There isn’t much San Diego rockers Switchfoot hasn’t accomplished. Millions of records sold. Check. Hit singles produced. Check. Shows sold out across the world. Check.
Yet, for frontman Jon Foreman, it was time for a change.
“You get to a point where you kind of want to shock yourself again,” Foreman explained. “The reason why you started playing music in the first place is because it’s shocking. It felt like you were somehow defying gravity or something like that, so you want to find that place again.”
With his ambitious solo project, Foreman has rediscovered that feeling. Consisting of a serious of four EPs based around the four seasons, the songs are a departure from Switchfoot’s rock ‘n roll anthems. Acoustic-driven and folk inspired, the undertaking is something band mates Tim Foreman and Chad Butler have encouraged him to pursue for years.
“It was one of those things where you record all these songs at 3 o’clock in your bedroom or home studio, never thinking they’re going to see the light of day,” Foreman admitted. “So when they actually are released, on the one hand, it’s really amazing because that’s never been the object all along. But on the other hand, it makes you feel a little vulnerable because of how personal the songs are.”
In fact, several of the songs deal with darker subject matters than those Switchfoot has previously tackled, corresponding with Forman’s belief on what songwriting often boils down to.
“You have a piece of sand that gets in the oyster’s shell, and over time the oyster keeps putting more and more material into the sand until it becomes a pearl. The beauty was created by an irritant, and that’s what I feel songs are. They’re just an attempt to come to terms with pain.”
Thankfully, hope is on the horizon with the remaining Spring and Summer discs, the former of which is due in April.
“I wanted them to be cohesive with the other two, but I also wanted it to turn a corner with the thematic element,” Foreman pointed out. “As far as the musical element, I wanted to add different flavors that would be symbolic of flowers popping up, new colors and new life. That was the trickiest part, to draw that into the frame of the ‘Learning How to Die’ somber tones of Fall & Winter.”
After more than a decade making music with Switchfoot, Foreman has fully witnessed the ups and downs of the music industry. Through it all, he declines to define music based on the popular success he has experienced.
“On the one hand, you never set out to achieve it, but on the other hand you’re not trying for failure either,” he noted. “For us, our goals have always been a little more inline with things that can be measured outside of numerical success.”
Forman is proudest of things like the Annual Switchfoot Bro Am, a “silly little surf contest” the band puts on every summer. It raises money for Care House and Casa de Amparo, a pair of organizations that work with homeless kids in the band’s native city of San Diego.
“I think we do a lot of things for other people around the world, which I’m a big believer in,” Foreman explained. “A lot of times as Americans we’re drawn to go to Africa, to go the Philippines, and that’s certainly a big part of something that’s needed. We’ve been given a lot, so let’s give back to the rest of the world. However, I think when you see it in your own backyard, it’s that much more important.”
In the end, events like these have left a profound impact on Foreman, who continues to use music as a means of sorting life’s complexities out.
“I’m coming to the place, especially with the more recent stuff, where I’m just digging. All I do is dig,” he said. “I equate it with archeology. An archeologist just digs, and on a good day comes across something that you didn’t actually create but something that was around long before you were. Maybe one day you discover this lost city. Those are the best songs, the ones that don’t have your fingerprints on them anywhere but are fingerprints of the Divine rather than your own little markings.”
As Foreman looks ahead to the future, he is quick to recognize his own journey is far from over. Nevertheless, there is one lesson he has learned which he hopes today’s generation will take to heart.
“I look back on things that I found [in college] that are true that have lasted me my whole life, and then there other things I wish I would have discovered sooner that I’ve chased my whole life that don’t matter at all… The sooner you can discover what is true and what’s a mirage, the better, because I think that diving deep into truth when you’re young is an incredible gift.”
Originally appeared in The Chimes