Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman once read an interview with Bob Dylan (or at least he’s pretty sure it was Dylan) in which after being asked if he was happy, the singer responded, “Happy is a yuppie word.”
The quote inspired a song on the band’s upcoming fifth studio album (titled “Happy Is a Yuppie Word”) and ultimately the overall theme running through the record.
“The lyric we chose for the title of the record [Nothing Is Sound] comes from the song,” Foreman explained recently. “The world is at a very volatile stage, with war, how fast things are changing, but deeper than that, the idea that there is an instability within myself and humanity as a whole — that’s where these songs are coming from. Maybe that has a lot to do with being on the road. Maybe staying in one place with a 9-to-5 job would make me less receptive.”
Switchfoot, whose The Beautiful Letdown was one of the surprise rock success stories of the past few years, wrote and recorded most of the follow-up on the road.
“We wanted to release a record this summer, and we were trying to figure out when in the world we would have time to record it,” Foreman said. “So we took out a second set of gear, tiny drums and amps, and set up in the dressing room every day and got songs ready. While the opening bands were playing, we were in some tiny room trying to make a record.”
Although not exactly ideal, there were some advantages. For instance, once a song was finished, Switchfoot would test it during their show that night.
“A lot of times you know a song is good but not how it’s going to translate live,” Foreman said. “Something might be good in the studio, but you have to change a lot of things to make it work live — stretch this part out, shorten this out, whatever. These songs were developed for the live show. I’ve heard that’s how, back in the day, whether it was Cream or whatever, that’s how they used to do it.”
In the end, the band ended up recording portions of the album all around the world, from South Africa to Foreman’s bedroom in San Diego. Producer John Fields (Andrew W.K.) oversaw the sessions and put them all together for Nothing Is Sound, due in July.
“If you can combine the more-professional-sounding elements with the honesty of doing it yourself, those are the best records,” Foreman said. “They’re honest and pure but listenable.”
While Switchfoot made a lot of friends on tour behind The Beautiful Letdown, the new record features only one guest, former Jellyfish singer Andy Sturmer. “It’s just a cool nod to someone I respect,” Foreman said. “I love collaborations, but with this record, we felt between the five of us, we had what we needed and knew what we had to do.”
Lyrically, Foreman was certainly influenced by what felt like a never-ending tour, but it only came out vaguely in his words. “Hopefully you don’t have to be a guy who is traveling on the road all the time to be able to relate,” he said. “These are songs that are deeper than that, about simply humanity, rather than my humanity.”
Switchfoot have yet to select the first single but have narrowed it down to three.
Meanwhile, the band just hosted its inaugural Switchfoot Bro-Am surf competition, a benefit for the nonprofit organization Care House, which aids homeless children and young mothers in San Diego.
“Not many people know this, but Switchfoot is a surfing term,” Foreman said. “It means to put a different foot forward than you normally would. It’s one of those moves where back in the ’70s it meant something, but it’s become less and less used. [Requiring the move] made the contest lighthearted and leveled the playing field. It’s like throwing left-handed if you’re right-handed. So you’d have a pro kill it on his first wave and then get a one or two [score] on going goofy.”
The highlight for Foreman was surfing on the same team as legend Tom Curren, whose band also played with Switchfoot the same night.
“It’s hard to explain what that means to a kid like myself,” Foreman said. “He is the godfather of modern surfing. To be able to hang out with him all day and to play music with him that night, I was impressed and depressed. Not only is he better on the board, he’s possibly better on the guitar too. It’s not fair!”