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Switchfoot

Drew & Jon Foreman of Switchfoot at the Radio 92.9 studios (photo by Cayte Devastation)

I recently had a chance to chat with Drew Shirley, guitarist for the San Diego rock band Switchfoot. The band is playing this Saturday, May 19th at Radio 92.9 Earthfest in Boston. I got the lowdown from Drew on the band, and an exclusive on his own line of guitar amplifiers.

The current single off the new record, “The Afterlife” is one of my favorites. What inspired you guys to come up with the name “The Afterlife”?

We have a motto with the band that says “life is short, live it well”. It’s the kind of song, you know, we’re thinking about the afterlife, and a lot of people are thinking, “well I’ll do what I want right now”. It’s about not waiting till you die to think about how to valuable life is and how important it is to realize, you know, it’s kind of what the song says – not waiting for the afterlife to basically cherish the people I love and consider how valuable life is.

When it comes to playing live shows, how would you compare the east coast/Boston crowd to other parts of the country, or around the world? Are there any differences?

Yeah, they’re small differences in different places. For the most part, an audience just wants to enjoy the show, loose itself in the music, and to see obviously a good performance. But even more than that, we try to make it a conversation with the audience, where we’ll change songs on the fly, or people will request a certain song and we’ll play it right there in that moment. Sometimes it’s a little scary because you don’t know what’s coming up in the show. Different cities have different vibes, and we’ve always played the east coast a lot. I’d say, as it compares to international, yeah, international is a whole different animal. People are people, but different cultures have different ways of expressing themselves.

It’s obvious everyone in the band is in great shape. This can’t be easy to maintain on tour. How do you guys stay fit while on tour?

[laughs] It’s kind of the same as we stay in shape at home. We’ll hit the gym. Sometimes we’ll play at colleges, and that’s kind of cool because they have a gym there for us. Sometimes it’s just a treadmill at a hotel, or a walk around the city. We stay pretty active. I think for the most part, it’s just more a question of the food you eat than anything. Eating good on tour is tricky. We eat out for like a month straight – restaurant food isn’t the healthiest stuff.

What’s in your headphones while you’re on the bus these days?

I’ve been listening to Delta Spirit. I love the new record from the Black Keys, really into their last two records. I like Jack White, his new album is great. I’ll just put together a mix tape for you with Led Zeppelin, The Police, Depeche Mode. There’s a pretty eclectic taste from the band I’d say too. And I love dance music – Junior Senior, Justice, some of that stuff.

How do you and your families cope with all the touring? Do they ever come out on the road?

They come out sometimes, but it’s very hard because you say goodbye for the time you tour. You miss them while you’re away – you do a lot of Skype, FaceTime. I’ve got kids at home, so it’s doubly hard. It really makes me cherish the times that I am at home.

What do you like to do when you have some time off?

Play with my kids – we had a picnic yesterday. Just normal stuff – taking down a tree and catching gophers. I’ll do dishes and all that because I don’t ever do dishes on the road. You know what I mean? There’s no dishes to do on the road. We live in San Diego, so there’s a lot of stuff to do. There’s plenty of beach, so stuff like that.

This is one for the guitar nerds: you guys have amazing guitar sounds. What are your favorite amps and guitars?

Well, maybe I’ll make an announcement: I’m actually making my own amps now. I’m building and designing my own with a friend Eric here in San Diego. I’ve always loved playing different amps, I’ve played a whole bunch of different kinds, old school tube amps. I’ve not even gotten a name yet. They’re definitely going to be awesome though, I can tell you that right now.

Does the equipment you use on the road differ than what you use in the studio?

I’m sponsored by Elliott guitars. My concept is always old school tube amps so I love old Supros, and Strats, classic stuff. All analog – I don’t like using wireless controllers and digital effects. I really enjoy the old school way of an amp connected to a guitar, and just making the amp sound like they’re going to explode. Something that’s just alive, and expresses the emotion that I like.

The band’s career has been an amazing success story. What do you think has been the key in keeping the same line-up together so consecutively?

