By Matt Conner
Eleven albums in, Tim Foreman finds it difficult to write and record a new project.
Switchfoot has outlasted nearly all of their contemporaries with well over 20 years in the studio and on the road. That amount of rarely paralleled experience should equate to some comfort for another album cycle, but Foreman says it’s simply not true. The whole process remains challenging and even elusive.
“What continually fascinates me about the recording process is that it’s always hard no matter how many times we do it,” says Foreman. “I don’t know if that’s true for other artists. The thing that you’re going for as an artist should always be a challenging, nebulous destination. You don’t really know exactly where you’re headed but you know you’re trying to get somewhere. I think it’d be easy to make the same album every time but that’s never the goal, so it’s always hard even when it’s enjoyable.”
For a band making music since Men in Black was first in theaters and the first Harry Potter book hit shelves, the idea that the creative process hasn’t gotten that much easier feels off. But Switchfoot has always made things difficult on purpose. Every album requires sifting through nearly 100 finished ideas—each of which is a labor of love.
“We created this folder that we called ‘The Top 12,’” says Foreman for the band’s latest, Native Tongue. “We thought that was a decent number to shoot for. By the end of the project, we came back to pick which songs made the album, there were 95 songs in the top 12. It became an ironic title.
“Jon compares picking songs to marriage vows,” he continues. “It’s the exclusivity of the relationship with the songs that makes it so weighty. It’s forsaking all others. That’s what you’re doing. You create all of these songs and they all mean something to you. But when it comes to which ones will be heard and released on an album, we only have 14 songs and we forsake all others. That’s a really hard thing.”
Fortunately for the band’s legion of fans, Switchfoot doesn’t sound like a band nearing the end of its life span. Even after 20 years, the band’s creative drive is as strong as ever. Even when they were given downtime to rest, relax and hang out at home with family and friends, the Foremans couldn’t help themselves. As Tim details, the two would return to the creative well that draws them back time and again.
“This time around was enjoyable from the start because it was Jon and me sneaking in to record because we’re supposed to be on hiatus,” laughs Foreman. “It was an innocent or pure season because of that. There was no deadline or reason why besides the fact that we love doing this.”
This pursuit is what will continue drive Switchfoot forward, to years when Native Tongue is a blip in the rearview mirror. To create is itself worth the work for Foreman and company.
“The amazing thing about music is that it’s a game that you never win,” he says. “You set out to capture these emotions that elude normal work but somehow music gets you closer but you’re never all the way there. That’s what keeps you coming back for more. You think, ‘Tomorrow I might do it. I might actually write the song that describes how I feel in that moment.’”