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The Sound

Switchfoot toes two sides of the line


Switchfoot plays Hoyt Sherman Place on Thursday, Sept 26. Photo by Brian Nevins

Switchfoot plays Hoyt Sherman Place on Thursday, Sept 26. Photo by Brian Nevins

Switchfoot, the San Diego-based five-piece, got its start in the world of contemporary Christian music. And while the band’s members have never shied away from their faith and continue to play Christian music festivals, they’ve never liked to pigeon-hole themselves.

“Growing up in San Diego, there was no CCM scene,” drummer Chad Butler explained. “I didn’t understand what that was. We just considered ourselves a rock band. There was no model that we were able to follow.

“We’ve always been very open about what we believe and our faith. But I still just refer to us as an American rock band.”

That mindset has allowed the band a remarkable amount of freedom in its work, and it has been a rarity in the way it has managed to have crossover success with both Christian and mainstream rock audiences, without losing ground in either camp.

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Now Switchfoot is back on the road in support of its ambitious new project, “Fading West.”

“(‘Fading West’ has) been a dream of ours for a few years,” Butler explained, citing the band’s lifelong love affair with surfing as the source of inspiration. “We’ve toured the world and gotten to see these amazing surfing destinations. (So) We decided, ‘We need to plan a tour based around our favorite surf spots.’ ”

The result is Switchoot’s new album, produced in conjunction with a documentary film of the same name. Shot over the course of the band’s 2012 tour, “Fading West” provides an intimate look inside the band and provides fans with the kind of access rarely afforded.

“The process was uncomfortable at first,” Butler admitted. “But we got used to the cameras being around and kind of forgot they were there. I think people will be surprised at how honest a look inside of our band this video is. It’s all there on film. We’re a little anxious to open that door into the brotherhood of the band, but I’m glad we’re able to be vulnerable at the same time.”

Knowing that the album and film were going to be so closely tied together — the band’s current tour features a screening of the film — allowed the band the opportunity to expand its sound in ways a straight studio project wouldn’t allow. Butler calls the album’s sound “more cinematic” and lauds the freewheeling nature of the unique recording process.

“We’ve managed to allow being inspired by the journey effect the songs — not only from a lyrical point of view, but even the instrumentation,” Butler said. “There are instruments on the album that we found along the way. There’s a guitar made out of an oil drum that (guitarist Drew Shirley) found on a street.”

It’s that freedom of expression and sound that Butler thinks will be the true appeal of the album — and the film. The “Fading West” project is Switchfoot’s declaration of brotherhood with the band members, its audiences and with the world at large.

“It was a very collaborative effort,” Butler said, looking back on the journey. “We’re trying to shape these songs based on a shared experience. That’s a unique thing, to be making an album while you’re traveling the world and having these interactions.”

That feeling of shared experience through music is at the forefront of why Switchfoot has never felt the need to classify itself as “Christian” or “mainstream.” It’s a band that’s just making music that appeals to people.

“I think it’s a compliment when a song means one thing to a person of one background and something different to someone else,” Butler said. “I love looking out and seeing the diversity of our audience.” CV

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