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Shortly after the launch of their fall tour with Anberlin and only a day before the release of their new album Vice Verses, Switchfoot's Drew Shirley and Jerome Fontamillas took a few moments to chat with about the new album while sitting in a Philadelphia Starbucks...
This interview took place on: 9/26/11.

  • JFH (John DiBiase): Well, let me start off by saying I love the new album and we're really excited about it. I've been listening to it for a couple months and still get excited about listening to it. You can really tell you guys put a lot of time into it. I mean, I could tell that from Hello Hurricane, too, but there's something different about Vice Verses...

    Jerome Fontamillas: Well, I think from Hello Hurricane to Vice Verses, Vice Verses was just the next step. Y'know, you're progressing with hello hurricane and you're not stopping, hey let's record another 15 songs. And that's the next step, this is where we're heading to and that's what came out, yknow?

  • JFH (John): So when you recorded Hello Hurricane you already had these songs? Switchfoot

    Jerome: Well, when we recorded Hello Hurricane, we already had the title, Vice Verses.
    Drew Shirley: We had that song.
    Jerome: Yeah, we had "Vice Verses." We knew that that was going to be the focus of the album; it was going to be our album title.

  • JFH (John): What was it about that song that made you know that "This is it"?

    Drew: First of all, we loved the song. The title just caught and hooked us, like "Wow"... Not just because it started with one letter... Hello hurricane, Vice Verses *laughter* What's next, y'know?

  • JFH (John): I did notice that.

    Drew: We didn't do that on purpose, for the record. But it just caught our attention because it asks some very very deep questions. (Jerome: Yeah) Where is God in the hurricane? Where is God in the earthquake? Where is God in the genocide? These are questions that you can spend a lifetime unpacking. And it felt like such a statement and so simple. Switchfoot has had a career full of songs filled with longing, almost an Ecclesiastical longing, where the way things are aren't the way they're supposed to be, going back to "Meant To Live," y'know, going back to "Company Car," even those tongue-in-cheek songs from the early days...
    Jerome: But even moving forward to Hello Hurricane, like "Hello Hurricane" itself.

  • JFH (John): I think that's one of the things that's always attracted me to the band's music, even since the first album. Cause it was always kind of melancholy and pensive and thought-provoking, and it's that same feeling that has matured with the albums but it's still there.

    Drew: Right! This is the payoff of Hello Hurricane. I feel like Hello Hurricane was a struggle and a search and all this wrestling of "Who are we?" "What kind of songs do we write? And what album do we want to make? And what are the songs that only we can sing?" *to Jerome* Remember Mike asking us that question? (Jerome: Yup!) Mike Elizondo, our producer said, "Look, what are the songs that only Switchfoot can sing? Not every other band would carry the same heart." And so, Vice Verses is now us standing in a confident place, going "YES! This is the music we were born to make!" And we picked 12 [songs] and just did those.
    Jerome: Yeah! And like I said earlier, this is where we were headed. At the end of Hello Hurricane, we were bound to make these songs. It was already there, it was just the next level, the next step.
    Drew: You already take me there, Jerome. *laughter* But that was taking you back to Learning To Breathe! *laughing*

  • JFH (John): It's funny because I remember being at one of the Creation Easts before The Beautiful Letdown came out and it was the first time I heard "Meant To Live" and I remember thinking "Finally!" because I'd been waiting for the band to crank it up! And up until that point, the closest thing to that was "You Already Take Me There." And it's nice that there's plenty of that on this record.

    Drew: I remember tracking, I don't know, like "Stars," "Lonely Nation," coming into this guitar kind of scene? Where I was like, "Jon, take that box and turn it all the way up. And play those chords like you're playing them on acoustic." (Jerome: *laughing* But it's electric!) [He went] "Ooooo!" His eyes light up. He was like, "Man, it sounds like a motorcycle!!" I'm like "YEAH!"
    Jerome: That's right! *laughs* I mean, when the band first started, they were REALLY young and so, obviously there's a growth in music, developing the kind of music that you want to play. I think it made a turnaround during The Beautiful Letdown and just went this way *makes a gesture upwards* Y'know?

  • JFH (John): How did working with producers Mike Elizondo and Neal Avron help shape the record a bit?

