by Matt Conner
If you plan on catching Switchfoot on their spring headlining tour, then you will also enjoy the beautiful music of solo artist Tyson Motsenbocker, a close friend of the band and a wonderful singer-songwriter himself.
Motsenbocker’s music exists on the indie fringes, anchored by weighty content that asks important questions and shares honest reflections. It’s an interesting mix of styles, but there’s no denying that both Switchfoot and Motsenbocker create great music filled with substantive lyrics. The styles might vary but the shared musical heart and spirit make for an ideal pairing. The solo artist says the band’s friendship has been life-giving for him and that their fans have been just as supportive.
“I’ve known Jon the longest, and more recently the guys in the band as well, but his friendship has been really, really important to me,” says Motsenbocker. “He is just an unbelievably good friend. He is loyal and smart and kind. Anyone that’s watched Jon for any amount of time knows what he’s like in public, and he’s better than that in person. He’s a remarkable person. He has been a huge support to me when things were difficult, and he’s continued to give me opportunities, as far as trying to introduce me to their fan base, which is a very good fan base to be introduced to. There’s a lot of them and Switchfoot fans are really loyal and kind and awesome people.”
Some of you might be familiar with Motsenbocker’s story from a few years ago, just as he released his first full-length album, Letters to Lost Loves. Motsenbocker walked the California coastline for 40 days after the death of his mother. His 600-mile journey allowed him the space and silence to reflect, process, ask questions, pray, doubt and ultimately write the songs that would comprise the album.
Motsenbocker is quick to point out that not everything he writes is so heavy. “I think the content of the things I want to say drives the way things are sonically,” he explains. The songs are snapshots of the moment he’s in, and Letters to Lost Loves came in a time of obvious grief and confusion. From there, Motsenbocker says he was excited to lighten things up, musically speaking.
“I had a bunch of songs I’d just been working on, in the meantime,” he says. “Those songs were just kind of fun pop songs, and it was exactly what I needed. When you do a lot of shows with really heavy content, ultimately you want to surface a little bit and make something that’s a little bit lighter, songs that maybe aren’t a really heavy weight on people, and those EPs were, for the most part, pretty fun. They were kind of jokey. They were a little bit faster-paced with some electronic aspects and stuff.”
These days, Motsenbocker is trying out some newer material on the road with Switchfoot as he prepares to wrap up another album due sometime later this year.
“The funny thing is that I have another record that I’m actually going to the studio next month to make, and it’s going to probably kind of return to where we started a little bit,” says Motsenbocker. “It’s going to go back to Letters a little bit, because it has a little bit more of the heavier content. It’ll probably be pretty organic, with a lot of space—a lot like the first one sounded. I think it’s hard to sort of route a course through your career. Obviously you want to be evolving, and you want to be changing and growing, and ultimately you have to be honest with yourself and what you’re doing. Sometimes that means kind of returning to something you did before, I think.”
For an artist as authentic as Motsenbocker, there’s really no choice but to be true to what you’re feeling, even if it asks questions without answers or leaves the listener without any sense of resolution. He sings about real life as he experiences it and doesn’t feel the pressure to wrap it all neatly after a few minutes, as can sometimes happen. It might keep him on the fringes, but if he’s staying true to his art and craft, then he’s okay with that.
“If we are Christians, we’re called to model the Creator if we are creatives. And God created trees that change color in the fall, which is beautiful, but he also invented cobra snakes and stuff, so it’s not like there’s one type of way to create something that is in the image of God. Creation is, in its nature, in his image. I’m just trying to be like, ‘Hey I am a Christian’ and boldly so. I am a Christian, and that is my worldview. That is my belief structure, but I’m also just writing from a human perspective. I’m not writing from any kind of industry perspective.”