By Joshua Maloni
When you're a band with as much success as Switchfoot, it can be difficult to cram everything – in this case, 22 years, 11 albums and a string of hits – into one succinct concert. Two hours isn’t nearly enough time to deep-dive into such a catalog of music and memories.
So, what do you do?
You open for yourself.
Switchfoot will offer fans a unique double set as part of its “Fantastic Traveling Music Show.” The tour stops at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester on Oct. 18.
Frontman Jon Foreman, his brother, Tim (bass, backing vocals), and bandmates Jerome Fontamillas (keyboards, guitar), Drew Shirley (guitar) and Chad Butler (drums) decided to go all out for this fall trek, reimagining songs and performing plugged and unplugged segments.
Tim explained more during a phone interview with NFP. An edited Q&A follows.
Q: I’ve got to ask you a very serious, important question. And that is what is up with the red beanies?
Tim Foreman: (Laughs) Well, we're big fans of Wes Anderson, and his films. And “The Life Aquatic” is one of our favorite films. And we kind of had this crazy idea of what if we themed this tour based around “Life Aquatic.” That was kind of the impetus behind it.
I think the bigger impetus behind the tour, as a whole, was to do everything different, you know, everything different than we've ever done it before. We're all familiar with the standard tour format, where there's an opener, maybe another opener, then the headliner comes on. And then there's an encore, maybe two encores, and then you go home. You know, it's great. We all love that. But we've been doing that for a while. And one of the things we've been hearing on our last few tours is that people wish that we could play more songs. Because we've been a band a long time. We have 11 albums, with a lot of songs to choose from, you know?
And so, that kind of started us thinking, “OK, what if we just wipe the slate clean and did things differently on this tour?” And so we decided to be our own opener, and do two sets. And we figured, “Well, if we're doing two sets, then let's make one of them acoustic, because we've never done that either.”
And so, everything kept snowballing from there. And we decided to theme it as this grand expedition, a voyage, you know. So, not only are we bringing acoustic instruments and rock instruments, but we're also bringing a hot air balloon and a boat, for good measure.
Q: Of course, I mean, if you're going to name a tour “Their Fantastic Traveling Music Show,” I think it's obligatory you have a hot air balloon and a boat.
Tim Foreman: Absolutely, yup. It’s in the fine print.
Q: I think so; it's on Page 3.
It makes a lot of sense to change up the tour format. Like you said, it's something that was a response to what your fans were asking for. It keeps it fresher and exciting and new for you guys. I was lucky to talk to Chris Cornell one time, and he would tell me that anytime he was doing an acoustic show, he was always thinking about the rock shows. And anytime he was doing a rock show, he would always think about the acoustic show. Does this give you the best of both worlds, musically, being able to do an acoustic set, and then a full-blown rock set?
Tim Foreman: Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, you're playing a rock set, and you play more than like, you know, maybe three or four kind of stripped-down songs in the middle of that, it can feel disjointed. And so, I think, to go all the way there, and make it intentionally disjointed, and that's part of the plan, I think that it’s all about expectations. So, we all come in expecting that we're going to play all the acoustic songs knowing that there'll be plenty of room to rock later. I think it’ll make for a really interesting environment.
Q: How do you determine, with such a catalogue as yours, which songs are going to be acoustic and which ones are going to be “regular” or more traditional?
Tim Foreman: Yeah, I mean, that's part of fun, you know, is picking some unlikely candidates for the acoustic set. One of the first ones that came to mind was “Meant To Live.” It’s one of one of our better-known rock songs. But it actually is really pretty in an acoustic format.
So, I think those are going to be some of the highlights: Song being presented in a completely different way.
The other part of this tour is that every night has to be different – and will be. We're taking a lot of requests throughout the night. And we never play the same setlist twice, anyway. That’s kind of been our formula for touring for a long time to begin with, is that there is no formula. Every night is unique. And so, we're leaning into that more than ever before with this one.
Q: How does that work logistically? Because, you know, so many bands have to lock in their setlist nowadays because of videos or lights or different sorts of bells and whistles they're throwing out there. So, to not have a setlist and to change it up like you guys change it up – how do you make that work?
Tim Foreman: So, we will have a setlist. Just like every night, we do have a setlist. But we rarely follow it. It’s at least a starting point, and then from there, we kind of take all sorts of departures from it.
We have this saying within the band that the best part of the pool is the deep end. So, I think we're really embracing that. And that, you know, making good plans is fine. And that has its merits, but also, embracing the completely reckless unknown is what we love about live music.
I think that's something that we rarely get to see nowadays. And most bands, nowadays are using a lot of tracks, which is something we've never done. And so, I think we're just embracing all the things that make us kind of unique in who we are as a band.