    Jerome: It was the first time we worked with Neal and he was actually there most of the time. Mike was more of a consultant, more of a big picture kind of [guy]. But Neal Avron was the day-to-day, and he oversaw the final. Because he's not just a producer, he's a mixer, so he conceived how to place where all the parts of the song is. He could space it out. He could see where it is. We wanted to make this album breathe. We wanted to get almost where it's so wide open, y'know, and he was able to put that in place. That was really cool.
    Drew: Neal helped us keep us on schedule too. (Jerome: That too *laughs*) We have five producers. Romey has produced many good albums himself. Jon has done solo stuff. Tim is our resident editor and loves drum sounds and how to get them, mikes, and preamps, and so Neal helped us stay on schedule, focus, "Everybody, let's work on keys for an hour and then let's work on that and work on that." At the end of the day, we'll keep on schedule.
    Jerome: Yeah. *laughs* With Hello Hurricane, we recorded 90 songs and we were all over the place. (Drew: We were SO all over the map with that recording.) So Neal helped us say "So let's just focus on 14, 15 songs" and that really helped. Then we knew that "OK, we're just going to focus on these songs," so we were able to be a lot more focused.

  • JFH (John): Were any of the songs that were cut from Hello Hurricane reworked or ported over from that to Vice Verses?

    Jerome: Was there? I'm trying to think... (Drew: Nope.) "Vice Verses" was written, but it wasn't recorded at the time.
    Drew: Yeah, we just had it as an acoustic demo.
    Jerome: Oh! "Souvenirs!" It was demoed, but it was written probably before even Hello Hurricane.
    Drew: Maybe. I really don't remember that. Was it really?
    Jerome: I think so. But literally, these are just new songs that came out, most of it.
    Drew: Jon's favorite song is the one he wrote most recently. *laughs* (Jerome: Yeah) It's like, "Dude! What about all these old songs that are great?" He's like, "Nah! Forget those!" (Jerome: "I got these new ones!") "I got all these new ones now! We gotta do THESE!" But they're good. So I can't complain because they're really good! So you're like, "Oh yeah, these are awesome!" But what about all the old ones?!
    Jerome: Well, we always go back and listen to the old ones and like, "Man, what we could've done with these songs!" (Drew: I know!!)

  • JFH (John): What's stopping you from doing a b-sides record or something?

    Jerome: Just time. There's not enough time in the day! (John: Well, it's not like you don't tour all the time...) *laughs* I mean, eventually, there are a lot of songs we want to probably surface somewhere and eventually work on, but it's all about timing.

  • JFH (John): Yeah, I understand. And Eastern Hymns just came out last year.

    Jerome: Yeah! And that was recorded during the Oh! Gravity. era!
    Drew: Those are songs that were just sitting there and we were like, "What can we DO with this?! Can we find some way to put them out?"
    Jerome: So hopefully, eventually, some of the songs that we recorded that are still in our hard drives will hopefully make it to the surface. *laughs*

  • JFH (John): I don't make music but I draw a lot and I've had drawings that I start but I don't finish them and every once in awhile I'll come back to it and I'm like, "I really should finish that cuz I do like that but I've got something new going on..." or just too busy with other things.

    Jerome: It's totally like that!

  • JFH (John): Do you know the story behind "Souvenirs?" (Since Jon probably wrote it and he's not here...)

    Jerome: When I listen to the lyrics, it's always more of reflection, remembering where you came from - for me. Remember the path that you've taken. When I listen to it, that's where I'm at. But Jon may have a different viewpoint on it.
    Drew: Yeah. It's a little bit nostalgic. Very nostalgic.

  • JFH (John): Because it kind of sounds like reminiscing his journey with the band.

    Jerome: Yeah, I mean, lyrically... we should ask him sometime. *laughs* It's funny, because whenever I ask him about lyrics, he always asks me, "Well, what do you think it? (Drew: I know! That's always what he says.) What's your interpretation?" (Drew: He's like, "Yeah, well that's good. That's - that's - that's...") *laughter*

  • JFH (John): Well, I was at Rock The Universe in Orlando a couple weeks ago and Jon was talking about "Dark Horses" and the meaning behind that. Can you talk a little bit about that? Cuz I didn't know that that's what it was about until he introduced it at the show.

