Switchfoot Meet Past-Present Points on ‘Interrobang’

Switchfoot (Photo: Erick Frost)

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Following the 2019 release of Native Tongue and the lockdown that followed in 2020, Switchfoot began cleaning out closets, and revisiting old hard drives of music, and resurrected a collection of material for another album.

“We found all these gems that we had forgotten about that we felt were written for this specific time,” says singer Jon Foreman of the band’s 12th album interrobang. “The album is a combination of brand new songs and songs that feel appropriate for the time we’re living in, some of which were written as far back as 15 years ago.”

Produced by Tony Berg (Paul McCartney, Phoebe Bridgers) and mixed by Tchad Blake (Sheryl Crow, Fiona Apple), the 11 tracks of interrobang are orchestrated around a bigger picture of contemplations on love, right and wrong, combative and unified states, slipping from entrancing opener “beloved” to “lost ’cause,” and the dichotomy of destruction versus repair. “Entropy is always tearing at the seams of all of us,” says Foreman of the track, co-written with brother and bassist Tim Foreman. “Creating something beautiful is so much harder than tearing it down. It’s the same on a granular level. It’s easy to fall in love. It’s a lot harder to stay in love. Entering into a relationship with another human soul is a surrender.” 

Through the alt lift of “fluorescent,” the punchier “if i were you,” the pop rush of “splinter’ and the sulkier “i need you (to be wrong),” interrobang plays around some ambient inflections, leaving a quieter mark with the piano-picked “the bones of us,” a reflection of lost dreams and a hopeful future in the lyrics I met the bones of us in our old backyard / And I dug them up with nothing but an old guitar / And the past starts talking with its younger should / Bout the dreams that we started off with before we both let go… I’m fighting for myself, but most of all for you.

“When we first began to rehearse [‘the bones of us’], it felt like we fell into a trance and stumbled on what a daydream would sound like if you played it on the guitar,” says Foreman. “This is ultimately a tune that digs at the bones of the past while keeping an eye on the future.”

Reflecting on how the meaning of songs resonates differently over time, interrobang covers uncertainties and tragedy, yet still signs off on something more optimistic.

“Sometimes it’s outside of you,” says Foreman of some songs. “You are always changing, and the song is also its own entity. I remember after 9/11, all of these songs meant something different. Something like ‘Ashes of American Flags’ [Wilco], which came out right before that, and then you hear it afterward, and it means something totally different.”

Writing is often chasing something, whether it’s conveying an idea, experimenting with chords, lyrical concepts, or cadence, says Foreman, but with interrobang, Switchfoot were chasing emotions. “I love writing,” he says. “It’s more of a journal entry for me to write a couple of songs a week, and just kind of keep track of the emotional landscape.”

He adds, “You can hear a song and you feel like something within you is resonating with it. I think meaning is something that exists between the songwriter and the listener. My brother-in-law says it takes two people to meet, and I think that that is absolutely the case with songwriting. I love it when someone comes to the table with their own understanding of the song because I feel like that’s equally valid.”

First starting to write songs in junior high, when Foreman’s family moved from California to the East Coast, he didn’t have friends and started developing a stuttering problem, but those experiences roused something in his earlier lyrics. 

Switchfoot (Photo: Erick Frost)

“I was trying to just figure myself out, and I realized that I could be honest in songs,” shares Foreman. “I could talk about doubt, fear, girls, sex, politics—whatever. It was a safe place to exist, and I still feel that safety now.”

That inner child is still the essence of songwriting for Foreman. “In songwriting, you’re just pulling at threads, unraveling things, and seeing what happens,” he says. “That’s where the inner child is crucial for a song because the inner child is the wonder. That’s the place where I want to write from. I still feel that. I think if I don’t feel it, it might be time to take a break and get lunch.”

Thinking of nearly 25 years with Switchfoot since the band’s 1997 debut The Legend of Chin is almost like a dream. Seeing almost in different colors, Foreman says the first few years were wide-eyed and innocent, and then they were chasing other people’s desires, signing to Sony and a more commercial era for the band—and one of the most depressed Foreman says he’s ever been—to cutting ties with the major label and building their own studio. 

“I think there was a rebirth there,” says Foreman of the band working on their own. “It’s lasted the last couple albums, and this album was really unique because when you challenge yourself, you begin to approach something.”

Foreman adds, “I think it’s awakening that sense of wonder in the child within you because as an adult you walk the path that worked before, where the kid doesn’t even know how to walk, so every step there’s an unraveling and a learning experience. I think we had that same desire with this album… to challenge ourselves.”

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