Facets of Faith: Switchfoot heads to La. with new film, album

Rock band Switchfoot is surfing into Louisiana for March shows in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

And as the band tours with its ninth album, surfing is front and center.

It starts with the band’s name.

Drummer Chad Butler said, “We grew up in San Diego, Calif., and Switchfoot is a surfing term. It means to put the other foot forward than you normally would.

“Surfing is a big part of our friendship, how we connected — in the water.”

He said that as the band travels the world, “‘Switchfoot’ definitely reminds us of the culture and the sport of surfing.”

Butler, along with brothers Jon Foreman (lead singer, guitar) and Tim Foreman (bass and vocals), are the founding members of the group. Through the years, they have added Drew Shirley (guitar, backing vocals) and Jerome Fontamillas (guitar, keyboards, vocals).

The band’s first album was in 1997, and changes on their record label kept its distribution to the Christian market rather than the expanded audience it sought.

And while its current project “Fading West” draws from surfing and faith, the film and album take on global dimensions.

Beyond surf movie

“As we set out to make our ninth record as a band, (we) wanted to do something different, to look for inspiration around the world, to get out of our everyday environment and to visit some of the most incredible surfing destinations around the world.

“So we created a documentary ... about the journey, and looking for songs and waves around the world is the theme. It’s part surf movie, part rock documentary, and it’s a very honest look at our band,” he said. “Much more than a making of a new album it’s a real human movie. It’s a look at balancing family life and touring around the world.”

Surfing is leaving its mark in other ways.

In January, lead singer Jon Foreman injured himself in a surfing accident — in California. He received nearly 30 stitches on his face and inside his upper lip.

“(Jon is) healing up great,” Butler said. “What an ironic injury — to be surfing all these really dangerous waves around the world, and then he gets hurt right here in our own backyard.”

Lyrical and life roots

Beyond surfing, the members’ Christianity shows in their lyrics.

“I think our faith is something that’s obviously a big part of who we are as people, as individuals, as fathers as husbands and obviously as artists,” Butler said. “I think it invades every part of your life. And I see it as all connected.

“We’ve always been very forthright about our faith, and dealing with issues of faith and doubt in the music is something that we’ve always hoped we’ve been very comfortable doing. Sometimes you can talk about things in a song that would be uncomfortable in everyday conversation.”

Butler continued, “I think through art and music you are able to dive into those deeper subjects and talk about both sides of the coin — faith and doubt, beauty and pain — and all the things we struggle with, trying to wrestle with, to figure it out as a group. I don’t know that I have a lot of answers. But I definitely have a lot of questions, and I think that that’s been our goal is to be honest and real with the songs that we put forward. It’s an ongoing dialog and something we don’t have all buttoned up and figured out. It’s definitely a journey we are on together.”

Louisiana connection

The band has performed in Louisiana several times over the past few years.

“We have a great musical connection with Baton Rouge and New Orleans, touring there for many, many years now,” Butler said. “Those towns have deep, deep musical heritage. I always get excited walking down the street in New Orleans and listening to musicians on every corner. Everywhere you go there’s music in that town.”

The band has also worked offstage to help people here.

Butler said, “Right after Katrina, we had an opportunity to do a Habitat for Humanity build (in Baton Rouge). We met a woman who had lost her leg. We were able to work beside her to build her new home. That inspiration, that will to continue, inspired a song and an album we put out several years ago called ‘Hello Hurricane.’

“I think that kind of spirit is pervasive in that town. That region of the country has survived some great hardship, and I think it’s an inspiration to all of us. When you are talking about storms in life, they’re not always wind and rain ... , physical storms, but we all go through hardship. I think that that story is definitely one that inspired us and has carried us on.”

New dimension

“This tour is really different,” Butler said.

He said the band plans to use scenes from the film in concert.

“I think that this story of our band and the journey we are on is something that is very visually represented now. For us to be able to play these songs live and play them firsthand in Baton Rouge and in New Orleans, that’s a dream come true, and we can’t wait.”

Butler said that combining music and graphics gives context to the song. It shows the visual emotion and the beauty of the landscape connected to each song.

He said filming “was invigorating and rejuvenating” because the places, cultures and landscapes were inspiring.

“I think the musical influences are heard throughout the record. The instrumentation, the people, the voices of children we met in South Africa, instruments that we discovered in Indonesia. … I think I learned a lot over the past few years in the project about challenging yourself and putting yourself outside your comfort zone and the inspiration that can be found if you are willing to take a risk.”

The songs

When asked to pick his favorite Switchfoot song of all time, Butler said, “For having nine records, there are so many songs, it’s hard to chose. … Something I’m proud of is that there are songs from many years ago that we still play every night. A song like ‘Dare You to Move’ still means just as much or more to me now as when we first played it many years ago.”

Switchfoot’s current single from Fading West is “Love Alone Is Worth the Fight.”

“I think that’s a song that thematically sums up what we learned on the journey around the world,” Butler said.

He said that the film captures the difficult times they had on their musical surf journey.

“Without giving too much away, we had to deal with some family crisis back home and ask ourselves some big questions about why are we doing what we’re doing. Ultimately that song reflects that struggle and the punch line being that love alone is worth the fight.”

“Saltwater Heart” is another song Butler highlights. “There’s a beautiful moment in the film when we were sitting in the edge of the Indian Ocean on a cliff in Bali, Indonesia, and the song began there.

“In the film, you see the song come to life just from simple guitar and a notebook — a lyric and a melody — then a few minutes later, we’re working on it as a band, and ultimately it becomes a song that made the record. And you see it from beginning to end.

“I think that in those beautiful moments you actually capture creativity in the element where it was inspired, so I think that song is a direct correlation to the beauty and the environment that we were in at the time being in Indonesia on the edge of the earth looking out at the Indian Ocean.”

The band has already been playing songs from “Fading West” live.

Butler said that “When We Come Alive” is another favorite from the film and album.

“The vocals on this record really carry a lot of the energy. We did things differently as a band.

“Instead of starting the songs primarily on guitar — which is sort of what we’ve been known for in the past, a guitar-rock band — (we were) trying to tie our hands behind our backs and trying to put our guitars off to the side and focus on other things.”

Butler said the band tried to “Focus on the vocal melodies, focus on the different instrumentation and creating more space to reflect the landscapes we were in.

“I think that that exercise was really good and in challenging ourselves. The result is we were able to put the guitars on last, just as the final flavor, and I think that song ‘When We Come Alive’ is a good example of that — where the vocals really carry the emotion of the song, and I think that that is a highlight of the record for me.”