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Features May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2
   

Diego Rock
(continued)

 
     

In 2003, Switchfoot was picked up by a major label, Columbia Records, for their fourth album The Beautiful Letdown, which sold 2 million copies, five times as many as their previous three albums combined. “Meant To Live,” their first single from this album, reached #5 on the Adult Top 40 and Modern Rock Charts and their first video premiered on MTV in 2003. Their second single from Letdown, “Dare You To Move,” made it into the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100.

Letdown blends the past ten years of modern-rock radio,” said Kirk Miller of Rolling Stone, “ranging from quiet jam-band pop “This Is Your Life” to a funky, hand-clapping singalong “Gone” that could be the best song Third Eye Blind never wrote.”

Their touring schedule increased to nearly 300 shows a year, many of them to capacity crowds. They sold 1.25 million tickets worldwide during their five Letdown tours in venues from London, England to Sydney, Australia. Quite a change from the early days at the Ché Café.

“Now it is really surreal to flip on TV in an Australian hotel room and see your face,” Butler says. “It’s kind of awkward. It kind of makes you self conscious, but at the same time, I think that there’s something in the songs that we feel is worth being heard.”

***

The band members have long made it a point to do more than just produce chart-toppers. Switchfoot initially headlined religious music festivals, yet the band does not come across as preachy. As Tim told Rolling Stone in 2003, “We’re Christian by faith, not genre.” Switchfoot’s true Christian roots are really shown through their works, more than evangelical lyrics.

Following the release of their third album Learning to Breathe, the band members became aware of a group of Sudanese refugees, who had relocated to San Diego.
“We had heard that they were musicians and invited them to come out and open for us at a local show we did for our CD release,” says Butler. “They came down and they were just super talented, creative musicians.”

Through their involvement with the refugees, Switchfoot became more aware of the AIDS crisis in Africa and got involved with Bono’s (of U2) organization DATA, Debt AIDS Trade for Africa.

The band has used their influence to direct young people to the organization’s website, www.data.org, so they can be educated on the realities of what Butler calls “the holocaust of our generation.” He recommends that young people write to their representatives and the president to encourage the United States to follow through on the AIDS relief money that has been pledged.

“Something like 7,000 people a day die (from AIDS in Africa), mostly infants that got it from their mothers,” says Butler. “That’s something really close to us that we’ve been trying to support through our music.”

This past May, Switchfoot hosted their first Bro-Am surf contest at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. The event raised money for Care House, a non-profit Christian ministry dedicated to serving in-crisis and homeless teens. The winning team Surf Ride, led by switchfoot “maestro” Derek Balcomen, was announced at a private awards ceremony and concert for the teenagers at La Paloma Theatre.

MTV chose Switchfoot’s song “Dare You To Move” for their Rock the Vote campaign during the 2004 Presidential Election. The campaign had a goal of encouraging 20 million in the 18 to 24 age range to vote, and produced promotional spots and other political programming aimed at young people.

“That was a real honor for us to have a song that is about inspiring change in ourselves, inspire other people to get up and take part in the world around them,” says Butler.

As the lyrics of the song go: “The tension is here / Between who you are and who you could be / Between how it is and how it should be.”

However, they do not consider themselves a political band in the typical sense. “I guess the songs are more about the politics of the heart,” says Butler. “I think that if we can get behind causes that are bigger than bipartisan feuds, then we can make a difference.”

***

Switchfoot released their fifth album Nothing is Sound on September 13. It will be available as both a traditional CD and as a DualDisc, a new technology that is CD on one side and DVD on the other. The DVD features the entire album
in 5.1 Surround Sound plus exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of the band on the road and in the studio.

The band wrote and recorded the album’s 12 songs while touring for Letdown.

“We wanted to release a record this summer, and we were trying to figure out when in the world we would have time to record it,” says Jon. “So we took out a second set of gear, tiny drums and amps, and set up in the dressing room every day and got songs ready. While the opening bands were playing, we were in some tiny room trying to make a record.”
Due to their hectic tour schedule, parts of the album were recorded everywhere from South Africa to Jon’s bedroom in San Diego. The recordings were done electronically and sent back to producer John Fields.

Though Jon primarily writes the songs, the entire band contributes to the final product. In fact, it hasn’t changed all that much since their nights in the living room in Encinitas.
“Our creative process starts with something simple that Jon comes up with and builds on that,” says Butler. “We’re trying to write things that complement the song. We’ve always had
a Sgt. Pepper approach to recording, where it’s about the song and not necessarily finding a homogeneous sound for a record. Just doing whatever it takes to make that song the best it can be. Whether it needs a French horn or harmonica or throwing the kitchen sink at it if need be. I think that’s allowed us to be diverse from song to song, even within one record.”

Over 40 of Switchfoot’s songs have been used in movies and television; they have several videos in constant rotation on MTV and VH1 (see sidebar); they continue to sell out shows all over the world. So has all that fame gone to Butler’s head? Not really. He still lives in Encinitas with his wife, still surfs at La Jolla Shores occasionally, still thinks he has the best job in the world.

“ We love doing it,” Butler says. “We’re best friends, all of us in the band. Twenty years from now we’ll be back down in La Jolla at a barbeque on the beach remembering how we used to be in a band.”

Karla DeVries 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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"It all started in a dorm room in the Thurgood Marshall lower apartments, where Jon was penning songs as 'Chem 6A'..."