am often tempted to think of success in terms that are defined by others: records sold, popularity gained, album reviews, etc. These are impossible demands, however, and they can never be satisfied. Letting finite others define our worth is a horrible way to live. Only the Infinite Other [God] has the authority to do this. And yet I and the rest of the world fall prey to these other forms of immediate worth. This is the human race that can't be won. I even wrote a song about it:

Push (the human race)

to be honest
i've never been honest
and even now
the truth comes out in stutters and fits
every word that's born is self-conscious
the critic weighs
not truth or fact or fiction but wit

and I know
I'm not that funny
so stop laughing,

is our human race the collection of
our collective longings to be loved
acted out in fear and pain and push and shove?
push and shove?

so our worth gets wrapped up in opinion
that fickle friend
whose loyalty is subject to change
Is acceptance the target destination?
A broken heart
will follow me as sure as the grave 

cause I know
I'm not that funny
so stop laughing

is our human race the collection of
our collective longings to be loved
acted out in fear and pain and push and shove?
push and shove?

And I began to grin
when my final song was sung
Cause the human race is a race that

WILLARD: Do you feel obligated to leverage your celebrity to "do good" within the greater culture? Should celebrities be held to a higher standard?

FOREMAN: Celebrity is a currency with an exchange rate almost as strong as anonymity. All are called to goodness; much is required of all of us. Every day you're alive you change the world. Our culture is disproportionally drawn to the stage and screen like a moth to the flame. We see the flicker of the spotlight and assume that worth and value are held within it's glow. The truth is what happens behind closed doors when no one's watching. Who are you when the lights are out? This is your legacy. The things that are done in secret, whispered in dark alleys—shout em from the rooftops.

WILLARD: As a musician, what do you want your legacy to be? As a human, what do you want your legacy to be?

FOREMAN: I want to be a compassionate soul, finding worth and beauty in the worlds around me and within me, attempting to sing a transcendent tune with my temporal position in this life. 

WILLARD: If you were stranded on a desert island with no hope of rescue would you rather have a guitar or a surfboard? (neither could be used to get off the island)

FOREMAN: Ha! Are we presupposing that the island has waves?! If there's a steady food source and a couple friends I would rather have boards. If I'm by myself waiting for death I think I'd rather have a guitar.

WILLARD: What can we expect from you and/or your band in the coming months?

FOREMAN: A new record from "the foot" just released called Hello Hurricane . And a lot of tours to support it. Maybe a new Fiction Family record next year... we'll see.

Jon's personal website here

Buy Switchfoots New Album

*"Special Thanks" to Invisible Ink for contributing to this interview

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