MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: Influential Artists of All Time – Week 2: Switchfoot

If you were to ask me to name one band that has successfully shaped their craft and pioneered a movement where music was able to transcend both mainstream markets and CCM circles, I’d have to say Switchfoot. Maybe some people have heard of this 5 piece band from San Diego, California, maybe some people haven’t. Regardless, Jon Foreman (lead singer) and co. have gifted us with mountains upon mountains of songs that have had (and continue to have) the ability to speak to our souls, to challenge our very being when other conversations and introspective discussions have failed to do so. Switchfoot’s music, for me, is a reminder of the power that a song can have in a certain moment, and that creating a song almost gives you licence to speak about almost every topic that can be judged as being ‘taboo’ in a sense. Faith can be discussed. Doubt, uncertainty, love, loneliness, worry, hope, joy, and everything else in between; expect all these facets and themes of life to be present in songs, especially Switchfoot’s! Brothers Jon and Tim (bass guitar), and other band members Drew Shirley (guitars), Jerome Fontamillas (guitars and keyboards) and Chad Butler (drums) have unveiled a band that is honest and sincere, positive yet also confronting and challenging, all the while presenting to us songs that minister to our soul, even if we don’t really know it at that point in time!

Switchfoot have always had one foot in two camps- that of CCM and that of mainstream music, and while many can say that a band shall not be divided in its message and approach, I applaud the band sincerely and wholeheartedly for creating a whole discography that challenges the status quo, and having its place and meaning within the confines of Christian music, while also finding its purpose outside of it, as well. And when we look at their discography and glance through the songs, it’s no wonder that this band has so much appeal to so many. ‘Only Hope’, a song popularised by singer/actress Mandy Moore for her movie A Walk to Remember, was written originally by Switchfoot way back in the 1990s and speaks about hope and how in one case, our hope and faith can be found in the Lord, but it can also be read as if someone is singing to someone else, wanting to have hope in them during their dire situations. And then there’s the classic Switchfoot songs, the songs that really champion change and a movement of love and the reigniting and rebirth of a nation (and world) more focused on the eternal matters rather than the physical and here and now. ‘Meant to Live’ asks the question of wanting to live for something more, and have we lost our longing and quest for the more, and filled our lives with material things that diminish our pondering and deep introspective moments; while ‘Dare You To Move’, arguably Switchfoot’s most popular song ever, encourages us all to ‘make a move’, to undertake things that make us worried or fearful, to challenge and stand up when everyone else is sitting down, to travel left instead of right, to make a stand for something (or don’t make a stand) when it seems that popular opinion is to go the other way. The song itself calls us to take action and to learn from our decisions. ‘We are One Tonight’ discusses the universal theme of unity and togetherness (and has a very clever music video that accompanies it), while songs like ‘Love Alone is Worth the Fight’, ‘Restless’, ‘Live it Well’, ‘I Won’t Let You Go’ and ‘Float’ solidify the modern era of Switchfoot and the songs that have made the last 5 years or so impactful and emotive for whomever is a fan of the band and their music, myself included.

Though many may question the validity of Switchfoot even on this ‘Influential Artists of All Time’ list, I may tend to agree somewhat, that yes, Switchfoot won’t ever be to the same ability musically or even lyrically to that of the pioneer bands like ABBA, Queen, The Beatles, Beach Boys, even Christian rock band PETRA; but what I reckon this quintet from San Diego has done, is to open up the channels of discussion, and bring forth to the table, that it’s ok to talk and discuss about issues that otherwise would have been under the rug. Topics like the wrestling war inside of us, the things pulling from left and right to bring to us attention, the topic of news and how sensationalised and trivial it can be, all these issues are often no-go’s for artists, period. Yet somehow, Switchfoot have managed to bring a dialogue about each and every one. There’s even a song on their 2016 album (Where the Light Shines Through) titled ‘If the House Burns Down Tonight’, where it talks about that very topic- that if everything we own is burnt down to a crisp, would we still have our faith, our family, would we still find our meaning and purpose, or would everything we know, crumble and fall apart? Then there’s the song ‘The Day that I Found God’, also on Where the Light Shines Through, where Jon and co. unveil the very polarity which requires a few listens to understand.

The song itself challenges us to understand, that in Jon’s case, the day he lost himself is the day he found God. Littered with a lot of imagery and metaphors, we are nevertheless reminded, that to truly find God and believe Him with our whole beings, is to be at a place where nothing else is working, when all we can cling to is the hope we have in Jesus (albeit at that very moment, a small slither of hope), because when we’re at the end of our rope, we don’t really know ourselves at all. When we’re lost, not knowing whether if we even believe what we profess to be true; there with us and for us is one person we know we can count on, when everything else fails- God. Then there’s the songs that Switchfoot undertake that are just plain happy-go-lucky, and remind us all to always have a sense of hope and wonder in this life- songs like ‘Adding to the Noise’ speaks to the notion of the added noise in people’s lives, the unnecessary ones, and that, in a tongue-in-cheek approach, they say that if they themselves are adding to the noise, then turn off the music and just listen and relax in the silence; while acoustics, xylophones and whistles are at the foreground of ‘New Way to be Human’, as a theme of longing for a new way to be present, a new way to live, is asked and pondered by lead singer Jon himself.

Much of the band’s discography discuss a myriad of themes that are definitely not present in today’s pop culture, and thus, for a band to survive as long as it has done, delivering thought-provoking music in the process, is nothing less than a miracle. Jon and co. have continued to stretch the boundaries of what it means to be a Christian in a world where there’s nothing but hatred and confusion, condemnation and dismission for the person of faith. Switchfoot themselves are a prominent and relevant band of today, and though they won’t receive as many accolades as current popular trends now, what Jon and co. have created is a space for ideas and viewpoints to be discussed and dialogued through, for values, beliefs and topics to be voiced in a loving manner. Jon and the band have carried Switchfoot through the 1990s, 2000s and into the 2010s, and if an album like Native Tongue is any indication, then they have a lot more years in them left to bring forth to us viewpoints and understandings that many other bands just won’t unveil!

