Bassist Tim Foreman explains the specialness behind Switchfoot’s 10th album, Where the Light Shines Through, how he was surprised by its hopefulness, and why failure is underrated.
You’ve said you try to approach every record like it’s your first or your last. Now being 20 years in on album number 10, does it feel any different this time?
It does, not in the sense of approaching it like our first and last. I think we still do that. I think to stop and acknowledge that making 10 albums feels significant, to make 10 of anything nowadays. We’re just very thankful. I think we’ve put that significance on our shoulders when we went into the studio. We never just go in and make a record, but making our 10th record felt extra special.
We really took our time with this one. We spent about a year-and-a-half making it, but in many ways it feels like it took 20 years to make. This is the album that pulls from everything we’ve been through as a band, both musically and then also thematically. Some of the themes on this record are things that have taken us 20 years to write about.
One of the main themes you’ve really been embracing is this idea of Where the Light Shines Through. On the song, it talks about the scars and the wound is where the light shines through, and then you’ve been posting pictures online of different people filling in various blanks with that. The one that had you on it was “Failure is where the light shines through.” Can you talk about how you arrived at that concept and what it means to you?
Yeah, I had a chance to reflect earlier this year on our career. I was actually asked to speak. As I was figuring out what I wanted to talk about and reflecting, I started to realize this common thread of failure being the seed for pretty much every good thing that’s happened to us as a band. I started to think about my own life beyond that, realizing that failure is really underrated.
That’s actually where all the good stuff happens. It doesn’t ever feel like it at the time, and you can’t ever see it at the time. But in the rearview mirror, looking backwards, you can connect the dots from the valley all the way up the peak and realize all the good growth happens through struggle.
You’ve also been saying this record was born out of some really personal and dark times that you were going through as a band. On that initial post, Jon wrote about going to the rock every day and wrestling with God about some of his struggles and dark night of the soul type stuff. How did this record help you deal with all that and make it out on the other side?
This record kind of surprised us with its hopefulness. Like Jon mentioned, we were going through a lot as a band, doing a lot of soul searching. We were wrestling with a lot of different things as a band and personally. Writing from that place, there was maybe the expectation that it would be a lot more introspective. Maybe a heavier record thematically.
The songs that started to write out of the season, almost write themselves, were surprisingly hopeful. This record surprised us and found us at a moment when we really needed it. I don’t know why it surprised us. Looking back, we shouldn’t be surprised that in those dark moments the light shines brightest, but it did surprise us. That became a theme for this record, that the wound is where the light shines through. That song took shape, and the rest of the album started to fall into place around it.
It ended up being our most hopeful album we’ve ever made and also the trajectory we followed as a band, from going into the studio to write this album to coming out on the other side. We have a greater love and respect for each other than ever before. It is a really exciting time for us right now.
Thematically, it felt like Fading West, your last record, was a little bit broader and more universal on the surface at least, which kind of made sense being it was paired with the film and about you guys traveling all over the world. Then Jon did The Wonderlands last year, which was a lot more intimate and raw, and this record almost feels like a continuation of that in some respects in that it feels really specific.
Yeah, I think it’s some of Jon’s best lyrics ever, and they are very personal. We just put everything into the songs. Everything we were learning and dealing with, it all went into the music. They’re very personal songs and very honest.
I think that is one of those funny things we’ve learned as a band, that sometimes the most personal and specific songs end up connecting with the most people. That certainly seems to be the early reaction to some of these songs. I think it’s those deeply personal emotions and struggles that we all relate to.
Yeah, like something that really stood out to me was “I Won’t Let You Go.” Jon’s never really used his upper register in that way like he does on that song, and that made it more fragile and moving. I’m sure that’s going to connect with a lot of people.
That’s one of my personal favorites on the record. That was written early on in the record as well. I just fell in love with that song, and you’re right. We get to hear a different part of Jon’s voice that we haven’t really heard before.
You said you spent a year-and-a-half working this album out, which is one of the longest times you’ve spent doing that, and you came up with 80 or 90 ideas during that process. What was that like for you and how did you pare it down to what made the final album?