    Jerome: It's more of a trying-to-raise-awareness... His inspiration for that is an organization we've worked closely with in San Diego called Stand Up For Kids. It's an at-risk youth facility that has homeless kids or people that are at-risk of other stuff. These are kids that have inspired us and we've devoted a day out of the year for them with what we call the Bro-Am. We do this charity event back in San Diego to raise awareness for them, but we also bring the kids out to the beach and we have a surfing contest and a concert. But anyway, "Dark Horses" is more inspired by these kids that are out in the streets; they're the dark horses.
    Drew: I see us as the dark horses as well, y'know, kind of as a band. Sort of ones that are counted out, the underdogs, the loser, (Jerome: The outcasts, yeah.) the unexpected. We've never fit in, really, to a lot of the normal music genres and scenes. We play with rock bands but we have slower songs too. And we have rock songs, but we don't play churches, but we play venues. So, y'know, people have had a hard time labeling us, which is just fine with me. (Jerome: Right!) That's fine with us, but I think I feel like "Dark Horses" kind of represents us in a way, too.
    Jerome: Yeah, it's funny to go to a Christian festival and play, but you're not a "part" of that whole culture. You're a Christian, you're believers, but you're going into a place where a lot of people may have questions about you. *laughs* And then you go play a mainstream festival, and you're definitely left-field from that, y'know? (Drew: They have questions about you, too!) They have questions about you, so you--
    Drew: You're taking fire from both sides!

  • JFH (John): And I know what that's like, too, being involved in the Christian music industry, we get a lot of fire from people in that community as well...

    Drew: I'll never forget going in to MTV and people were picketing outside.

  • JFH (John): Really?!

    Drew: Yeah...

  • JFH (John): That's not right.

    Jerome: Whoa! In New York!!
    Drew: Yelling horrible things, y'know?
    Jerome: That was awhile ago, but I do remember that.

  • JFH (John): It's not constructive.

    Jerome: It isn't. It doesn't do anything.

  • JFH (John): *sigh* Yeah, I've been doing the site for 15 years now and it can get weary on you sometimes. I mean, I don't want to be associated with people who are going to be like that. I came up with the site name when I was sixteen - Jesus Freak Hideout - and I've gotten emails over the years, "Why are you encouraging Christians to hide out??"

    Drew: C'mon...

  • JFH (John): I'm like, "Really?! That's what you get from looking at our site? Did you look around the site?"

    Drew: Right! "Have you read anything on it??" That's how we feel! "Do you listen to our music?? Do you know what we stand for?" It's been an interesting road, Jerome, hasn't it? (Jerome: Yeah...) Y'know what? A bridge has been built in the time that you've had that site [JFH] and we've been a band. Where now, people are more okay with it.

  • JFH (John): I remember, in '96, when I went to go see Jars of Clay perform in a bar. I remember at that time, people were like "They're not believers! They've sold out!"

    Drew: That was a big deal. dc Talk, same thing!

  • JFH (John): Yeah, exactly! And we'd get emails about it asking what we thought about a Christian artist playing in a bar. And I'm like, "Well, isn't that a good reach out opportunity? Isn't that kind of what we're supposed to do?"

    Drew: Now, there are all kinds of bands going across that bridge.
    Jerome: There are a lot of bands.
    Drew: I mean, so many great bands! Anberlin, a great band! Number one rock song, they've done great on mainstream radio. Tons of great bands that people now are kind of, "Oh, yeah! Sweet!" We always think that "faith is not a genre of music; faith is what you believe, rock n' roll is what we play." So if people want to talk about faith and ask us if we have a world view that involves that faith, YES. If you want to talk about rock n' roll, just turn up the amps and talk about how we record music and what it's like, we love to do that. (Jerome: Yeah!) But to talk about "Christian music" is kind of not the same conversation.
    Jerome: It's a different line that you're walking.

  • JFH (John): Oh, I know. And people expect us to play judge and jury with what fits in the market.

    Jerome: That's tough!
    Drew: Yeah, you guys are some of the gatekeepers.
    Jerome: That's tough to do! I don't envy what you guys [do]

  • JFH (John): And the thing is, I was a kid when I started it and I was touched by what I knew as "Christian music" and I still enjoy the point of it and getting music into the hands of people who can be touched by it. Especially your music too.

    Jerome: Oh yeah! I'm totally for that.

  • JFH (John): I think the bridges are great, but it's also causing the extremists to pull their hair out. But you guys get a little less opposition now, right?

    Jerome: I think so because people are starting to figure out where we're at. It just takes time. A lot of times it just takes time for people to figure out where they're at.

  • JFH (John): And some never do. *laughs*

    Jerome: Yeah, and you're not going to win everyone over, y'know? You may not win a lot of them over, but we believe in what we do. We're a band that believes in the music that we're doing and, y'know, what can you do? That's all we can do! *laughs*

  • JFH (John): Well, shifting back to Vice Verses -- *to Drew* I know that you were searching for lots of different guitar tones. What were some of the unique things that you came up with and what did you do differently with this album?

