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Eleven albums in, Switchfoot are still rocking it–but what’s curious about the Grammy award-winning rockers is the soundscapes they’ve created on their latest release, Native Tongue—introspective retrospect, it is for Switchfoot, as bassist Tim Foreman can attest, as much an exploration of new themes musically as it is personally.
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“It really is our most diverse collection of songs,” he says. “Each album, I think you can choose a certain palette of colours to paint with, and this was an album we felt like we should make sure we’re painting with some of the colours that have always been there but have never chosen to work with before.”
Foreman in conversation proves to be just as retrospective as his music. Switchfoot, when they write music, have a potential choice to make a particular musical statement–part of that choice this time around, Foreman says, was to say the things musically Switchfoot had always wanted to say but never have. The prompt to utilise this different voice comes down to the existential year Switchfoot experienced last year, namely, the hiatus the band took. “It was a kind of beautiful, terrifying experience, kind of taking stock of the journey we’d been on for 20 years,” says Foreman. “It gave us a chance to have a taste of well, ‘what if we were done? What would be the regret we would have as a band?’” Foreman continues to explain the approach Switchfoot have always had when writing new albums–‘what if we approach this album as if it were our last?’
“There’s an urgency in that,” says Foreman. “Having that taste of walking away this year left us with this unsettling … like, ‘man, there’s so much more I wanna say musically, as an artist.’ That kind of lit a fire under us.”
At the end of 2017, the hiatus came as a mutual decision for Switchfoot. Halfway through the year off, Foreman and his brother, vocalist Jon Foreman, found themselves passing each other in the studio and working on ideas. “Just because you’re on hiatus doesn’t mean you stop being an artist,” laughs Foreman. “We discovered the other one had been doing the same thing and then there’s this beautiful, playful season of just writing because there was no expectations behind it.”
The thing I’m most thankful for, and proud of, is that the longer we get into this, the more we appreciate each other.
[ Tim Foreman ]
It was a pleasant surprise, indeed, for Foreman to find his brother had been hard at work as he had–any thoughts of a lack of cohesion when they decided to come together and exchange the ideas they’d been working on, ideas that would eventually culminate in Native Tongue, were irrational. Switchfoot working together is the most natural experience in the world. “The big surprise for me–I mean I wasn’t surprised my brother in particular was working on music because he is the most tireless musician of anyone I’ve ever met, he’s a writing machine–but I think what was surprising was the songs he was writing, the songs I was writing, they sounded like Switchfoot songs.
“It was a beautiful way to rediscover how much we love playing music together.”
Foreman talked of a sense of urgency Switchfoot felt through this whole process–that urgency, that voice, has given Switchfoot a new sense of purpose in moving forward with albums 12, 13, 14. “Anytime you step away from something it allows you to appreciate what’s uniquely special about it,” he says. “Having that perspective brought this new life to the project, wanting to make sure we’re saying the things we’ve always wanted to say, musically, lyrically.
“As we approach this upcoming touring season, I think we’re all really energised about getting on the road. It makes you appreciate what a gift it is to get to play songs that we believe in with our best friends.”
Native Tongue is not only a reflective album in the sense the music is hugely thematic and important in many ways, but it’s an opportunity for Switchfoot to reflect on the past 20 years. “I think the thing that’s most unique about it is we all still like each other!” Foreman laughs.
“The thing I’m most thankful for, and proud of, is that the longer we get into this, the more we appreciate each other.”