Often it is not just the songs by Switchfoot that are awe-inspiring for myself, but rather, the behind the scenes interviews that are truly fascinating. For a band to have longevity and have influence in this modern era, their personal lives and public persona have to be the same (or close to it). Vulnerability and being able to admit that we don’t have it all together takes courage, and Jon from Switchfoot has a lot of it. Much of his interviews, either as a group as Switchfoot or on his own, presents to us a sense of authenticity that is far greater than a lot of current popular artists of today, and that in and of itself is saying something of the state of popular culture at the moment. Jon and co. are very candid and open, and this is very much true in this one particular interview Jon himself undertook around ten years ago, discussing song-writing techniques and what it means to measure success as an artist. As said by Jon himself, and I quote:

There is a deeper portion of our being that we rarely allow others to see. Call it a soul maybe, this is the place that holds the most value. All else can drift but this. When this dies our body has no meaning. We handle this portion of our being with extreme care. Life tears at us and scars us as children so we adopt facades and masks to hide this part of us, to keep this sacred part of ourselves from the pain. And yet, we long to communicate this deeper place … to connect with each other on this spiritual level, for we know that this is the only part of us that will last. These spiritual transactions remind us of the true meaning and yearning that cannot be found on the surface. Many times songs allow us to communicate these deeper places. Music is admitted under the skin without permission. Pain is a common emotion in many of my songs mainly because I often don’t know other ways to express it adequately. In my songs I wrestle with the things that I don’t understand. I often use music as a handle for very emotionally explosive substances: love, sex, God, fear, doubt, politics, the economics of the soul—these are daunting thoughts in the back of my mind that I rarely visit without the safety gloves of song.

I am often tempted to think of success in terms that are defined by others: records sold, popularity gained, album reviews, etc. These are impossible demands, however, and they can never be satisfied. Letting finite others define our worth is a horrible way to live. Only the Infinite Other [God] has the authority to do this. And yet I and the rest of the world fall prey to these other forms of immediate worth…Celebrity is a currency with an exchange rate almost as strong as anonymity. All are called to goodness; much is required of all of us. Every day you’re alive you change the world. Our culture is disproportionally drawn to the stage and screen like a moth to the flame. We see the flicker of the spotlight and assume that worth and value are held within it’s glow. The truth is what happens behind closed doors when no one’s watching. Who are you when the lights are out? This is your legacy. The things that are done in secret, whispered in dark alleys—shout em from the rooftops.

It is in these quotes that I can see the heart and hope and longing, the uncertainty and the wrestling, the comfort in the not knowing, but also the hope and angst that comes when wishing a certain outcome to happen. All of which embody Switchfoot and what they are as a band when it comes to unveiling to the listener what they are about and what they want their songs to champion when heard by ears of listeners around the world. The fact they have lasted as long as they have is a testament to their own beliefs and what they want to come across in their music. It is in their most recent album Native Tongue that they released a few weeks ago, that they champion this notion of love and unity and togetherness, that that is our native tongue, what we speak, and our actions to back it up. That what we’ve learnt along the way- hatred, fear, uncertainty, disillusionment, divide, separation and bigotry, these things are not our normal and build-in state of being, but rather, things we’ve adopted in our lives that God doesn’t want of us. The album (and in effect, the band as a whole), challenges us to break down these barriers that separate because of trivial issues, and focus on things that unite and bring together people of different backgrounds so that we can learn and grow from a person who may think and believe different than we do!

Belief in the song and belief in the artists for singing the song is paramount for me, and as Jon has articulated well in a recent interview, I’ve decided what better way to sound off than to hear from Jon Foreman (lead singer of Switchfoot) himself. And so as we carry about our weeks, let us be immersed in the music of our lives that ask us questions, that challenge us to think outside the box and to believe that the love we have been given from our creator for the created (and Jesus Himself) is enough for the life that we lead. Jon and co. have crafted a band that is as needed in both the CCM and mainstream music industries, as they are needed in society, full stop. So let us sit back and enjoy Switchfoot and their music, and what they have to offer. And be reminded that influential need not be the same as popular.

Does Switchfoot make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (other than ‘Meant to Live’ and ‘Dare You To Move’) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

I think you are always tempted to do something for the wrong reasons. It’s ironic that motivation for our actions sometimes has more moral implications than the actions itself. Why we do what we do is often more important than what we do. How we do it and why we do it are huge. The way you say something is usually more important than what you say. For a song, the moment it comes to an end, as a listener I am left with the big question of – do I believe it? I listen to my favorite artists not because of their musical prowess, but because they say something that resonates with me. The beauty and truth that they sing awakens something in me. They could hit wrong notes and they can make mistakes, but I believe them by the end of the song.

I’ve heard this expression where philosophers create this incredible palace of philosophy but then they live in the shack next door, it’s easier said than done. I do find that singing a song about hope is easier than living it out, yet, for us as a band, if we are going to sing a song about hope, it’s imperative we live it out. That’s one of the reasons why we host the Switchfoot Bro-Am in our hometown in an effort to help homelessness and at-risk youth. Every tour that we go out on, we partner with an organization that we believe in. We don’t want to just go out and play songs, we strive to have each tour impact the world in a positive way. It’s goes back to the messages of our founding fathers – you don’t just look out for yourself, you try and make the world a better place.

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