    Jerome: That's about an hour's worth of talking. (Drew: Yeah, how much time do I have?) I don't know how much time you have! *laughter* Maybe even more. You have to do the gist of it, Drew! Hone it down. *laughter*
    Drew: OK, I'll zoom out. I was going to go deep for a second there, like tubes and speakers and stuff.
    Jerome: There's a lot of stuff in there. *laughs*
    Drew: We decided to focus on the drums and bass first on this record. We wanted them to be so solid that you didn't want to add a whole lot on top of it. And then we wanted to make the side guitar noises riff the main riff, so that it carried like a sense of not any one guitar just in there strumming the whole time clouding up the mix, we wanted to get those guitars out and make these side kind of ornamental parts the main parts. I'm an in-the-moment player. I like analog effects. I like to string together an idea of four, five, six, ten effects and then go in the room with the amp and play ideas while the song is going in my headphones, and then we capture those and the guys help me refine those into parts. So, a lot of the stuff that we got was one-take happy accidents, sort of, experiments that turned into parts. I'm thinking of "Restless;" I was just in the room playing in the key of B and I didn't really know the arrangement of the song yet or anything, and I just kind of started coming up with this theme, y'know...
    Jerome: He also did the same thing for "Where I Belong." Remember? (Drew: Totally.) You were in there and came up with (Drew: live tracking) live tracking.

  • JFH (John): That song is brutal!

    Jerome: Ahh! That's our anthem, man!

  • JFH (John): Are you guys playing it tonight?

    Drew: Yeah! It is really powerful for us on stage. That song... (Jerome: Emotionally and musically) Yeah, you might see a tear drop somewhere on stage, I'm not going to say who... *points to Jerome, followed by laughter*
    Jerome: That is an emotionally impactful song! Especially live when you're singing it. It's even going to be more emotional when everyone starts hearing the song and they're taking it and they start singing it.

  • JFH (John): I'm getting chills just thinking about it!

    Drew: Me too, it's powerful! That song is beyond us, man. Jon's been introing that song every night, saying "Whenever Switchfoot breaks up as a band, this is the last song I want to play." That's what he's been saying.

  • JFH (John): And I can relate to the longing in that song too.

    Drew: "On the shores of Babylon" There are so many lines in that song that carry the heartbeat of the band. It really is un-watered down, straight soul of the band. (Jerome: Yeah!)

  • JFH (John): Do you have any guitar part on the album you're most proud of?

    Drew: Oh! Let's see... Oh, there's so much, I'd have to look through. I really like... "Souvenirs" is one that Romey and I worked on a lot. (Jerome: We did!) We were really rooting for that song, cuz it wasn't going to make the album. The nostalgia of it, to me, always just reminds me of kids and being a kid. (Jerome: Yeah.) And we fought for that song and came up with all the intros (Jerome: Late nights, Drew and I). We're like "How can we make this song awesome so the other guys can see that it needs to be on the album?!!" *laughter* So pretty much all of those. I'm proud of that song. The delicate nature of the parts that were put on there in the intro, how it starts off kind of with just these two guitar themes and then it kind of steps up a little bit and then ends up in a kind of, for lack of a better word, like a Cold Play wave for the chorus. It unleashes and builds in a way that I'm really proud of. I think of myself as a musician, not just a guitar player, so a lot of me and Jerome's input on a song isn't just "Hey, can I play these notes?" but it's more like "How can we give the chorus a better feel?" or "How can we make the intro more captivating?"
    Jerome: A lot of stuff you hear, you feel but you don't necessarily hear and that's where you have this guitar stuff coming in or a keyboard line where you don't know if it's a keyboard or a guitar, but it's there and it makes you feel a certain way. That's where we wanted to make sure the song is king. We gotta make sure what we're singing in the song goes out and that the music will just back it up.
    Drew: Totally. "Afterlife" would be my favorite. (Jerome: Oh, he has a great guitar tone!) Just the opening strum of "Afterlife"...

  • JFH (John): I think I was sold on the opening strum! *laughs* I'm like "I'm going to love this record!"

    Drew: One take plus some effects from JHS and I was playing around with some new ideas and I just hit a chord and ended up turning pedals in a way that it just started (Jerome: Just vibe) yeah and that goes through the whole song! (Jerome: Pretty much!) It gets covered up when the guitar and drums come in, but Romey and I are working on some remix ideas. (Jerome: Shhhhh! Possibly!) Possibly -- on the down-low, everyone on the Internet *laughter* -- remix our album.
    Jerome: We have some ideas.