I think the same lineup has been awesome. We’re a team, we’re a band, we’re brothers. We have two brothers in the band, but we’re all brothers with each other honestly. We still like hanging out with each other, which is funny to say, it’s kind rare for bands. We’re looking forward to doing events together. We’re doing the Bro-Am coming up, which is a charity event on the beach that we’re sponsoring and promoting a lot right now. It’s something we dreamed up and wanted to do, and decided to do. To help out others and not just ourselves, to do good while doing well. It’s been quite a ride. It’s been really awesome to see all the different kids whose lives are affected and the different stories about the homeless kids here in San Diego who have been helped by this. We’re all just really excited about it. All the info is on our website, switchfoot.com. This is our eighth year doing it.

Aside from Switchfoot, do you see yourself doing anything else down the road? Do you have any aspirations in another field?

Well we’re going to make a documentary. It’s going to be called Fading West. We’re filming it all year long. It’s going to be a surf documentary mixed with behind the scenes footage of the band, as well as a lot of songs written along the way. You’ll see how we write songs, how we work as a band on the road, travel, and hit some exotic surf destinations. Also, the soundtrack will be released as a CD and it will be our next album. So there will be a film accompanying our next album. We’re looking at next summer [for the release].

I’ve got some side projects happening. Like I said, I’m going to be releasing an amp, I’m going to play my own amps, and design a guitar or two with Elliot. Also, I do some producing on the side. I’ve got a few bands lined up that I can’t talk about yet. Just looking forward to keeping busy. Switchfoot keeps so busy, it’s hard to find time to do anything else.

What’s your songwriting process like? Does someone come up with lyrics and then the music? Do some of the songs happen when you’re just jamming?

A lot of times Jon will write all the songs on the acoustic guitar, and then we’ll all put the music to it. A lot of times he’ll have the DNA of the song sketched out on an acoustic, or just a recording on his laptop. And then we’ll all as a band put everything together and make it come alive and come up with parts for different things.

Do you know what the next single is going to be?

I don’t – it’s going to be a mystery single. It’ll be a surprise. [laughs] I don’t know, I honestly don’t. Sometimes we know what’s happening next, but sometimes we don’t. We’re looking forward to just touring the heck out of the country and the world. We’re going to make this documentary and “Dark Horses” has been released, and “The Afterlife” has been released. If I had to pick a single, I would pick a song called “The Original”. But we’ll see what happens with the powers that be.

Its been a while since we’ve seen a Switchfoot music video that really tells a story. Do you guys have any plans to get back into that?

We don’t have a story-type video, except for our documentary that we’re working on. Nothing as of right now to tell you about.

What is the inspiration behind the song “Souvenirs”?

It’s a song about remembering that the valuable things in life are people, not stuff. It’s about valuing the memories we have. You look at a picture, you remember the memory. You have a souvenir there that you can take with you from different places. It’s better than a coffee mug from visiting somewhere.

Last question – this is a big one: Red Sox or Yankees?

[laughs] Red Sox, of course. Or anyone who’s playing the Yankees.

Alright, thanks so much Drew. Looking forward to seeing you guys in Boston on Saturday!

Radio 92.9 EarthFest with Eve 6, Switchfoot, Spin Doctors, and Third Eye Blind. May 19th at 12:00 p.m. Free. DCR Hatch Memorial Shell along the Esplanade, Boston. 617-822-9600. www.earthfest.com. Watch live at 1:15 p.m. EST here.

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Q: Hello Cary, how are you doing?

A:  On my way back to the U.S.  I’ve been trapped in Holland due to the volcano ash cloud.  We had to reschedule the tour because the band was stuck in the states, and I wasn’t able to get a flight home til today.  I love Holland, but I have work to get back to in the U.S.  Prior to “Operation Volcano,” I just had a great record release week in the US, played a sold out show at my home base The Hotel Cafe in LA, and shot a video for the first single “Ghost Town.” Oh, and signed a deal with Sony in The Netherlands.  It’s been a crazy month, and next month is actually crazier.

Q: For those who don’t know your music very well, can you give a short introduction of yourself and your music?

A:  I grew up in Nashville, TN and played guitar and wrote music for most of my life, but I didn’t start doing it professionally until I was  out of my 20’s.  I’m glad I had some real life experience before I committed to music full time.  After a few years playing in Los Angeles, I was lucky enough to have a song on the soundtrack to a movie called “Garden State” that was very successful, and that launched me out into the world on tour.  Musically, my influences are all over the place, but my biggest heroes were always Peter Gabriel and U2 growing up.  I am drawn to very open, epic melodic sounds, and that’s what I like to write.

