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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, April 17, 2014

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In Music

Jon and Tim Foreman, Chad Butler, Jerome Fontamillas and Drew Shirley took it upon themselves to take their careers into their own hands.

In Music

Switchfoot has emerged from the experience of leaving their former record label more unified than ever.

Switchfoot finds freedom in indie roots


The stress of leaving a major record label can be crushing for many bands and artists. Once they are released or they themselves choose to move on, many fall to the ditches to never really be heard from again, completely drained by the entire experience.

Others decide that the ride isn't over quite yet and that they still have the love and desire for music they once did, so pushing on is really the only option.

Rock band Switchfoot is one of those latter bands, deciding their run wasn't quite over after they severed ties with the major record label that yanked them out of the Christian market, Columbia Records. Instead of calling it a career, Jon and Tim Foreman, Chad Butler, Jerome Fontamillas and Drew Shirley took it upon themselves to go indie once again while inking a distribution deal with another major record label in Atlantic.

Since taking their careers solely into their own hands they've released two albums, the Grammy-winning "Hello Hurricane" in 2009 and "Vice Verses," which was released Sept. 27 of this year.

Different from the other albums in their discography, "Vice Verses" features the rhythm section of the band brought forward in their song structures, which helps to give their music a different type of punch.

Drummer Chad Butler explains the shift in sound for this album.

"I think Switchfoot's known for crunchy guitar riffs and this time we wanted to start with the bass and drums and add guitars later, and it's an intentional thing to try to give the songs that heartbeat and that pulse that had a little bit more of the Motown and hip-hop sensibility of the music that we appreciate, that we grew up listening to. Some of my favorite music growing up was Motown, Stevie Wonder and also, when I got older and listening to hip-hop records, A Tribe Called Quest. There's that side to our band that we've never explored before and there's even songs where we went all the way there with Jon rapping on top of a beat."

Of all the new tunes that Butler finds himself "in front of the mix" on, he reveals that the "Vice Verses" lead single "Dark Horses" is his favorite track to band out on the drums.

"We've been playing it on tour for over a year now and we really worked it out in a live setting before we recorded it to try to get the bass and drums really focused in, locked in together, and push the music to match the intensity of the lyric. It's an important song to me lyrically. It's about homeless kids in San Diego and we wanted the music to match that intensity."

When asked about how the experience of leaving their former record label affected them as a band and as friends, Butler says that it only brought them closer together, something that is more often not the case for other bands that experience such troubles.

"The highs and lows, the ebbs and flows that you're referencing, I think when you experience that together with your best friends and you're in a band as long as we have been, you're going to have a deep friendship. That's something that I think has kept us together, is our friendship off stage and outside of being a band, when we're home in San Diego. We grew up surfing together. That's one reason why I think we're still a band; it's because we enjoy hanging out when we're not playing music.

"As far as the industry and our career has gone, it's been a wild ride. I'm just so thankful each day that we get to play music. I think we have the best job in the world, you know, to be able to play songs that we believe in night after night and to travel the world with my best friends. That's a privilege. We're very lucky. You know, most bands don't get to make their eighth record. It's not something that we take for granted at all. I look back and we did go through some hard times – uncertain times, I guess I would say – as far as the music industry side of things and what we were doing as a band. But, we kind of got through all of that during the process of making the last record. We regrouped in San Diego, as an indie band, completely funding everything on our own and making music without commercial deadlines, without anybody looking over our shoulder."

The ability to take some time to regroup helped Switchfoot find Atlantic, and while being on Columbia no longer suited them, partnering with Atlantic for distribution only felt like the right move for the veteran rockers.

"We feel like we've found a great team to partner with and it feels like it's really about people," says Butler. "It starts with us, good friends trying to work with people that catch the vision for the music, and we feel like we've found that now with Atlantic and this record seems to be getting out there. That's the goal, to get the songs out there. The goal is to never make ourselves famous, but to make the songs famous."

The need to continue the journey was something personal to Butler.

"The motivation for me to make music is communication. Music meant a lot to me growing up; there were songs that got me through hard times in my life. To be able to return the favor to somebody else and make a song that connects with them on a heart level, that's a privilege and it is mind-boggling to me that we get to travel halfway around the world and the people know the words to our songs and actually care about our band. That's amazing to me and it never gets old. I think about how many much more talented musicians come out of our town and never get the opportunity to make music for a living, call it a job, so it's just a reminder to me that we're so fortunate."

Since they broke into mainstream culture in 2003 with the major success of the two-time platinum album "The Beautiful Letdown," many of their radio hits like "Dare You To Move" have been regular staples in their live performances. Luckily, just like their fans, Switchfoot isn't sick of those songs even after years of aging.

"I think we're really lucky that the songs that became famous and got on the radio are actually some of our favorite songs and ones that we continue to get something out of for ourselves each night," says Butler. "The song "Dare You To Move," for example, I remember when we were first working on that song in Jon's and Tim's parent's living room, playing that just as kids in high school and college trying to create music just for our family and friends with really no pressure, and to think that song is heard around the world, is amazing. Each night that we sing it I feel like we're still singing it to ourselves. It's a song that is sort of written singing into the mirror, into your own soul."

As of right now Switchfoot doesn't have any tour dates planned for the Midwest as they aim their sights on several tune-up shows before heading across the pond, but they will be back at some
point in the near future.

"The live show is where we live and breathe as a rock band," says Butler. "The live experience to me is something that you cannot replace. There's nothing like it. To hear an audience singing a song back to us, to see strangers with their arm around the guy next to them with their fist in the air at the end of the night singing the same song, that's the beauty of music. I remember a lot of punk rock shows as a kid and was just fascinated by how you'd get people from all different backgrounds, all different walks of life, unified singing the same song. That's powerful stuff right there."


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