Even though they really dig Jesus, don’t label Switchfoot as a Christian band.
The group uses religion as inspiration, but has a universal message that interpretively transcends it. Simply said, Switchfoot is successful because they make pop music that hasn’t lost a sense of heart, hence the group’s double-platinum album, “Oh! Gravity.”.
“I think if you put that [Christian] label on the music, you exclude people from the music, and that’s not something we want to do at all,” stressed Switchfoot drummer Chad Butler via telephone in San Diego. “For me, I’ve always been honored to be associated with Christ, but I don’t feel the need to label my music in a way that would keep anyone from listening.”
No matter the labeling, people are listening. After 10 years of making music, there’s nothing left to do but emulate what was successful and push their latest as “Our best record to date,” Butler said. Be that as it may, the release of their latest, “Oh! Gravity.,” presents a side of the band that takes itself less seriously. Positive messages still abound, the choice to sacrifice a few existential ballads for jaunty fun was something new this time around.
“I feel like the new album is probably a lot more upbeat than the last. I think you can sense the camaraderie and interaction in the band, we got a human element out of it,” Butler said. “There were even some great imperfections, like on ‘Immature Lovers.’
There’s a moment at the end of the song where the tambourine I was playing broke and fell to the floor, and guitarist / keyboardist Jerome said something like ‘Well the tambourine broke, we can’t take any more takes,’ and that’s how we kept it.”
By not focusing so much on making everything perfect, the band said the production and recording of the album came easier and songs naturally developed into record-worthy tracks.
“Primarily, we were not setting out to record a new album,” Butler said. “We had an opportunity to go in and work on couple songs, and we were just thinking we’d maybe put out an EP or something of nature, but ended up with “Oh! Gravity.”. With the pressure off, we were just making music for fun, and it ended up going really well.
“Once we were in studio, we decided to keep going with [producers] Steve Lillywhite (U2, The Dave Matthews Band) and Tim Palmer (The Cure, Pearl Jam) and we had probably the most freedom we’ve ever had in studio – a really different approach to capturing the energy and emotion of the performances.”
One distinct song from that approach is “Dirty Second Hands,” which is about as similar to other songs in their catalogue as airplanes are to automobiles. They both take some of the same qualities, but it’s a different direction that gives you a higher musical energy. While Switchfoot songs are usually spirited, “Dirty Second Hands,” twangs and stomps like a 4×4 driving off-road.
“It’s definitely a piece of work. It’s a complicated song, but it was fun to come up with the twists and turns; we worked on it for a while,” Butler said. “It’s one of the favorite songs we’ve ever recorded. Rhythmically, it keeps me on my toes. In a live setting we jam it out at the end and it goes on a little longer.”
Charismatic performances and similarities between band and crowd are a large factor in why Switchfoot is as popular as they are today. Without stressing rock star personas, Switchfoot has attained a sense of reverence for their fans.
“We learned early on that there’s no difference between the band on stage and the people in the audience. Without the audience there is no show – it’s a two-way conversation,” Butler said. “Another thing I feel we take very seriously is to stay in touch with people who go to shows. It’s something we’ve always done. It would be a shame to crawl back into the van and not talk to everyone. It comes from an appreciation for people who come to shows.”
So, if you’re seeing them play their sold-out show at the Theater of Living Arts on March 10, there’s a good chance you’ll get some of that love.
Chris Zakorchemny can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.