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This article is from Issue 53: Sept/Oct 2011

The Reinvention of Switchfoot

The multi-platinum band returns with its eighth—and most unique—album.

It sounds incredibly selfish, but I write songs pretty much entirely for myself,” muses Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman. “I don’t try and second-guess anyone else’s opinion. I just simply say, ‘Do I love it? And if so, then let’s chase it down.’

“I’m not sure if [the new album is] a gamble—if people will like it or not. It’s not a gamble for us at all from a musical standpoint. The integrity of those tracks, I feel, stands alone. Who knows whether people will like it? I love it. That’s where we’re coming from.”

Foreman’s words might be surprising coming from the frontman of a band that clearly loves its fans. But with their eighth album, Vice Verses, out Sept. 27, fans will be surprised to find a heavier, funkier and more straightforward Switchfoot. That tension between keep-ing fans happy and being true to an artistic sensibility is merely the first of many contradictions that seem to define this multi-platinum-selling band. In fact, to truly under-stand the San Diego-based group, you have to start with the contradictions.

The collection of surfers (“switchfoot” is itself a surfing term) seems to exist in the friction created when two opposites collide. During their 15 years together, Switchfoot has teetered between the sacred and the secu-lar worlds. They’ve received numerous accolades (most recently a Grammy for Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album) only to claim they ultimately mean nothing.

Now, at the height of their career, with millions of albums sold and a still-growing international audience, the band is going against itself—more specifically, going against their signature sound that led them to this point.Switchfoot—which includes Foreman (lead vocals, gui-tar), his brother Tim Foreman (bass), Jerome Fontamillas (guitar, keyboards), Drew Shirley (guitar) and Chad Butler (drums)—haven’t abandoned any of their instruments; they’ve simply allowed the bass and drum to move the listener in ways electric guitars can’t.

“One thing we were intentional about was finding a dif-ferent rhythmic motor for the music,” Tim Foreman says. “We’re typically known for our crunchy guitars and being a guitar-driven band. I think for this record we tried to let the drums and bass drive the motor a lot more. It really has a different heartbeat because of that.”