Q: In 2008 you released a full-length called “Who You Are”, a very good album! You are about to release the follow-up, “Under Control”. What can we expect on the new record?

A: It’s far and away the best thing I’ve done, though I guess everyone says that.  It’s only my second full length, so I still mean it 🙂  All the music I had made prior to this was in spurts of creativity on stops in between tours, but this is the first time I was able to make a record in one long run as I took a year off the road.  It feels more complete beginning to end than anything I’ve done.  I think the vocals and themes tie the songs together, but it runs the gamut from the softest raw piano songs to big, Brit Pop-inspired rock tunes.

Q: Can you tell us something about the process of writing and making the album? Was it a long process or did it all come together very naturally?

A:  It was an accident, really.  I was in a bit of a battle with my label about the direction of my new record, and this producer Bill Lefler just started nagging me about working together.  At first, he annoyed me, but I finally caved in and stopped by his studio.  We wrote the song “After The Fall” on our first day then came back a few months later and started again.  It was easy, like it was just meant to be.  It was the first time I had written with someone before.  We didn’t stop for a few months until the record was done.  We would write music by day, and I would write lyrics at night and record the vocals the next day so I was as close to the intention of the song as possible when I sang.  As we were writing, I was undergoing the legal wrangling of buying my way out of my record deal, which gave us more time to record.  I’ve never had more fun in the studio than with Lefler.  He became a close friend, and now I can’t imagine not working with him.

Q: Now that the album release is near, it’s time to take the songs out on the road. Nervous?

A: I was terribly nervous.  I played a show a month ago, and I panicked right before I went onstage just hoping that I would remember everything after having played the same songs for years.  It was like jumping off a high dive at a pool – it was nerve-wracking climbing up the ladder, but once I jumped off, I couldn’t wait to do it again.  I feel so confident about these songs that it’s made me a more confident performer.    The reason I was most upset about the Holland tour being pushed a month is that I want to play SO badly it almost hurts.

Q: If I’m not mistaken you played several European dates with Tom McRae, Greg Laswell & Jim Bianco in 2008. What do you think the biggest difference is between European audiences and American audiences, or isn’t there a big difference?

A: Every night of a tour is different, and that’s the difference – the exact mixture of city/weather/mood/etc. determines a night.  I’m sure some bands would disagree, but music lovers are music lovers – if it’s a good night, an audience will come along with you when you go big and quiet down when you get mellow.   That’s just human and has nothing to do with where you’re from.  As for America vs. Europe, I don’t feel a critical edge either way. However, they are really, really quiet while you play in Japan.

Q: Back here in the Netherlands your best known song is probably ‘Ride’ because of the Tiësto mix. You also collaborated with him on his latest project “Kaleidoscope”.  How do you feel about these collaborations with artists from a different kind of genre? Does it help you develop yourself as a musician because of the different influences or is it just something fun, something different for a change?

A:  It’s just fun to play in someone else’s sandbox.  From my days listening to Depeche Mode and later groups like Underworld, I always wanted to play around with electronic music, and Tiesto gave me an amazing opportunity to live out a little dream.  His support has been invaluable, and it introduced my music to a whole new audience across the world.  I definitely play with beats more on my computer as I’m writing.  I’m not going to make a dance record, but bits and pieces of electronica have and will always find there way into my stuff.

Q: As an artist you have been somewhat of a frontrunner when it comes to using the possibilities of ‘new media’. Your songs gained a lot of popularity because they were played on TV shows and you have always made good use of the possibilities of the internet. How much has the internet, and the possibilities it offers, changed the dynamic of the music industry and distribution? Do you think musicians have more control over their music than before, or is it just a different approach?

A:  Years ago, I started using MySpace before it blew up (and then fell apart).  I would sit at night and send hundreds of emails to people who liked music that sounded like mine.  I was able to build a fanbase across the world without ever leaving my apartment, and that is pretty incredible.  At the end of the day, you still have to do the work and get out on the road and connect to audiences, but the internet helps get those audiences into the room.  As for film and TV, I made a conscious decision to use that outlet the same way other artists use radio.  If 20 million people can hear my song on Grey’s Anatomy on a Thursday night, that has as much impact as having a minor radio hit.  It’s nearly impossible to get airplay as an indie artist these days in the US, so film and TV helps independent artists reach listeners and level the playing field a bit.

