News Column

Switchfoot opens up for film, and the film opens its shows

October 5, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 05--Being the Southern California dudes they are, members of the alt-rock band Switchfoot have always been intrigued by surf films such as the seminal 1966 movie "Endless Summer," which embraces the idea of following warm weather around the world to ride the waves.

"I think we were kind of enamored with the idea that's kind of what we do, with our job of traveling," frontman Jon Foreman says in a telephone call. "And so for a long time we thought, 'What a dream that would be to actually go on tour and surf and make a movie about it -- look for inspiration along the way.' "

Switchfoot did just that when it took a film crew with it on its 2012 world tour. The result is the documentary "Fading West," which goes behind the scenes with the band as it seeks out surfing destinations while on the tour, and ends up painting a portrait of the band's isolation and yearning for home.

Switchfoot is back out on a tour that stops at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Keswick Theatre in Glenside, and is using the 85-minute film as its opening act.

"We thought, 'What's the best way to get this out there?'" Foreman says. "We could just try the one-day blitz in theaters all across the country, or we could release it digitally and a DVD and people could watch it in their homes.

"But we thought 'What if we could actually be there to see peoples' reactions and kind of hand-deliver the movie to people?' And that's where the idea of the movie being the opening act for the tour was born. Almost in the same way I love to play songs live for the first time in front of people."

Foreman says that reaction has varied widely.

"It is funny socially, because it's kind of blurring the lines of what's socially acceptable," Foreman says with a laugh. "In a concert, I know what to do there and then in a movie, I know exactly what is appropriate there.

"But we've seen everything -- we've seen people rush the stage after the film was done. We've seen people show up expecting a rock show and be kind of surprised with a film showing first. We've seen it all."

The unusual approach shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with Switchfoot, which has foregone expectations in its 17-year career.

The band was at the forefront of bringing alternative rock to contemporary Christian music, then gained broader attention when its songs were used in the hit Mandy Moore film "A Walk to Remember" in 2002.

Its major label debut, "The Beautiful Letdown," went double platinum in 2003 with the hits "Meant to Live" and "Dare You to Move," and "Hello Hurricane" in 2007 won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Gospel Album.

But Foreman says the film project challenged even the band to "find anyone who was passionate enough about it to put their money down. Then we found this film crew that was really excited about the concept, and we thought, 'Well, we're passionate enough about it, let's just fund it ourselves.'"

Foreman says "thousands and thousands of hours of film" were shot, and while the logistics of where and when to film were planned, what the cameras captured wasn't.

"As far as plot and everything, you're really dependent on life," Foreman says. "Life doesn't have any one plot. In life, there's thousands and thousands of subplots you can choose from. But that's where I think the creative element comes into making a documentary."

That also meant leaving out a lot of interesting stuff, Foreman says. "There was tons of stuff that was really compelling and that you love but just doesn't seem to make sense," he says.

One example happened when the Mississippi-based foundation of Civil Rights activist John M. Perkins, about whom Switchfoot wrote the song "The Sound (John M. Perkins Blues)," held a festival to which the band was invited.

"We thought, 'Oh, this will be incredible,'" Foreman says. "So we filmed the whole thing, we got amazing shots of Dr. Perkins talking. But with the film being so surf-centered, Jackson just didn't seem to make sense. So that was one of my favorite parts of the year but in the context of the film, we had to leave it on the cutting-room floor."

Foreman says he's confident that parts edited out of the film but compelling enough to stand on their own will see the light of day eventually.

"The beautiful thing is with this kind of age that we live in, there's always ways to get content out. "That's never the issue. If you have a compelling thing to say, the Internet is always ready for you," he says.

Switchfoot plans to release an album, also called "Fading West," in January, and in the meantime has released a four-song EP of new songs from the movie that's available as a disc at shows and on iTunes.

The film and the upcoming album, Foreman says, "are kind of brothers in a way because the film documents us finding inspiration for the record, and then the record is the soundtrack. In the film, there's a lot of songs used to complement different scenes."

The vanguard spirit of the film carried over to the album, Foreman says.

"One of things we tried to do with this record is accommodate the wide-open landscapes of the film musically," he says. "The film covers a lot of territory, and travels from country to country. ... We wanted to use instruments we were a little less comfortable with, that we're unfamiliar with.

"So the rule was, if it's a drum kit, a bass guitar, an electric guitar -- use those as kind of a last resort. And so it kind of pushed us into new territory as a band."

Foreman says that pioneering spirit has always been a touchstone for Switchfoot.

"I love to pursue new ways of saying things," he says. "For me, creativity dries up if you're just kind of digging in the same ground again and again and again. So for me as a songwriter and a musician, I love to challenge myself with new things. I think that's what's kept us alive as a band for now coming up on nine albums."

Foreman also has done projects outside Switchfoot, with the side project Fiction Family and the four-EP series "Fall," "Winter," "Spring" and "Summer." Foreman says that as he spoke, he was sorting through results of a new project -- 30 songs that he sent to 30 people he asked to co-produce the tracks.

"I'm just trying to make sense of it right now," he says, laughing. "It's been a lot of fun. It's a lot and I'm excited to see where it heads."

"I think we have been led by the songs all along," he says. "The dream was never to be in a rock band touring the world. I mean, that was beyond our capability of envisioning. When we first started, it was just 'How do we play these songs? How do we get them out there so people can hear them at the local coffee shop or whatever?'

"To that end, I still feel really thankful that we're still driven by the songs. And the moment that dries up, I think it's time to move on. ... What a dream to be able to have no boundaries put on the music you want to make."

john.moser@mcall.com

610-820-6722

SWITCHFOOT

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside

Opening act: Screening of the new documentary "Fading West," about the band's lives as musicians and surfers.

How much: $25-$29.50

-- Set list: Hits, including "Dare You to Move" and "Meant to Live," songs from the upcoming album "Fading West," and an acoustic set that includes "Hello Hurricane."

-- Info: http://www.keswicktheatre.com, 215-572-7650.

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