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Shepherd of Songs - Interview with Switchfoot's Jon Foreman
By Steve Stockman

(Stocki forgot about a telephone interview with Jon Foreman so when he came on the phone he was taken aback but chatted as best he could, noting down a few quotes and then wrote this...)

Seven years on and part time surfers Switchfoot are on the cusp of belonging in the big, bad world of rock ‘n’ roll. Their fourth album, Beautiful Letdown, has been picked up by Columbia Records and they are off across America on their first ever headline tour, strategically working out where their songs should live and breathe and make their mark. Jon Foreman sees himself as the, “Shepherd of the songs, pushing them where they want to go.”

Speaking to Foreman on a telephone that connects Albuquerque, USA with Belfast, Northern Ireland, I get a real sense of ease with who this twenty-six-year-old is. There is a deep sense of belief in his and his band’s ability. There is a confidence about his songwriting vocation. There is an energetic idealism that wants to change the world. Put these things together in your everyday rock star who has just surprised a major label with the demand for their newly released CD and the danger is a huge ego that massacres humility and leaves a distant, cold pain in the neck or every other part of the body one can mention. Not so with Foreman. He confesses his desire to change the world but adds his saving grace. “We want to change the world but that is not an arrogant statement that we are more important than people who do not put guitars around their necks.”

Quite. As Foreman talks about how he goes about his songwriting craft, the evidence emerges that we are not dealing with a band looking for top ten hits alone, though you always get the feeling they would take those in a most grateful and balanced way. Foreman says he writes most days, “It is like a diary thing for me.” Doesn’t that mean being prolific in writing bad songs? “You don't realize it is crap until the morning after,” he laughs. “There is probably always some part of the melody or idea worth salvaging and even if there isn't, you can just forget it and go off and surf!”

So what about Beautiful Letdown? What was going on in his diary? “It was about change,” perhaps a reference to his marriage to Emily during the writing process. She gets name checked as he continues, “I write from and for myself and play the songs for myself, God, and my wife. They have to cross a boundary before the band gets to hear or influence them.” Did the other changes, a major movie soundtrack (A Walk To Remember) and big record company involvement change the songwriting craft this time around? “We decided the where, when and how of this album. We had a great idea of what we wanted. Columbia did not come in until after the album was done.”

What ideas did they want? This is where we get to the most precious commodity of Switchfoot’s mission; depth and thought. “Pascal says something about the total depravity of man sitting alongside the beauty of the human condition. This album is about that mix. And hope. I believe for hope to be truly hope it has to reach deeper than the wound. We can take away the pain but hope for me has to go deeper and deal with the cause of the pain.”

That is how they want to change the world, going deeper, touching the cause of our hurting. As they are coming out of a Christian music industry, their “Deliberate decision as to where the songs would be heard” has and might continue to cause a stir. “We want to take these songs into the clubs and bars and the smoky corners.” The songs are strong enough to play live anywhere. This is thinking man’s poetry dressed in the most contagiously catchy melodies of emo rock. Jon Foreman’s thinking has come up with the songs. Now it is up to their record companies at Columbia and Sparrow (and Furious? In the UK) to allow the same source and power of thought shepherd them home.

Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has just finished a book on U2 - Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2, is the poetic half of Stevenson and Samuel who have just released their debut album Gracenotes and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster. He has his own web page - Rhythms of Redemption at He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine. 



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