For the last four or five albums or so, that’s been the biggest challenge, trying to find the forest from the trees, because we do write so many songs. Jon in particular is a songwriting machine. What made this process unique, and how we’re kind of learning to handle that compared to albums past, is we stayed really openhanded in the songwriting approach. We didn’t allow ourselves to go too deep too soon.
We would write a verse and a chorus. We’d call it throwing paint on the wall, where we’re painting with a big brush, throwing paint on the wall, and then moving onto somewhere else in the room. I think it’s a lot easier to step back and look at what songs really move us when you stay a little bird’s eye view with the songs.
We did write about 100 or 120 songs. It was as absurd like it always is, but I think this time we stayed real big picture with them in broad strokes. We saved ourselves from wasting a lot of time working on a song that’s not even going to make it on the album.
One thing on the album is there’s not a ton of those really propulsive, grungy guitars that you’ve used a lot in the past. A lot of the songs are driven more by melody or quieter moments, and then when the guitars do come in it’s a lot more groove-oriented and has these staccato lead parts. What was that like, playing around with some of these different styles? How did you find that voice that you wanted to capture?
It’s a real mix of all our records is how it hits me. There’s a couple songs that really harken back to the fuzzier guitars of maybe like Nothing Is Sound. “Holy Water” comes to mind. Another song is “If the House Burns Down Tonight,” which is another loud guitar rocker, but then there’s softer, I guess I would say more intimate, sounds on the record. Some of the quirkiest stuff we’ve done, too. There’s a song like “Float,” which feels like it’s an entire new chapter for us.
I’ve always been drawn to those kinds of albums that really don’t get stuck in any particular vein for too long, but kind of keep you surprised. I feel like the Beatles used to do that in their own way. A lot of my favorite bands over the years keep surprising you along the journey. I think that’s something we were aware of while we were making this record, to really show a few more colors of the palette than maybe we have in albums past.
One of those moments is having Lecrae on “Looking for America,” which is the first time you’ve done anything hip-hop related. That song is also very much relevant in the wake of Orlando and things. Can you talk about that song and what you were exploring on that one?
That song was built all around that line “I’m looking for America.” That line emerged one day while Jon and I were writing in the studio. We both felt like that was a really important line, but we didn’t really know what to do with it. It took a while to allow the rest of the songs to come in around that theme.
As we were incubating with that song and working on it, putting it away and then working on it some more, all these events kept happening around the world and especially within our own country. It started taking on more meaning. I think when it really became personal was with the shooting in San Bernardino, which is where Jon was born. That’s where a lot of the lyrics were written from, that perspective of I’m looking at the place where I was born. I’m looking for America.
We really loved the song, but it was kind of this oddball song in the midst of the album. We’re big fans of Lecrae and feel like he always has really important things to say, so we shot it his way. We were just blown away with what he came up with. He really, really took it there. It gets really real and raw. At that point, it felt so important that it had to be on the record.
As we mentioned at the beginning, you’ve been doing this 20 years now with that core group of you, Jon and Chad. I was just curious about what growing up with Jon was like. Were you always this close? Did you have an inclination you would be doing something like this on this level for as long as you have?
Absolutely not. I mean, we were always close. We were always playing music together, but the idea of doing music for a living was not even on our radar, and certainly not for as long as we have. It was always something that we did. Our parents were both musical. There were always instruments lying around the house, so I can’t actually remember a time when we weren’t playing music together, but it wasn’t to form a band or to travel the world doing it. It was just because that was what we always did.
When I was in high school and we got signed to a music deal, we’ve always taken it one step at a time. It’s not something we went out and looked for. It kind of found us. We never assumed that it would last. It’s just this blessing that we took as a great adventure. We went on the road, we went to Europe, and the whole thing just kept unfolding.
I think we still try and treat our career like that today. We try to keep an open hand with it and not take it for granted. Not assume that just because it’s what we’ve done now for 10 albums that it’s something we’re going to keep doing forever and ever. We really treat it as a gift, and a special one. We approach each album as a new season. We kind of break up the band, and then start again.