Over the course of nearly two decades, Switchfoot has gone from being surfer college dropouts in the San Diego music community to playing stages across the world. The breakthrough record, The Beautiful Letdown, and its twin singles, “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move” melded Jon Foreman’s Socratic and soul-searching lyrics with mid-2000s alt-rock crunch. As with most bands navigating a career of that magnitude in the 21st century, Switchfoot (which includes Foreman on vocals/guitar, his brother Tim Foreman on bass, Chad Butler on drums, Jerome Fontamillas on keyboards/guitars and Drew Shirley on guitar) sustains its momentum through the frustrations of label changes, the unpredictability of modern album sales and a host of personal struggles by continuing to play by their own rules and produce work that matters.
Weld spoke with Shirley about the reinvigoration of the band that came with the recording of their 10th album, this year’s Where The Light Shines Through.
Weld: Your previous record, Fading West, was a different kind of project for the band, since it included filming a documentary and recording an album. Could you talk about the pros and cons of that process, and where the band found itself after that album was done?
Drew Shirley: Fading West was a departure from studio albums. We have made a lot of studio albums, and we wanted to do something different. So we took off around the world and filmed a documentary, connecting my two favorite things — surfing and rock ’n’ roll. It was super fun to do. We put our guitars down, went out into the water and tried to make a soundtrack of that experience.
After that record, we wanted to make our 10th studio album. We picked up our guitars again, which I’m glad to say, because I’m a guitar player. We started recording snippets of songs, about 50 altogether. Jon started writing for them. We were pushing ourselves to write in a different way because we knew album 10 had to be something special. We knew it had to be worth doing. As a band, you kind of break up and reinvent yourself every time you do an album. You have a chance to rediscover why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Weld: With that many song ideas in play, I’m sure you could put out an impressive b-sides collection at this point.
Shirley: Yeah, we have a vault full of them. We just put a lot of songs on the soundtrack for The Shack, the movie that’s coming out. There’s always opportunities for those songs to get out there. We’re eventually going to get them all out.
Weld: With this prevalent theme of light and darkness throughout the album, were there any songs that really got the ball rolling?
Shirley: Definitely the song “Where The Light Shines Through,” the title track. This album started off very dark. Jon was writing a lot from struggle. There was a lot of things going on with the band such as being dropped from the label and some other side projects that didn’t go well. Then with that song, “Where The Light Shines Through,” there was this breakthrough and was where things change for us in the album process. We titled the record that because it changed the temperature of the album for us.
Weld: You mentioned being dropped by your label. How does it feel to be an independent band in today’s musical climate?
Shirley: It feels good. We’ve been through a lot of changes in the music industry, but it feels good. We have our own studio now. When you bring a producer into our studio, we don’t have to leave home to record, which is good since we all have families now. We brought in our producer from The Beautiful Letdown, which was our most successful record. We had a great time working with John Fields again.
It feels like we’re lucky because we caught one of the last big waves of the music industry. Everything has changed. Albums don’t sell anymore; bands have to do different things to start up and survive. We’ve been a part of that change, and we’re extremely lucky to be doing what we’re doing. We feel like we have a voice in the industry where we can encourage other artists that have been influenced by us. We take that seriously.
Weld: Switchfoot has been around for about 20 years at this point, and it’s a rare example of a band that has not lost any members, only added people. What do you think has helped the longevity of the band?
Shirley: That’s kind of a mystery as well. I can point to things, but you just never know how this mix of guys is going to work out. We have brothers in the band, which is a great thing. You have family, you have that bond, you have that commitment to resolve conflict. You’re going to be family forever, so you resolve conflicts to keep that relationship. Jon and Tim spread that throughout the band.
There’s also an amazing amount of gratitude in the band. When we’re having a super horrible travel day, everyone just holds on to that feeling of being grateful that we can play music for a living. You have that attitude seeping through the veins of this whole operation, and I think that is really a gift. Factions in a band can tear people apart, and we’ve managed to be lucky enough to keep on the right path somehow.
Weld: You recently celebrated the 12th Annual BroAm. Can you talk about how that organization has impacted the band?
Shirley: BroAm is one of our biggest accomplishments. We’ve raised over $1.2 million for homeless and at-risk youth in San Diego. It brings people together to advocate for other people. To see the community gather around that cause has been incredible for us. We’ve had some amazing acts play, including Needtobreathe, OK Go, Chris Shiflett from the Foo Fighters, American Authors, Josh Garrels — the list goes on and on. These guys come in and donate their time. They really give to the cause. Our community has stood up and made our voice known that we want to do something that helps other people and we want to be involved in a way that does not benefit us as a band at all. We make zero dollars. We raise all the money and give it away to organizations making a difference in the community. That’s a good feeling.
Switchfoot plays Iron City on Monday, October 31st with Relient K as part of the bands’ Looking for America tour. To get more information and to purchase tickets for this all-ages show, visit ironcitybham.com.