“Where woundedness can be refined into beauty a wonderful transfiguration takes place.”—John O’Donohue
Life is not simple. The trail of days that forge our stories often meander through tumultuous terrains of pain, shortstopping our pace with uncertainty, burdening our steps with fear, and clouding our vision in confusion. To be human is to experience darkness. And suffering. And heartache and grief. And yes, doubt.
Throughout recorded human history, music has provided a cadence for our hearts as our soul steps out on the shaky search for God. In the middle of our deepest disbeliefs, the volley of verse and chorus gifts our spirits with an eternal language to graciously initiate conversation with God.
The men of Switchfoot have long been known for recording their spiritual journey. Willing to probe the darkness of their human struggle in an effort to uncover holy light, the internationally applauded compadres’ rich musical catalog has bestowed alternative music with some of its biggest and most inspirative hits over the last fifteen years, while also gracing Gospel music with some of the genre’s most articulate anthems in history—all in an honest effort to articulate eternal hope through the earthy strains of rock ‘n roll.
After wrestling through the darkest year of his life, Jon Foreman, Switchfoot’s thoughtful front man, suggests it is in this midnight of our need, when our pain is most poignant and our wounds most tender, that our souls are most exposed to the Light.
Now, on the milestone of their tenth recording, Where The Light Shines Through (Vanguard/Capitol CMG), Jon, his brother and bass guitarist Tim Foreman, guitarist Drew Shirley, keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas and drummer Chad Butler, play off Foreman’s dark night of the soul to dig even deeper into the trenches of humanity to uncover diamonds of grace. And peace. And love and hope. And yes, God. (watch the video of this interview HERE)
CCM Magazine: Jon, we are so glad to have you here. I want to first talk about music’s influence on you personally. Your mom and dad are musicians. Your mom plays pipe organ, right?
Jon Foreman: Yeah. She was a pipe organ major [in college], which feels like a pretty impractical major these days. [Laughs] And my dad grew up playing rock n’ roll. So we always had guitars, and there was a piano. People ask, “When did you write your first song?” I have no idea. There’s no such thing as a song when you’re two. You’re just banging around. Pots and pans, guitars and pianos—it was all the same thing. Baby rattle. [Laughs]
CCM: So many of us grew up with music influencing our emotions and relationships. Music seems to capture this universal language.
JF: I’ve always thought of music as the scaffolding for the soul. It allows you to get to places you’d never get to otherwise.
As a band, we’ve come to the conclusion that we sing these songs night after night because we believe hope deserves an anthem. We want these songs to open the windows and doors of the soul, to see a horizon bigger than just a mirror. So many times our society is self-obsessed, and we get locked in with devices and comparison to other humans when there’s a much larger story happening. Music helps unlock that.
CCM: In an interview we did last year, you said, “Music often tells the truth quicker than words.” How have you guys used music to supersede what words can accomplish? (watch the video of this interview HERE)
JF: I love the Judeo-Christian story of creation, of this deity speaking the universe into existence. I wonder if it was sung. I feel like anytime we enunciate words, when they’re not written down, it’s a singing of sorts. You could say, “No, I’m just talking,” but the pitch is changing, the cadence. There’s timing. There’s a rhythm. I think music precedes speech as far as our language is concerned. And then you have Christ who, other than the time when He’s writing in the dirt with a stick, we don’t have any written words from Him. Just spoken words.
As a musician, when I am singing, I always think of it as cosigning God’s blank checks. That there’s this currency that I’ve been given to operate with—notes and words—and I can pay them however I want. We grew up playing in clubs and churches and frat parties and youth groups and coffee shops, and I didn’t think it was strange. Anywhere that would let us in, we’d play. I was in a Led Zeppelin cover band and the youth group band, and I didn’t see any problem with any of it. And my parents were very supportive. So I grew up with the idea that tonight we’re playing the bars, and we’re playing for hurting people that need love and need hope and need joy. And tomorrow morning we’re playing at church, and we’re playing for hurting people that are looking for hope and love and acceptance. What we’ve been doing all along is just trying to tell the truth, just trying to tell our story, because I think that’s the story I’ve been authorized to tell.
CCM: An author friend of mine, Patsy Clairmont, says that though it feels risky to share our story, it’s safe because that is what God has allowed us to experience. In the backstory of making this record, you said, “It’s strange to make a record of light out of a really dark year.” It seems you took the risk to tell your own story of darkness through these songs.
JF: I was literally just texting with a friend of mine about his story. I’ve been encouraging him to tell his story. The moment you say the most personal thing that you’ve always been afraid to talk about, suddenly you put that into a song or into words and there’s a resonance. Failure, doubt, pain, insecurity, fear—these are words that are attached to things that we hide.
For me, I realized I was building this “Berlin Wall” that was dividing myself into two sides. So with this record, I decided, Okay, let’s get in there, let’s start talking about it. I was trying to face up to the darkness. So every night after we’d be in the studio, I’d go to this one rock on the beach. The Pacific Ocean is a good place to wrestle with the darkness at 3:00 in the morning, you know? And I would be out there wrestling, and it felt like light began to break through. That, for me, was where the title track gained its power and meaning. The wound is where the light shines through. It felt like this realization that often the first step towards healing is acknowledging that there is something wrong. For me, that meant singing about it.
CCM: Do you feel like grief, pain, this darkness has been a pathway for you to to experience God? Has it helped line that path in a way that you didn’t expect?
JF: In talking about that “Berlin Wall,” and the parts of my life that I wish hadn’t happened, the questions, the pains, the doubts—all those things that you kind of shove to the side, when I was doing that, it created this schism, this duality, that isn’t healthy or normal. And it is basically disbelief, because it believes in a God that’s not big enough to encompass all of that. He’s not big enough for the big questions. He’s not actually big enough to get underneath the wound and actually heal it.
The practice of confession is a beautiful thing because it says, “I’m fatally flawed. I’m a sinner. I blew it again.” I feel like that’s such a healthy thing to say, “I don’t have it figured out.” Depression, failure, fear—to bring these things to the surface is liberating. That which is hidden is empowered. I realized I was empowering my doubt, empowering my fear, empowering the pain. So absolutely. Not only does the Healer Of Souls want to heal the wounds within us, but sometimes those are the very places that He wants to shine through and actually enlighten the rest of our world.
CCM: How so?
JF: I think of the cross, [and] the title, “the wound is where the light shines through.” Yes, shining through my own wounds, shining through the wounds of my community. The questions that I have about America—our interaction with Iraq, poverty around the world—I feel like those are the places with the most wounds that I could imagine, and yet I see such light when I look into the eyes of the kids. And then I think of the crucified Savior on the cross, [His] wounds and light shining through that. For me, I absolutely feel like the wound is a place that is meant to enlighten us about our humanity… | Stay tuned to CCMmagazine.com for Part 2 of this cover story
READ | Switchfoot – The Light Of Darkness (part 2 of 2)
WATCH | Jon Foreman – Features On Film (conclusion)