GRAMMY® award-winning rock band SWITCHFOOT expands on their trademark epic soundscapes and explores new themes and textures on Native Tongue, the group’s eleventh full-length album which is out now. Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles spoke to Tim Foreman about making Native Tongue and whether they are planning to tour Australia at some stage.
It must be a really exciting to kick start 2019 with a new album release?
Yeah, we’re really excited. It’s a very different album for us that I can’t wait for people to hear it.
Eleven albums in, do you feel that this one was probably just as challenging or if not, more challenging than the rest?
What a great question. I think it doesn’t get easier and I’ve thought a lot about this and I think it would get easier if we cared less but we don’t. We can’t help caring immensely about every piece of music that we put out and because we care so much, making records is always a challenge. We’re our own worst critic and we push ourselves really hard and I think this record was no exception to that.
In fact, we took a hiatus last year and didn’t really plan on making an album and in that time when we were in limbo, not really knowing what the future looked like at that point, there was a lot of, for me personally, feelings of regret, of feeling like there was music left on the table. That there were risks that I still wanted to take musically and I know the other guys felt the same way. So I think there was a bit of an existential release with this album in that we got to fulfil some of those regrets that we felt that maybe we had left behind.
Absolutely. I guess when you were saying taking a hiatus, is that just being purely exhausted or just a bit of frustrated and needed time to clear your head?
You know, it was more of a celebration of the journey we’ve been on and also an intentional stepping off of the hamster wheel, you know? I think anything that you do for a long time can become routine and it’s easy to become numb to what is beautiful when you see it everyday. And so I think, for us, we felt like we needed to intentionally step outside of that and look at it from a new perspective.
Were you surprised when you were able to stop that you could just be an average Joe Blow, just doing the normal daily grind? Was that something that was a bit hard to get used to?
I think there’s so much identity that’s tied in to what you do and I think that’s probably magnified when what you do is very public. So I think, that can become unhealthy and I think disentangling from that this year and being at home a lot and being a dad and a neighbour and doing normal things was really grounding for me personally.
Did you have a clear plan in mind of how you wanted the album to unfold and wanted it to sound? Or does a lot of that start to take shape when you start the recording process?
Jon and I, my brother and I were really reluctant to call it an album because like we said, we didn’t plan on making an album during the hiatus, it was a beautiful thing that we both felt continually drawn back to the studio for only reason other than it gives us joy. That became our motto for this album was ‘follow the joy’. Picking up a guitar and seeing where it leads you is a really beautiful thing when you don’t have to feel like at the end of the day you wrote a song that’s going to make the album.
It’s a really pure way to rediscover how important music is for me and why I need to be making music with my life regardless of what the peripherals look like. Approaching the album with perspective, the hard part came once we decided to call it an album. Then we had to get a little more specific with ‘what are we trying to say?’ How do these songs work together in a cohesive way? In spite of the fact that it’s such a diverse collection of songs.
With that mindset that you’re just talking about, did you find it easier in terms of writing the songs in terms of knowing that you wouldn’t be covering the same ground as what you have done on the previous ten albums?
Yeah, it was a real free approach on one hand and on the other hand, I feel like we really had this fire in us to take risks and not hold back. So some days it was more the fire coming out and some days it was more of the hippy, let’s just have a good time and somewhere in between the two, the album was born.
Was there a lot of fist punching going on knowing that you really nailed some songs off of that album?
We’re so proud of this album, it’s truly a very special album for us, but like I said, there was definitely challenges in making it. We really push each other hard when we’re in the studio and in spite of the fact we came into this album in a spirit of following the joy, there was definitely moments of frustration and all of the highs and lows that come with any artistic endeavour. So when you believe it and when you really care about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it, it’s a roller-coaster of highs and lows that I don’t know any other way to truly make unique art than to put your whole heart into it.
Were there any sort of moments where you really doubt yourself and just say to yourself, “It’s easier just to go back on hiatus and just go back to being a dad and a neighbour and all that other great stuff that you’ve got going on in your life”?
I think fear is a sneaky combatant that attacks us from all angles and I know for an artist, it’s probably the singular most difficult opponents to face, fear. It takes a lot of different faces along the way and trying to push all of those things out and allowing the child to speak as you’re entering into a creative space, that becomes the journey.
So where did the whole idea or the concept for Native Tongue come from? Was this the stuff that you’ve been making notes over time or did this come to you like a sudden bolt of lightning?
It came to me while I was surfing, wrestling with some of the frustration at the moment and as an artist I think you’re constantly battling with trying to find the true voice in its most pure form and let that speak. What is my native tongue? What do I really want to say musically? The phrase just popped into my head when I was out surfing at a spot near my house and I brought it up to the guys and Jon immediately had this whole other interpretation for it that I thought was brilliant. With the idea that we as humans have forgotten how to speak our native tongue., we came into this world, whether we had a good mom or not, there was someone who birthed us, someone who changed us, someone who fed us that spoke love to us and somewhere along the line as we grow older, we learn to speak fear and hatred but those in fact aren’t our native tongue. Our native tongue is love.
Was it tough picking the singles from this album? Obviously Native Tongue probably leapt off the page but in terms of other singles from the album, was that a bit of a tough job given how strong the album is?
You know, we haven’t, as far as in the traditional sense, picking radio singles, at least here in the States we haven’t actually even decided on one yet which is unusual for us. We decided we wanted to let the album live and breathe and respond to which songs are resonating before making those decisions. But with regards to the songs that we released ahead of the album, yeah that was a really tough choice. I think my personal favourite song right now is a song called Dig New Streams which wasn’t one of the four. I think the decision of which songs to showcase and which songs to save as a treat for when the album comes out was tough.
The collaboration with Kaela Sinclair, The Hardest Art, was awesome. Was she an obvious choice to sing with you guys on that one?
That was one of those things that serendipitously worked out. I’ve always been a fan of both her voice and her sonic landscapes that she plays with her keys and M83. She just happened to be staying at a studio that our friend Brent Kutzle from OneRepublic works out of in L.A. and so floated the idea to her and she loved the song and I think she hit it out of the park.
I guess the big question probably everyone in Australia is dying to hear is whether we’ll see Switchfoot here in Australia this year. Is that on the cards if we make enough noise for it?
I certainly would love to see that happen. I think if not this year, then we’ve got to make it happen in 2020, but it’s been far too long and we love it down there. We’ve got two reasons to come, we love the people, we love playing music there, I guess three reasons … and we love the waves. So, let’s do it.
Interview by Rob Lyon