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Features May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2
   

Diego Rock
by Karla DeVries, '04

 
     

As the distortion from the opening number fades into the warm New Jersey afternoon, the lead singer of Switchfoot addresses the crowd packed into the Northern Star Arena at Six Flags Great Adventure.

“Ready for some Diego rock?” he yells. The east coast crowd breaks into wild cheers, though they likely have no idea what he means. But as the distinctive opening guitar riff of “Meant to Live” swells over the din of nearby roller coasters, it is evident that this is not your typical teen-pop sensation.

Switchfoot is soaring in popularity since the debut of their double platinum album The Beautiful Letdown. But these rockers have been around for nearly a decade, weaving together captivating melodies and thoughtful lyrics. Drummer Chad Butler, ’97, joined lead singer and guitarist Jon Foreman and his bass-playing brother, Tim Foreman, while at UCSD together in the 1990s. It was in the waves of La Jolla Shores that their brand of surf rock with a conscience was born. As the song from Beautiful Letdown goes, “This is your life, are you who you want to be? / Is it everything you dreamed it would be / When the world was younger and you had everything to lose.”

***

The Foremans and Butler became friends through their love of surfing. Even the band’s name comes from a surfing term, which means switching directions on a wave by putting a different foot forward on the board. “We kind of grew up in a surfing community in San Diego,” says Butler. “And then we were all on the Surf Team at UCSD at one time or another.”

It all started in a dorm room, in the Thurgood Marshall lower apartments, where Jon was penning such songs as “Chem 6A” referring to his freshman chemistry course. Butler was then wavering between a biology and history major (eventually graduating as History of Science) and captaining the top-ranked Surf Team.

“I joined the band because I’m a fan of Jon’s writing,” says Butler. “I remember him sitting on his bed in the dorm room playing me a song and saying ‘what do you think?’”

The fledgling band then set up shop in the Foremans’ living room in Encinitas to create their characteristic sound.

Butler recalls, “Jon could make a song that was just the lyrics and an acoustic guitar riff and we’d take it home, and sort of chop it up and put it back together as a Switchfoot song.”

As Switchfoot assembled a collection of original songs, they started to book shows around UCSD, at the Ché Café and Porter’s Pub. Eventually they were able to branch out into the local music community, playing venues like the Casbah and the Scene.

After just 20 live shows, the band was signed by Sparrow Records in 1996, a Christian label representing artists such as Lifehouse and Bethany Dillon. Switchfoot was able to put out their first album, Legend of Chin, on June 17, 1997.

Their second album, New Way To Be Human, which was released on March 23, 1999, proved to be a more difficult effort. Pressures of following up their past success, tour schedules, and full course loads at UCSD took their toll as the band recorded in Nashville during the fall of 1998. Also during this time, Butler married his wife Christina Kang, ’97, who he met while teaching surfing classes at UCSD.

The band took time off and toured in a minivan while still trying to complete college, but this became increasingly difficult as the years went by.

“We’d come back and go to school winter quarter and try it again in the spring” says Butler. “But that got too hard. Jon got about half way through, and Tim got a couple years under his belt as well. I was fortunate enough to graduate.”
Jerome Fontamillas, who plays keyboards and guitar, joined the band in 2000 for their third album Learning to Breathe. In 2001, they received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Gospel Album and two San Diego Music Awards for Best Pop Album and Best Pop Artist.

This fine line between Rock Gospel and Pop makes Switchfoot appealing both within the Christian music scene and beyond. In Learning to Breathe Jon sings, “That I’m learning to breathe / I’m learning to crawl / I’m finding that You and You alone can break my fall.” With lyrics that could easily pass for either romantic love or spiritual devotion, Switchfoot floats between the genres. PAGE2

Karla DeVries, 04, is currently assistant editor at @UCSD.

 

RELATED LINKS

Switchfoot
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Switchfoot Bro Am
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Surfing Magazine Bro Am Article
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Thurgood Marshall College Home Page
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"Switchfoot started their career in a Marshall dorm, and are still going strong with a new CD in September."