Q: As a singer, songwriter and guitarist, who are your biggest influences, and what makes these artists so special for you?

A:  So many choices past and present.  Peter Gabriel’s absolute control of his voice and ability to be complex within the structure of a pop song.  Sigur Ros and Doves’ massive reverb’d out sonic landscapes.  Paul Westerberg’s and Robert Pollard’s wonderfully scrappy carelessness.  Johnny Marr and Peter Buck and The Edge’s solo-free (for the most part) guitars.  The Cure’s 80’s growth from fast hooky pop to epic near-dirges that last forever.  And on top of all that, I grew up listening to FM radio in Nashville, TN, so I knew every classic rock song (Buddy Holly to Queen) by heart before I was 8 years old – my brain is a giant mishmash of 50 years of pop music.  Oh, and Phil Collins.  I still think “Against All Odds” is a great song, as uncool as that may be.  Then again, I think cool is a vastly overrated concept, as my CD collection will attest.

Q: And in that light, is there a band or musician you would love to go on tour with? Say you could pick anyone in the world, who would it be? And why?

A:  R.E.M.  They were my indie rock gods when I was a kid.  Because they were from the South just like me, they gave me a lot of confidence that I could be Southern and also fight against many of the injustices common to the Southern United States.  They were a new generation.  Musically, they’re not quite the band they were when Bill Berry was playing drums many years ago, but the kid in me would be most thrilled to do a tour with them because I could encourage them to play the old stuff that I never hear anymore live.

Q: In a lot of European countries a debate is going about the regulation of downloads and to legally determine when it is legal or illegal. What is your take on downloading and sharing of digital music? How do you see this in light of the changing music industry?

A:  It’s funny because I just posted a message a little while ago about being frustrated that my new record was already up on illegal download sites within 48 hours of release.  I was both criticized for complaining and also given support by people commenting.  Outside of the business of selling records, I’ve always believed that when I put a song out in the world, it is no longer mine.  It’s someone else’s to interpret and hopefully make a part of their life or attach to a memory.    I have to come to terms with the fact that this also applies to the actual song as a download, as a piece of property.  The floodgates of piracy were opened and will never be closed.  Hopefully, people will hear the music illegally and then come support me at shows or eventually buy the record.  For bands with huge advances, piracy means less, but to me, every record sold pays my rent and bills, and I need that.  There is a bigger question though – What happens when an entire generation and future generations see music as something that they are entitled to for free?  What happens when people no longer value art as something that deserves to be paid for? That’s what scares me.  I can embrace the inevitability that some guy will steal my music online because the technology can’t be stopped, but if that same guy stole a bunch of CDs off my merch table after a show, there would be consequences whether it be with the police or my fist 🙂

Q: You are also one of the initiators of the Hotel Café Tour. How is it to be part of this talented group of people? And how does it influence and stimulate you as a musician?

A:  The Hotel Cafe saved me and gave me a musical home, so starting that tour was a way of paying the room back.  It’s such a rare thing, especially in Los Angeles, to have a real community that supports each other.  It feels like we exist as a collective in many ways.  When one person has success, it affects everyone around them.  There’s a healthy amount of competition, but only in the sense that you want to be as good as all of these ridiculously talented people around you.

Q: And last, but not least, if people want to find out more about you and your music, where should they go?

A:  I have a website www.carybrothers.com with links to my brain ramblings on Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere, and the new record “Under Control”  is available on iTunes worldwide.  You can go to my website now and download a free song off the new record.  I’m slowly putting together deals for this release in European countries, so hopefully it will be in record stores in Europe by this Summer.

Thanks for doing this interview with us. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions!

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Interview with Ben Howard


Q: Hi Ben, how are you doing?

A:  Yeah all good.. at home for a few days with my sister waiting for the rain to subside.

Q: For those who haven’t heard of you, can you give a short introduction of yourself and your music?

A:  I’m a fairly happy soul that lives in Devon and writes about growing up. i guess the music’s got a pretty organic acoustic feel to it.

Q: Last year you released the “These Waters” EP, which was quite impressive. Do you have plans for another release any time soon?

A: Yes we’ve been trying to mix the touring with a bit of recording over the winter and we’re sitting down in the next couple of months to finish of the first album. Looking to release it at the end of summer so all very exciting.

Q: What can we expect from you, in terms of new music? Will you go in different directions or will you explore similar sounds as “These Waters”?

