Ichthus: A chat with Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman

Switchfoot. Photo by Jeremy and Claire Weiss.

Switchfoot. Photo by Jeremy and Claire Weiss.

It’s a danger sign for any band: The charismatic frontman goes off to make a solo record.

So, while enjoying a quartet of solo EPs from Jon Foreman and his Fiction Family side project with Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins, Switchfoot fans couldn’t be blamed for wondering whether this meant the act was breaking up.

“There was never a fear of that,” Foreman says from a tour stop in Florida. “Whatever happened we knew would be for the best.”

The band was secure and ­supportive of Foreman’s forays, he says. But it was also time to make some changes on its latest album, Hello Hurricane.

“Freedom is an amazing thing, and I feel like this album had the wind of freedom blowing through it in every note,” Foreman says. “The side project and the solo stuff were ­incredible chances to take risks, and we kind of carried that out on this record.”

Hello Hurricane, released late last year, is Switchfoot’s first album since 2006’s Oh! Gravity.

It’s also been three years since Switchfoot has played the Ichthus Festival, which the band will headline Thursday night.

Fans can expect to hear a band reinvigorated by change playing songs from what Foreman says is its best-received album ever.

Jon Foreman in a self-portrait taken at the 2009 BroAm Festival, which the band presents in its home base of San Diego. Copyrighted photo by Jon Foreman.

Jon Foreman in a self-portrait taken at the 2009 BroAm Festival, which the band presents in its home base of San Diego. Copyrighted photo by Jon Foreman.

Hello Hurricane marks ­Switchfoot’s first release on its lowercase people imprint, which it formed after ­splitting from Columbia Records. The new ­album was licensed to Atlantic ­Records for distribution. It was also the group’s first effort recorded in its new San Diego studios.

Foreman also sees it as a first record recorded with ­renewed vision for the group.

“You start playing music, you pick up a guitar, because you love Led Zeppelin, in my case,” Foreman says. “You do Led Zeppelin cover songs and you’re in a Led Zeppelin cover band in junior high. Then your voice starts to change and you start writing your own songs because you can’t hit the high notes ­anymore. Then, at some point, you get a gig playing your junior high school for 500 bucks, and you think, ‘This is amazing, we actually got paid to play rock ‘n’ roll.’

“You drop out of ­college at some point and you start playing music. And there may be little defining moments, but there’s never a point where you define yourself.”

That’s what Foreman says Switchfoot did between Oh! Gravity and Hello Hurricane.

“We destroyed everything we created,” Foreman says. “We went away for a while. … Then, when we came back together, we said, ‘Who do we want to be for the next 10 years? Who are we? Why do we love playing music?’

“We never regretted ­anything we did, but we wanted to find a new place to go to.”

With Foreman’s solo work still ongoing, along with Fiction Family, Foreman has to sometimes discern where new songs should go in his portfolio.

“I always say it’s one of the most backhanded ­compliments to say, ‘Yeah, that’s a great song. You should put it on your solo album,'” Foreman says, with a laugh. “I often say ­Switchfoot is more of a megaphone, and the solo work and Fiction Family is more of a whisper.”

Hello Hurricane is easily the loudest Switchfoot album since the group’s early efforts.

The album also had a high-profile debut in the mainstream market, heralded by a noisy BlackBerry ad and appearances on most major national TV showcases, including The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. The album ­debuted at No. 13 on ­Billboard’s album chart.

Switchfoot is still one of the top acts in the Christian rock market, where it first gained success. But Foreman is careful to put that status in his own perspective.

“For me, my faith has never been a genre,” ­Foreman says. “We’ve always played for whoever would let us in the door.

“Whether it’s U2 or Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash, the music that draws me in has a heartbeat to it, has soul.”

Switchfoot has been seen as one of the leading bands in blurring the lines between the faith and mainstream market. That in some ways embraces a real spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, to Foreman.

“When I think of the brand of faith, it comes only with the commercialization and the commodification of rock ‘n’ roll and trying to put it in a box,” Foreman says. “As an artist, you’re always trying to blur these lines and let the lines out of the cages.”

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