Switchfoot transcends the boundaries of genre

Q&A with Grammy winning band Switchfoot’s guitarist Drew Shirley

Photo by Robbie Jeffers
Photo by Robbie Jeffers

After achieving mainstream success with four songs on the A Walk to Remember soundtrack in 2002 and their major label debut The Beautiful Letdown in 2003, rock band Switchfoot has yet to show signs of slowing down. With twenty years together and ten albums under their belt, the Grammy winning band has proven to both old and new listeners as well as critics that they transcend the “gospel” genre. In many ways, they have built a genre of their own that focuses on the human experience and seeing the beauty in pain. Their latest album Where the Light Shines Through tackles that theme perfectly, and the band aimed to create lyrics that speak intimately with a politically divided nation. Unique to the rock music scene, the California group has now hit a stride built on wisdom, maturity and energetic live performances. We talked to guitarist Drew Shirley–before the group’s February 3rd Vancouver concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre–about Switchfoot’s current frame of mind.

Q: Twenty years is a long time, and ten albums with the all the original members is extremely impressive. How would you describe the process of creating Where the Light Shines Through and its content in comparison to the other nine?

A: This album was a culmination of our work over the last nine albums. We have experimented in finding our voice in so many ways through the years, and this album comfortably expresses the soul of who we are. We recorded it in our studio in San Diego where we have amassed all of our favorite gear and become quick at translating inspiration into quality song recording.  Lyrically; this album was twenty years in the making as Jon Foreman sings about life and depth of experience that only comes with time. In an ever changing music industry, this new album feels like a steady rung higher on our journey as a band. 

Q: So what is the symbolism and meaning of the Where the Light Shines Through concept?

A: The album title comes from a song that says, “the wound is where the light shines through”. It’s the concept that even in life’s hard times there is hope, because we see something bright that can come from dark circumstances. The world can be a very bleak place and many people, like us, go through pain. We want to sing anthems of hope that bring people to the light. 

Q: To expand on that, this new album seems more spiritual than those since Nothing Is Sound. Could you speak about that?

A: Nothing is Sound was recorded during a dark transition for us. We were traveling a lot and away from home; trying to navigate the demands nearly sunk us as a band. Making it through that hard time is really felt in this new record. It’s not a blind hope, as if problems don’t exist, but a quiet trust that can approach difficulty with boldness. I think this new album Where the Light Shines Through is a statement that can sum up our journey as a band. 

Q: Tell me about the band’s struggle with creating Where the Light Shines Through. Are there any songs from the album that hold particularly important meaning for you?

A: The song “Looking for America” was a big struggle for us. Our country is in an identity crisis. We wrestle with trust in government, media, art, and industry. It’s all swirling and changing. This song feels like an important statement that resonates with culture around us. 

Q: I had a heavy Christian upbringing where I was constantly exposed to top Christian rock music and attended youth conventions yearly where the genre was extremely prevalent. Now that I am an adult and have been exposed to countless other genres and experiences, I am impressed at Switchfoot’s reach and longevity. So many of your fans are steadily planted in the mainstream. You are not bound by the constraints of genre, and that is very hard to do. Could you speak on that?

A: Yes, I can identify with that. We see “Christian” as a faith and not a genre of music. We want to sing songs for everyone regardless of race, religion, or anything. Asking questions is a part of a healthy thought process. Some people are narrow minded and think questioning things is bad. We are a band that asks more questions than gives answers. Everyone is on a journey, we are just writing about ours to the masses.

Q: Can you tell me about your relationship with Canadian audiences over the years?

A: Canada has been a very special place for us over the years, not to mention that I MARRIED A CANADIAN from Victoria! So, for me especially, I feel like I’m visiting family every time we go to Canada. The people are so friendly and creative. There seems to be a lot of opportunity and freedom to create in Canada; we have been coming to Canada for many years and always will!

Q: How do you feel your approach to live performances has changed over the lengthy lifetime of the band? Could you describe the kinds of people that you most often see at your shows?

A: We live and breathe as a live band. We are one of the only bands NOT using any tracks live. What you hear is actually played by all of us on stage. Singing songs live is the best part of the day; it’s what makes all the travel and time away from home worth it. There is a community that happens at each show where everyone is bonded together and becomes this sort of mock family for the time, going through the same live experience together and singing together. We see the expressions on people’s faces and really feel a sense of conversation happening. We have people from all generations coming to our shows. That’s one thing that amazes me constantly; seeing kids and their parents saying that we are the only band that they can ALL listen to together and everyone agrees. We are honored to be playing music for a living and look forward to giving it our best when we see you next!