Choosing to Believe With Jon Foreman
The Switchfoot frontman talks songwriting, surfing and learning to love the Church.
In RELEVANT’s history, nobody has graced our cover more times than Jon Foreman, probably because no matter how culture seemed to evolve, his music seemed to be right there with it, anxious to tackle it in an interesting, thoughtful way. From Switchfoot’s sun-soaked surf rock to Fiction Family’s dustier, rootsier sounds, Foreman has a chameleon-like ability to bring his considerable music prowess to bear on any genre. And through it all, Foreman’s most powerful instrument—his mind—has come through loud and clear.
Last week, we chatted with Foreman about his life, his passions and how he wrestles with his doubts. You can watch the whole interview here, but these are just a few highlights.
RELEVANT: Let’s talk about surfing a little bit Jon. With the Fading West documentary, which was really beautiful and it gave us a side of Switchfoot that we haven’t really seen.. It was like a music documentary and it was also like a surfing documentary. Is this an idea you guys have been ruminating on for a long time and just had some time to do?
Jon: Yes, we had been ruminating on it for a long time. It was one of those things were growing up in a surf community the surf film is a high art and the art always follows these surfers chasing waves around the world. As musicians we thought, man, this is very similar to what we do except we’re chasing songs and chasing stories and chasing a tour.
For us, the idea was of combining these two different types of films—the rock doc and the surf film—in a way to tell a bigger story than a three minute pop song. It was something that we wanted to do for years and we finally found the right team of people that could help us make it. It was an incredible journey, it was a lot more work than we thought but really rewarding to get to the end of it.
RELEVANT: Was the finished product more or less what you saw in your head when you were planning it?
Jon: I think the camera is always this thing where you think life is one way and the camera reveals the way it really is. That can be a blessing and a curse, you realize you’re not as smart as you think, you’re not as funny as you think. It reveals as sorts of inconsistency about your own life.
Different things for me watching the film was that when you’re making a record you go back and fix it and change things. You can track the vocal again, you change the lyrics. Whereas making a documentary you don’t have that option. Life happened, you either show it or you don’t. So we decided we want this to be honest and lets show it all. The good, the bad, and the ugly. So that was probably the most surprising element of making the film.
RELEVANT: Our readers noticed that it was a more personal look at you guys than we are used to seeing, particularly as far as your families are concerned. They pop up in there, and somebody said it was a surprise to see kids running around. Was there a shift where you guys felt like you could bring your personal lives into this? Was that an intentional decision?
Jon: Yeah, I think everyone in the band is at a difference place with what they’re comfortable with, and I think that will always be the case. We all went into it with the mindset that this wasn’t gonna be just a puff piece to say Switchfoot rocks and lets show some pretty lights and roll credits. That kind of film wasn’t what we were interested in making, and so with that said, you have to risk a little bit.
That was a shift for us, bringing people in and it’s a little bit of a liability. In a song you can hide behind all sorts of metaphors, but in a film there’s nothing to hide behind.
RELEVANT: How did you find your calling, and how did it develop over time? How did you see your calling in your twenties, and how do you see it now?
Jon: Calling has this weight that somehow we think that your calling is fixed. That your calling is this line that you’ve finally found and now you’re on that track and that’s what you’re gonna do forever and maybe that the case. But I feel like calling has much more to do with the moment that you’re in. If you happen to be right there when a car accident happened, your calling is to make sure that everyone’s OK. If you are next to your friend when she finds out her mom died, your calling is to be there for her and comfort her.
As a musician I think the idea is, even when i was a kid I loved music. Music and surfing, I loved and so as far as calling’s concerned, I spent a lot of time in pursuing that and trying to get good at it and trying to communicate interchangeable truths through song and poetry. I’d say that that has changed throughout the years. When I was in my twenties, it meant one thing: it meant writing songs about my roommates in college. And now, it means something different. But I think the idea of calling is not a permanent thing, It’s gotta change from time to time.
RELEVANT: How do you think being a PK has helped or hurt your ability to stay outside of the Christian box yet being able to reach inside the Christian box.
Jon: I think sometimes for me it’s helpful when you’re dealing with labels to step back and remember, I might be a Caucasian male, but the specifics of what I am and the idea that …whenever you’re dealing with numbers and statistics, realistically, these are all individuals that are encapsulated in those groups. So when I think of the Church, I think of a bunch of people that are yearning for meaning, for purpose, for hope. Hopefully, looking to see God and looking to see how they can help the poor and be apart of His redemptive plan here on the planet.
Growing up in the Church, I think there’s this knee jerk reaction to distance yourself from all thats wrong within the church and I feel it a lot of times too. It’s natural. But I think you have to remember that as crazy as some of the people are within your family, it’s still your uncle. You’re still gonna see him at family reunions, that’s your aunt. She’s nuts and she’s great. That’s your family, that’s what the Church is and ultimately, for me, that’s what I have to remind myself. There’s someone looking at me and saying, that guy is just an idiot but I’ve gotta love him anyways. So I’m thankful for that.
RELEVANT: Fading West dealt a lot with the struggle of faith and doubt. I do believe yet I find myself living in the struggle between them. How do you justify living between faith and doubt? Do you ever feel pressured to just choose once and for all?
Jon: I don’t think I’ve ever had that option to choose once and for all. I think that to believe is to acknowledge that it’s a choice in that present tense and that doubt is always an option. You’re not dealing with a fact like one plus one equals two—I’m gonna choose to believe that. It’s kind of one of those things where you are choosing to believe that someone loves you. That is always going to be your choice. So for me, I think that’s what makes the faith that I have volatile and explosive and dangerous and troubling. That’s what most of my songs are about.