Switchfoot Interview: Oh! Gravity...Why Can't We Keep it Together?

|PIC1|Switchfoot has come a long way. With their album The Beautiful Letdown going double-platinum in 2004, the ensuing Switchfoot projects have just gotten better and better.

Despite being critically acclaimed on a worldwide scale, the five-piece Californian rock band remain humble as ever. Long having claimed to be "Christian by faith, not by genre", frontman Jonathan Foreman likes to emphasise that 'who you are offstage is what really matters' - and that life should be your testimony as a Christian. Recently having released their latest project Oh! Gravity., 3/5 of the guys from Switchfoot joined the Christian Today crew offstage, in London's Shepherds Bush Empire during their European tour. (Jonathan Foreman; leadsinger, Jerome Fontamillas; background vocals, keys, guitar, Drew Shirley; guitar)

How is the European tour going so far?

Jerome: It's amazing.

Drew: Great.

Jonathan: It's something to be thankful for. You can come half-way around the world and you have people singing along. That's an honour.

Any memorable experiences?

Jonathan: [In Germany], we went to the club next door, and there was a jazz session.

Jerome: In Hamburg.

Jonathan: Yeah. There was a club next door that was...

Drew: A bit open-minded.

Jonathan: A little bit of mic-nite. So there were all these guys with trumpets.

Jerome: Flute players!

Jonathan: It was a club where we found out that the Beatles used to play in. So [I nudged the guys] and said 'We gotta play there!' So we went over there, and it was great. We had the flute player join in on "Let Your Love Be Strong"...

Jerome: "Faust, Midas, and Myself". [Both tracks from Oh! Gravity.]

Jonathan: Yeah, "Faust"... It's stuff like that that keeps it fresh, you know?

It's great that your music is spreading all around the world. I was in Korea two years ago and your music was playing in a restaurant there.

Jonathan: Cool. I've got a lot of Korean friends. Our first record The Legend of Chin was named after a friend who is Korean.

So what's the next step for lowercase people (an online magazine founded by Switchfoot)?

Jonathan: It's kind of one of those dreams that you start off with a lot of passion, and not really have any idea or experience of what you're getting into. We partnered with Geneva Global and that's been great because they have a lot of experience. I think it's a lot more of opening our eyes and looking around and hopefully diving in where people need us and our help. There are a lot of incredible organisations that are helping people around the world, and we don't want to be stepping on somebody's toes. That requires a lot of thought. So we're kind of figuring out what the next place to hit is. You only get so many punches, and you want to make each one count.

Let's talk about your new album. What's the main message you want to get across through Oh! Gravity.?

Jonathan: I think it's not as simplistic as having just one message. I think every song has something to say. Maybe in different layers. It's kind of like a relationship. If I was gonna sum up my relationship with Drew, there probably will be a lot of different aspects and facets that we have. In the same way when we're working on a record, you're dealing with so many different layers. So for this, if I were to sum it up, I think it'll be the idea around gravity - like the title. The idea that everything keeps falling apart when it's supposed to be together. It seems like we daily defy the law of physics, the law of gravity.

|PIC2|(Holding up the album cover) What's the concept of this drawing? Is that... blood on Jerome's head?

Jerome: Could be!

Drew: Jerome had a head-bleed that day. (laughter)

Jonathan: We put a lot of the songs in artwork. When you open it up (opens album cover) there are all these hidden stories that we put in there. Different symbols and things that we think are important to the song.

What do these symbols mean (points to a drawing)?

Jonathan: Well all of them are very subjective and can be interpreted in different ways. All the songs you can see down here: "Circles", "American Dream", "Yesterdays", "Dirty Second Hands". This is a clock... a boat... and we liked the idea of the bird - but birds have been done so much. There's a surfboard and a whale there.

Back in the days, you had all these different records you can look at. You have it up, you know, it was a very discernable element of music where you can look at the record as you listen to it. We wanted something that was as large as a record to be able to look at the whole time you're looking at it. It was fun to make.

Well, it does look fun.

Jonathan: Every one of these were drawn separately.

Drew: And put together like a collage.

Jerome: Yeah, like this was a certain section, and that was a section, etc.

Is that an octopus there?

Jonathan: It can be whatever you want it to be. I thought it was a snail.

Drew: I thought it was a fruit necklace.


So, have you guys heard about the U2charist? It's an adapted Holy Communion service that uses U2's songs in place of hymns.

Drew: Yeah, I read about it.

What are your thoughts on that?

Jonathan: When Handel's "Messiah" was performed in opera houses, people were outraged. 'Why is this music being sung outside the church? You shouldn't do it.' With Johnny Cash - he wanted to play gospel but certain records wouldn't let him come out with that. I think it's a struggle we'll have to continue to deal with. It's a timeless struggle; you have faith, commerce, and art colliding at the same point. As musicians, we believe in God, we like music, and we also try to pay rent. This is something you wrestle with every time you pick up your guitar. But I think it's cool, it sounds exciting. It's like everything - you have different challenges you face with that kind of approach.

Would you like your songs to be sung in churches?

|PIC3|Jonathan: Part of me would be honoured, you know, but part of me thinks it might be taking it out of context almost. There are just so many anthems to God from celebrity rock clubs... My idea of worship is more like straight Old Testament songs. I'm a little bit more traditional (smiles), a bit conservative.

You like them being distinguished?

Jonathan: Yea, like oil and water. But I like modern music. I like U2!

So how do you live out your Christian faith when you're offstage?

Jonathan: I think the term "Christian" is something that has to be said about you, from a third party, rather than boastfully saying it yourself. It's easier for me to say, 'I can fly, I can jump off of a building and live, I could do all these ridiculous things'- but the harder thing is for us to actually do it. As far as what we do offstage, we certainly don't have any book, where it goes 'do this, this, this' - and everything goes perfectly. That's the whole point of the song "Amateur Lovers" (Oh! Gravity.). The idea that I've got a lot to learn. I think all of us, we're all still learning. Screwing up daily.

Drew: Practicing faith- screwing up daily.

Jonathan: Yeah, so we're all learning from it and hopefully moving forward. I think to call yourself anything more than a sinner is a lie.

Drew: Seriously.

Jonathan: Thinking that you're better than somebody else. I think that's another thing that keeps us at where we are at. Singing songs at clubs, pubs, and bars - even churches. There is no safe place. There is no industry that is not tainted with greed, pride, lust, fear - all these negative things - including the Christian music industry. So to think that you're going to be applying a record or a product or a book that's outside of that is almost untrue.

For us, it's about living everyday to the fullest. We're trying to practice daily the Kingdom of Heaven for the Audience of One.