With its play on words, Vice Verses, the title of Switchfoot’s new album, coherently suggests the album’s theme: everything has two sides. “Every blessing comes with a set of curses,” singer-guitarist Jon Foreman sings on the title track, all the while wondering if “there’s a meaning to it all.” That theme runs through the album’s 12 songs and is even reflected in the album’s black and white cover.
“The whole thing is about polarity,” says Foreman. “We wanted to write about the polarity of what it means to be human, the lights and darks. I’m always intrigued by the tension that exists between life and death. When making Hello Hurricane, there was a graveyard right by the hotel we were staying at while we were mixing it, and I spent a little bit of time there each morning walking through and sorting it out…really Vice Verses started there. This record is as much about loss as it is about what we still have while we’re living.”
One example of that quest for meaning includes the Foo Fighters-like “Afterlife,” in which Foreman contemplates mortality. There are plenty of other good examples, too. In the ballad “Thrive,” he muses, “Am I myself, or am I dreaming?” Foreman starts the hard-rocking, anthem-to-be “Dark Horses,” by admitting, “I’ve made my mistakes.” And in “Souvenirs,” he practically channels U2’s Bono as he croons, “Nothing lasts forever.” But the one track that will really throw fans for a loop is “Selling the News,” a Beck-like song with a hip-hop beat that finds Foreman performing spoken word.
“I think the song is inspired by a lot of different things,” Foreman says of “Selling the News.” “We are bombarded by a lot of talking heads and salespersons in terms of billboards and televisions. I began to ponder the idea that these enormous media machines are fed by advertisers, and they are happy when there’s something sensational going on in the world. This is a new paradigm that we haven’t seen before. There’s this onslaught of information. The idea that we are raising generations that are completely accustomed to watching wars on TV is a little bit frightening to me.”
“People will be surprised when they hear it,” says drummer Chad Butler. “Jon’s rhythmic delivery is amazing. I often feel like Jon is a drummer locked in a singer-guitarist’s body. He’s incredibly aware of beats and how they interplay with the vocals. The song is definitely influenced by the hip-hop we grew up listening to, whether it’s A Tribe Called Quest or Beastie Boys.”
The San Diego band first formed in 1996 when Foreman and his brother Tim put the group together. Butler says the band members were all friends from their days together at high school. At the time, the San Diego indie rock scene was thriving as bands such as Rocket from the Crypt and Drive Like Jehu had just started to gain national attention.
In keeping true to its San Diego roots, the band annually hosts Switchfoot Bro-Am, an event that benefits the San Diego-based StandUp for Kids, a national non-profit helping homeless and at risk youth. The Bro-Am includes a surf contest, charity auction, and festival concert. The event has raised over $500,000 to date, and this year’s event attracted 10,000 people.
“San Diego has given us so much,” Foreman says. “Bro-Am is the most rewarding week of our lives. I’ve been given so much, it’s natural for me to give back to these kids who have been dealt a tricky hand. These are amazing kids who are dealing with all sorts of issues.”
In addition to his role in Switchfoot, Foreman still finds time for Fiction Family, the acoustic outfit that he fronts alongside Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins. He has also become a columnist for the Huffington Post and writes about topics as wide-ranging as his backyard garden and inspirational civil rights leaders.
“We love music and playing together,” he says. We thrive on the communal aspect of song and the stories that are invested within. We’ve been through a lot together… Incredible, wonderful moments and also really destructive, painful moments. You can feel that weight in some of the songs. It’s an incredible dream-come-true to say, ‘It’s time for a new Switchfoot record’ and to be able to go into the studio and make the album exactly how we want to make it.”