  • JFH (John): The whole thing?

    Drew: Maybe. We're just starting to look at a few songs.
    Jerome: We've got some ideas. We're working...
    Drew: And the other guys too... secret!

  • JFH (John): Put a little Mortal fingerprints on there?

    Drew: Yes! Totally!
    Jerome: Oh! Yeah! There are some ideas...
    Drew: Oh, we're going to seriously blow it out. We're going to get some freaking crazy fuzzed-out keyboards like Mortal. *Jerome laughs*

  • JFH (John): Now, did Chad really record drums underneath the water for one of the songs?

    Drew: *laughing* No. He didn't really record underwater.

  • JFH (John): I saw the video where he took -- Was that a joke?

    Drew: That part was a joke! *laughter*

  • JFH (John): Aww... *laughing* It looked really cool.

    Drew: But he really did hit the ladder. The ladder is in "Afterlife." (Jerome: Oh yeah! Bop-bop!) And all kinds of little stuff in the studio that he just hit.
    Jerome: It would have been awesome if he did!

  • JFH (John): I totally bought into that. That's funny.

    Drew: Yeah, I'm going to tell him that, that's good. *laughter* It means his segment really worked!

  • JFH (John): Does he really paint, too?

    Jerome: Oh yeah! He's amazing. He's an artist.

  • JFH (John): Do you have a favorite song that you never play live anymore? Or have never played?

    Jerome: Oh! That's a good question.
    Drew: I do.
    Jerome: He does. You say something, let me think of it.
    Drew: It was before I was in the band, and I listened to this song a lot, not ever knowing I would be in the band: "Innocence Again."
    Jerome: Are you serious??
    Drew: I love that song.
    Jerome: I remember playing it! (Jerome: Were you on that one?) No, I wasn't on the recording, but I remember playing it live.
    Drew: I never heard it live, but I love the recording of it. (Jerome: Wow...) The guitar solo in the middle. It's great.

  • JFH (John): Have you proposed the idea of bringing it back at all?

    Drew: Yeah! Like, I've brought it up in soundcheck, jammed it out a little bit, see if anybody wants to, "Any takers?" *laughter* But, I mean, we have so many songs. Nobody knows how to play it, we'd have to really sit down and figure out the chords again! *laughing*

  • JFH (John): Yeah, and Jon probably doesn't even remember the lyrics.

    Drew: No! It's like, after you've written a TON of songs - 300 songs or whatever - you won't remember the lyrics.
    Jerome: I think, for me, I remember their first three albums. I mean, I liked them, but when they asked me to join, they gave me the Learning To Breathe CD. I think the first song I listened to was "Dare You To Move." So that will always bring me back to "this is my first being a part of Switchfoot - that song." It will always mean a lot to me.

  • JFH (John): But they still play it.

    Jerome: We still play it! Any other songs that we don't? I don't know... OH! We used to play this, and it is one of my favorite songs, it's called "The Beautiful Letdown!" That's one of my favorite songs. We used to play it a lot. I really like that song and I always want to bring it back, but y'know... I mean, there's SO many songs!

  • JFH (John): I know, it's true. But I've appreciated it when you've brought back "Learning To Breathe."

    Jerome: That's a good song, too. That means a lot to us.

  • JFH (John): That song really struck a chord in my life at the time, too.

    Drew: That song... That might be my favorite Switchfoot song. (Jerome: "Learning To Breathe," yeah. That's a great song.) My daughter's ultrasound was on the screen when we played that live. My first tour. (Jerome: It was here!) We had these two video screens that we brought with us, and during "Learning To Breathe," there were ultrasound pictures. That was my daughter! She wasn't even born yet on that tour. (Jerome: That was very powerful!) No one knew that. She doesn't even know.
    Jerome: What other songs do you want to hear?

  • JFH (John): Oh, I don't think I've ever heard "Might Have Ben Hur" live before.

    Drew: I haven't heard that.
    Jerome: We've played it!
    Drew: I haven't.
    Jerome: Yeah we have! Remember we were taking requests at a tour.
    Drew: Yeah, we did like "Amy's Song." We've done "You," "Concrete Girl"... is there one called "Underwater?"
    Jerome: Yeah! I remember playing that song, "Underwater."
    Drew: Yeah. Of course, "Chem6A." "Bomb." Remember "Bomb?" Doesn't Tim slap bass on "Bomb?" *laughter* I'd like to see him do that again!

    Switchfoot's new album Vice Verses is available now!

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