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Switchfoot: The Untold Story of ‘The Beautiful Letdown’

Switchfoot: The Untold Story of ‘The Beautiful Letdown’

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Twenty years ago, Switchfoot got the worst news a band could hear.

Halfway through performing their fourth album for the first major label they had just been signed to, the studio’s executives walked out of the room, telling the band they wouldn’t release that album under their name.

Switchfoot was moved to a smaller branch of the label. Over the next two weeks, the band tried to process the setback, ultimately deciding they still wanted to move forward with the album.

“I’m so thankful even for that moment, because I feel like out of that moment of rejection, we had to come together and decide, do we believe in these songs or not?” said lead vocalist Jon Foreman. “That was an invaluable lesson that has stuck with me from then until now.”

On Feb. 25, 2003, Switchfoot released The Beautiful Letdown. The landmark album debuted at number 16 on the Billboard 200 chart and has since been certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

The album’s singles “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move” were both Top 20 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Over the last 20 years, the album has solidified itself as one of the most successful Christian rock albums of all time, and it helped to solidify Switchfoot’s place as one of the most popular bands in the world.

Twenty years later, the band revisited the album that helped to define them. The band released the 20th anniversary edition of The Beautiful Letdown, featuring a new recording of each song, note for note.

“It’s crazy listening to the songs we wrote when we were 25,” Foreman said. “I feel more relatable to them now than I did. It was a really nostalgic experience. I think I learned a lot from a version of myself 20 years ago.”

The project allowed the band to revisit songs they haven’t played live in over 20 years, reminiscing on who they were then to who they’ve become today.

“It was cool to reflect on how much I’ve learned since then,” Foreman said. “It’s a handshake. You’re always learning new things and you’re always forgetting things. And this was a chance to marry the two.”

As the band revisited their music, they fell back in love with the album, remembering why they felt it was worth taking a risk on all those years ago.

“I’m so thankful, because I have friends whose big song was about some girl that they don’t know anymore or a relationship that doesn’t mean what it meant,” Foreman said. “And I’m so thankful that I don’t feel the same way about these songs, you know? Some of my friends have to cringe through their big songs, but I feel like I can sing every lyric on this album and mean it, and that is a gift. It’s not one I take lightly.”

When Foreman talks about the album, there’s an air of pride in it. Not in a way that comes off as cocky, but rather in a sense of genuine love and appreciation for a compilation of songs that led him around the world. Pretty remarkable considering it was an album that almost never happened. But even the letdown of the label set the band on a path that Foreman is ultimately grateful for.

“I don’t know that we’d be a band today without that setback,” Foreman shared. “It really brought us together as brothers and had to really focus our alignment and move forward. I think if the label hadn’t dropped us and just thrown a bunch of money at us and the songs got heard that way, it would mean something totally different than people taking the songs, making them their own and kind of fighting for us and making mixtapes and CDs and everything.

“So, I would take that story any day. Yeah, even looking back, I am so thankful we got dropped,” he concluded.

It seems backwards to say that losing out on a bigger label deal was the best move for a band, but for Switchfoot, it was a lesson that they have carried with them throughout their long-lasting career. Experiencing failure at the beginning has allowed them to celebrate their wins even more.

“In life — not just as an artist, but truly everyone — we will experience failure 10 times, 20 times, I don’t know how many more times than success,” Foreman said. “Success is rare, but failure is common. It doesn’t matter who you are. I think that every single one of those instances is an opportunity.

“That’s something that I’ve learned. It’s hard to see it in the moment, but it’s an opportunity to pivot, to grow, learn new strength, discover things about yourself that you didn’t know you had,” he continued. “And I think that theme has found its way into our music. Looking for light in the midst of darkness and singing from the ashes of adversity, I think that’s something that resonates deeply with us because we relate to it.”

Success has looked different for Switchfoot throughout their career. The band has felt the most accomplished when they’re able to connect with fans who have been impacted by their music.

“When you look at the meaningful things that make life worth living, the standard metrics of success — things like ticket sales, record sales or even Spotify numbers — all pale in comparison to the idea that the relationships we have and the moments and the beauty of the present tense,” Foreman shared. “I think even as a musician, sometimes you can get lost on what success is because you’re looking for something else.”

Foreman compares it to creating an entire album and basing its success on “some digital number on a screen,” instead of seeing the new sound you’ve created or the poetic way you’ve just described a universal feeling.

“You just created this thing of beauty but you’re holding it to the standard of some number,” he said. “Some imaginary digital number on a screen and somehow the beauty pales because this number wasn’t as big as you wanted it to be. I mean, we all do that with whatever it is, but when I remind myself that that’s a metric of success that is no less real than beauty and experience and the present tense of relational living as humans, it reminds me that I don’t have to let anyone else define what success looks like. I have to do that myself.”

Foreman, of course, knows that’s a lesson that’s much easier to say than live out. It’s certainly not something he understood so poetically at 25 when he was navigating the label drop. But with each passing year, Foreman has grown to understand when the present seems hopeless, there’s always something good just waiting around the corner.

“We’re such strange creatures in how we’re able to appreciate time the way we do — understanding the past and the future. The ties from the past are often wonderful memories, but sometimes memories can bring shame. And in the future, there’s hopes and fears happening simultaneously.

“I think so many times we become paralyzed to live in the moment by the shame of the past and the fears of the future,” he continued. “And then a year goes by and you think, oh my gosh, I missed the year because I was paralyzed by these two things that exist only in my imagination: You know, the past did happen, but the shame that I have is in my head. And as for fear, well I can be afraid of all sorts of things that will never happen.”

Foreman is still learning to push through those fears and let go of the shame. It’s a lesson he said he’ll be learning for the rest of his life. But for young artists who are just at the beginning of their career, who look at bands like Switchfoot and long to follow their path, Foreman encourages them to not rush the process to success. Instead, embrace the small wins and the big setbacks. Ultimately, those steps lead to the greatest moments of their lives.

“I think something that really resonates within the space of a young band or a young artist is the idea of do or die, make or break, as the most important thing,” Foreman said. “So, like, whatever big opportunity that’s in front of you, the thing that you’re supposed to say yes to in order to get to the next big place in life, I think it’s usually a lie.

“The real story, the important one, is the one that’s being written, and it tends to move a lot slower. It’s not the big ups and downs. It’s the one that’s hidden between those peaks and valleys. And it’s a longer story. That’s the good one, and that’s the one to be focused on.”

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