Switchfoot has been a mainstay in multiple genres of music for years. Of course, they’ve been hugely popular on the Christian side of music, spreading positivity and faith-infused messages and lyrics as they’ve journeyed around the world for the past two decades. They’ve also been able to make a big impact in the alternative genre with strong melodies and smart songwriting during that time too. Last year, the band started their work on their eleventh full-length record, what turned out to be Native Tongue. Alternative Addiction talked with Switchfoot drummer Chad Butler late in 2018 about the band’s eleventh album, and their upcoming tour in support of it.
“We came off the road over a year ago,” explained Butler about when they started working on their new album. “We’d been out touring on the last record, (Where the Light Shines Through). When we got done with that, we decided to hit pause and take a hiatus from things for a bit. It wasn’t out of any dislike for anything of what we do or who we do it with, we just wanted to take a break for our personal lives and focus on our families. It was a good year for us to be home and reflect and gain a new perspective on music. Then, we came back together to work on new music together just for the love of making music. We didn’t have a deadline or anything like that. We just went to work.”
A majority of Switchfoot’s career has been spent working with record labels and other business groups with deadlines and expectations. With Native Tongue, that wasn’t the case. Chad and his bandmates worked on the new album without any pressure.
“I feel like we’ve been making records and touring for twenty years, doing that constant cycle,” said Butler on working with deadlines and other expectations. “That can become a routine. It felt good to break that cycle, to hit pause with no plan of action for the future; just allowing things to happen without working with a deadline.”
The product of the band just going in and working on music is a different type of record. Butler explained his opinion on the overall vibe of Native Tongue, and he compared it to the group’s last record.
“The last record for us was a return to guitar rock and it was a little more organic. This one is more of a hybrid of modern sounds. There are songs on this album that are reminiscent of our older stuff, more than we’ve had in a long time. Some of the songs like “Let It Happen” and “Take My Fire” are reminiscent of the ‘Nothing is Sound’ era of our band.”
That different vibe that Switchfoot was working with can be heard on songs like “Voices” and “Native Tongue” - songs that have been out since late in 2018 as singles for the new album. Butler talked about those songs and how they differ from what the band has done on the past few records.
“As an artist you’re always trying to push yourself. New sounds inspire songs. We’re intentionally trying to find new vibes and new sonic spaces all the time. Those songs are different from a rhythmic perspective. They’re sparser and more electronic, it makes that stuff further and further from what Switchfoot is known for. Then, at the end of working on them we were able to wrangle them and get them closer to our core as we finished. But, the initial vibe for both of those songs was different for us… kind of out there,” said the Switchfoot drummer.
As noted previously, this is Switchfoot’s eleventh album. That’s an astonishing feat by itself, but when you consider that it’s the band’s 7th album with the same lineup too, that becomes an even more impressive accomplishment. Butler talked about how the band’s been able to work together so well for as long as they have.
“You’re right, it’s rare for a band to stay with the same lineup for as long as we have and still enjoy making music together,” explained Butler when prompted about Switchfoot basically having the same lineup for the past fourteen years. “I credit that to the family – literally and figuratively – that we’ve become over the years. Jon and Tim are brothers obviously, but the rest of us are almost as close as blood in that regard. There’s an incredible lack of ego in this group of people, that’s rare for artists. There’s also an incredible amount of gratitude that we share too. We still wake up in the morning in disbelief that we get to call this a job. To make music for people that want to hear it and to have people sing along with us if we have is a dream, that’s not lost on us.”
“I feel for a lot of the solo artists that I know, they desire to be alone in their creative process and that’s fine. But I enjoy collaboration and the team aspect. That’s more fun. It pushes the art to a better place to have that push/pull of different opinions in the room. There are other ways to do it and that’s my preference, but the team aspect is great,” added Butler.
The band’s chemistry and comradery aren’t only beneficial in the studio making music, those traits are especially advantageous when Switchfoot’s on-stage performing.
“At this point it is sort of telepathic,” said Butler of their on-stage chemistry. “The musical language is unspoken. It’s a look, it’s a note, it’s a cord change; then we all head a different direction. I do think that we’re unique in that aspect. Every night the set list is different and every night when we play a song, that song is different. It’s a different arrangement or it’s a different version. As an example, in the bridge Jon will decide to drop his guitar and jump in the crowd and we have to decide where to take the song musically from there.”
That’s not to say that at this point everything comes easy for Switchfoot. At the time of the interview, Butler was on his way into the studio so the band could rehearse the new material for the upcoming tour that starts in February. Once the songs are recorded and ready to be sent out to the masses, the band starts on trying to get them ready to play live. Doing that and then the audience’s reaction to that is the most rewarding part about making a record for Butler.
“The work aspect of it is motivated by wanting to present the song in person firsthand as good or better than the recording. That’s the mode we’re in right now. We’re preparing to go out on tour and working on the arrangements, really homing in on our craft. That’s the hard work, but the reward is getting on stage and hearing people sing back to you. That means there’s been a connection. That’s the reward. That’s not every song, but there are certain moments of the night where you hear the crowd bond on a certain lyric or a certain part of the song and move together. That’s the reward.”
The participation from the crowd at Switchfoot concerts has always been huge and the energy that’s created by the bond between the group and their fans is undeniable. They share a connection that’s spread from the two hours of music, but also before and after the show. Switchfoot does a lot of charity work with all their tours and they couldn’t do what they do without the participation of their fans.
“We’ve always tried to incorporate a give-back component to our tours. This coming tour we’re going to be raising money for local youth charities in San Diego. A dollar per ticket is going to be going to the bro-am foundation. That’s something we started fifteen years ago to draw attention to causes helping kids. There’re some incredible organizations that we support that help homeless kids and at-risk kids. We’ve been able to partner with our audience to really raise awareness and funds for our charities.”
(Find out more about the band’s charity and causes at Bro-Am.org
Eleven albums in for Switchfoot is impressive, but that’s just the tip of what’s remarkable about the band’s tenure and what they’ve accomplished. There’s countless headlining tours and multiple hit singles and there’s their charity work too. Over the years talking to various members of the band, there’s always been a lot of topics that have stood out, but maybe the one that’s stood out the most is their love of surfing as San Diego natives and how that helps shape their love of the world and what they do. Talking with Butler about surfing, he had a poignant view of how it makes him feel and it gives you a better understanding of Butler, and Switchfoot in general.
Explained Butler, “it’s funny man, surfing for me is this humbling realization that we’re just a spec in the ocean. When you’re sitting out in the water and you’re looking out at the horizon you feel small. I crave that, I need that. It keeps me balanced. Some people climb mounts, I ride waves.” – aa