Q: You must give your roadies really nice Christmas gifts.
Tim Foreman: (Laughs) Yeah, it is really challenging for our team, and they are amazing at what they do. Because, you know, things like lights and front of house, mixing, and getting the right guitars in the right tuning for each song, those are difficult things when there's not a set setlist every night. They're very flexible, and we all laugh a lot of at the end of the night.
Q: The past couple of interviews that I've done have been with Amy Grant and MercyMe. Those two acts, and your band, you can exist in two different worlds: You can exist in mainstream music, and you can exist in Christian music – and I'm sure you get very different kinds of audiences, depending on where you are. When you're playing it at this venue, Roberts Wesleyan College, it's a Christian college. Knowing you're going to a Christian college, do you change anything up, as opposed to playing in an arena? Or is it just, you know, the music is the music, and you created it for a reason? What is the philosophy as far as what type of an audience you might get on any given night?
Tim Foreman: You know, we really consider the music venue as a primary factor in that, our approach to the song themselves has never – we've never made a separation between sacred and secular. I don't think that's the way God looks at us. And I've never viewed people that way.
I think we're all hurting people trying to figure things out, with a lot of questions. And that includes me, you know? And so those are the types of songs we write. And I think those are the types of people that have come along for the journey with us, is believers who aren't afraid to talk about pain and fear and doubt.
We do consider the music venue, though, a lot, because I think big rock songs, big ballads, those songs work really great in a really large arena. Whereas really fast songs don't work as well. So we consider kind of the source material, and how it will be played. Depending on the type of venue that we're playing in.
Q: Obviously, audiences will know you're more well-established songs, your hit songs and that. You got a lot of good publicity and a lot of good buzz for “Native Tongue.” What can you tell me about “Native Tongue,” as far as how's it been received? And what do you enjoy about playing those songs live every night?
Tim Foreman: Yeah, “Native Song” has been such a gift for us. From the very beginning, it kind of came out of an unlikely scenario, in that we had just announced our first and only hiatus we've ever taken as a band. That was the year 2018. And, it turns out, we're not very good at hiatus (laughs).
It was this really kind of existential season, for us, asking, “Well, what does a musician do when he's on hiatus? Does that mean I don't play music?” And, for me, I found myself writing a ton of songs. But there was no reason to be writing music. And there was kind of something beautiful about that. You know, we had no deadline; we weren't making an album; we didn't know what the future held for us. But I was writing a ton of songs.
And I started sneaking into the studio and recording them. And then I started noticing that my brother had been doing the same thing. And so, we started getting together, and our routine everyday kind of became locked into, you know, spend time with the family, drop the kids off at school, go for a quick surf, and then go to the studio for a few hours and record a few songs.
And there was no reason to be doing any of it, it was just kind of following the joy, and embracing the season.
And when we wrote “Native Tongue,” we kind of had this realization that it was kind of a big idea, the big concept, that suddenly galvanized all these songs that seemed, in their own right, kind of disparate and all over the place. And we realized that, maybe all along, we've been making a Switchfoot record without realizing it.
It’s kind of a beautiful way to make an album, and then, you know, realizing that it was pretty different, as far as a Switchfoot album goes. It was really adventurous, a few different colors, than we'd ever shown people before.
So, to have it be received so well as been such a gift, because you really never know if anyone else is going to get it – or like it. It’s this vulnerable thing as an artist to put anything out there.
And so, yeah, it’s been great, and we can't wait to take these songs along with us for the journey this fall.
Q: You mentioned your brother. I have a brother, who I love, but I couldn't ever be in a band with my brother; that would just be a complete, horrible flaming disaster. Tell me a little bit about the dynamic between you and Jon, and how that's evolved over the years.
Tim Foreman: Yeah, I mean, there's definitely been quite a few moments along the way that I have thought the same thing as you. (Laughs) “I don't know that I can do this.” Because it is challenging. And when we were kids, we fought a ton. We were competitive about everything. And I'm just thankful that music wasn't one of those things that we were competitive about. We kind of went to two different parts of the field, and we were never competing for the same territory.
I do think there's been a lot of friction between us through the years, in the creative process. And I think we've made peace with it, and gotten better at it, through the discovery that the friction isn't necessarily a bad thing. I think learning to appreciate that friction means that we both care. And that, ultimately, not caring is really the true enemy. Being passionate and having an opinion is actually a good thing. And that has really helped us through the years. And continues to help us.
Kingdom Bound Ministries will bring “Switchfoot & Their Fantastic Traveling Music Show” to Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18. Click HERE for more information or for tickets.