On a Journey Fading West
As Switchfoot enters their 17th year as a band, they’re challenging themselves to take the group to the next level. With the release of their latest album Fading West, they produced an accompanying documentary by the same name, both of which were born on the road and in the waves. While touring to support their 2011 album Vice Verses, the longtime surfers set out in search of songwriting inspiration by visiting several of their favorite surf breaks around the world. “The idea was to surf, write songs, play music and see what ideas came,” explains Tim Foreman.
Through their worldly travels, the band threw themselves into a voyage both physical and emotional—an endeavor they chronicled in the documentary film also entitled Fading West. “Musically, our goals for the record were to match the exotic landscapes captured in the film with our instrumentation. To do this, we tried to rethink our use of traditional rock instruments or abandon them altogether. The verses of “Who We Are” are a great example of that line of thought. Instead of finding our guitar inspiration in the traditional western sources of Led Zep. or The Beatles, we looked to Fela Kuti, a Nigerian musician,” describes frontman Jon Foreman.
On the song “Who We Are,” Switchfoot also looks back to a time when they’d just begun to push toward their dreams of bringing their music to the world. Forming the band while yet teenagers, Switchfoot now pursues balancing a life on the road as well as being family men.
Featuring choir-like backing vocals from the band members’ children “Who We Are” embodies a sweetly youthful spirit along with the hard-won joy that comes from triumphing through 17 years as a band. “As a band, our identity is forged by what we’ve endured together the highs and the lows of the past eight albums together. This is a song that we wrote looking back at our story: a band of brothers – sleeping in vans, armed only with words, melodies and ambition, trying to conquer the world together. ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5…’ The odd count in was to introduce the brotherhood of the five of us,” proclaims Jon Foreman.
Throughout Fading West Switchfoot reflects on their journey while wholeheartedly exploring all the pain and wonder of the present. According to frontman Jon Foreman, hitting that balance required a great deal of rediscovery on the part of the band. “The point became, ‘What are we going to do to push ourselves?’ Could we take ourselves somewhere we’d never been before, yet achieve a feeling of comfort at the same time? How do we go to a new place that feels like home?”
The album opens with the sunny “Love Alone Is Worth the Fight,” which is a song the band deeply embraces. “For me this title sums up the past 15 years of our time as a band – nothing else is worth the fight, worth the struggle, worth the scars. Nothing else even comes close,” states Foreman who continues to say that the frivolous things in life, such as sex, drugs and rock and roll can’t compare to the pursuit of love, especially in the hard times.
He continues by saying, “I’ve been there many times. Times when I question my God, myself, and everyone around me. Dark thoughts swim around my head, threatening to take control. I begin to fear that my existence has no purpose, that I’m alone without hope. It’s times like these that force me to consider the bigger questions in life. Those are the times when my identity is forged in a deeper awareness of my Creator/re- Creator’s love for me. When I am aware of this love – my purpose is clear, my dignity cannot be threatened… But perfect love casts out fears. Perfect love brings us to a place of strength where we can accept the people and situation around us rather than fear it or deny it. Love alone is worth the fight. We all need to ask ourselves the big questions – why are you alive? What’s your motivation? The applause? The money? The crowd goes away and the money runs out pretty fast. But love is worth the struggle, greater than our fears, embracing those around us.”
The album offers up its share of heart-on-sleeve love songs, such as the guitar-powered “When We Come Alive.” “For me, the verses enunciate the darkness where the fire shines the brightest. And the chorus reminds me that we have this spark, this ability, this beauty – when and only when we come alive. Truly alive. Not just breathing, but burning brightly, setting the world on fire with a light that is not our own,” claims Jon Foreman.
To form the closing segment of Fading West, Switchfoot chose two tracks that serve as love songs to the ocean: the playful yet sprawling “Salt Water,” and the huge-hearted epic “Back to the Beginning.” It’s a fitting finish to an album that was largely inspired by the sea, which Jon describes as a perfect metaphor for simultaneously experiencing reassurance and danger. “You’re comfortable out there, but it’s the unknown,” he says. “You can paddle out in South Africa and it’s exactly like home and nothing like home all at once. That’s what I’m hoping our record feels like—trying to find peace in dangerous places.”
Photos courtesy of Chris Burkard and Brian Nevins