A: In terms of sound we’ll probably still keep it pretty low key- I like that rough-around-the-edges feel. The plan is to keep mixing it up and experimenting and as long as the musicality’s still improving I’m happy.. There’s so much scope to develop the live stuff and the recorded stuff over the next year or so, so I’m always looking forward to whatever’s next.

Q: You tour a lot in the UK, France, Germany & The Netherlands, basically in Western Europe. Do you have plans to take your music across the Atlantic and do a full US tour in the near future?

A:  One day for sure, we’re taking things as they come. ‘These Waters’ was originally a kind of demo and I didn’t expect the kind of praise it got so I’m stoked to be touring Europe and just playing music full time.. I’d love to go out there and do a stint- touring in the sunshine could be a beautiful novelty.

Q: Speaking of touring, you’re currently setting up for another spring tour in Europe. First you’re opening for Angus & Julia and then you also have some headline dates. What is it that you look forward to most on these tours?

A:  I love the day to dayness of it all.. you meet so many people and travel so much in such a short period of time and it’s always so concentrated and focused that it stops you thinking beyond the box too much. I love things that absorb you completely.

I’m a big fan of Angus and Julia as well so it’s a blessing to be able to see good shows every night.

Q: I can’t speak for other places, but your fame is growing in the Netherlands and I’ve heard quite some people talk about going to your shows. For those who aren’t sure yet, tell them why they shouldn’t miss your show!

A:  Because we play music that we love.

Q: You have a very interesting way of using the full potential of your guitar. How did you learn to play the guitar like that? Did you take lessons or did you teach yourself how to play the guitar like that?

A: The percussive stuff’s all self taught, something open tunings and a few different artists really opened my eyes to. I had a great guitar teacher when I was a young kid, someone who taught me that enjoyment was the real key for doing anything well but that was a good few years back now.

Q: As a singer, songwriter and guitarist, who are your biggest influences, and what makes these artists so special for you?

A: People like Joni Mitchell, John Martyn, Nick Drake, and a whole host of other folk musicians really inspired me as a boy. Their’s were sounds of such originality and clarity with such stripped back settings. Everything from the Doors to Paul Simon and Garfunkel seemed to have a lot more feeling back then and that’s really what should inspire people. I saw Bon Iver at Glastonbury at that was something truly inspirational, for an hour nothing could touch him.

Q: And in that light, is there a band or musician you would love to go on tour with? Say you could pick anyone in the world, who would it be? And why?

A: I’d go with Bon Iver just to sit and watch! Mind you I’d love to tour with Xavier Rudd again- those guys really know how to be happy and enjoy it all, it’d definitely be fun a second time round.

Q: In a lot of European countries a debate is going about the regulation of downloads and to legally determine when it is legal or illegal. What is your take on downloading and sharing of digital music? How do you see this in light of the changing music industry?

A: It’s a tough one.. we’ve created something that no doubt cripple’s the industry. I like to think illegal downloads only do real damage to the endless amounts of careless pop music though.

I like to believe a true fan of music or an artist has a genuine respect for what the artist does and has a distinct understanding of their actions. In that buying an album they are helping the artist to continue making music. It’s hard because everyone wants something to be free.

On another note I think it’s different for different artists. The majority of good music I listen to are good live performers and that’s what they enjoy doing. I think music piracy is forcing many people to look at the live aspect of the record industry as an income and in many ways that’s what sets apart good music and musicians from the fly by night pop sensations..

It’s a big issue with so many variables, pro’s and cons.. that’s just a start!

Q: For an artist or band trying to make a name, what do you think is most important to keep in mind and what is important to work at? Where do you have to put the accents to get the attention of the mainstream audience?

A: I don’t know really, I don’t think I’ve got to a stage where I can look back and give advice on that. My motive has always been just to be who I am, and play what I love- if that doesn’t get me anywhere then at least it wasn’t because I tried to be something I’m not.

Q: Okay, one more question. What is the best thing about being a musician and what is the worst thing about it? And if you weren’t a musician, what would you think you’d be doing?

A: The best thing is I can say ‘I’m working’ when I’m having a cup of tea and a cigarette and fiddling on the guitar.

I’m still trying to figure out the worst thing.

And If I wasn’t a musician…  I think I’d just be endlessly traveling.

Thanks for doing this interview with us. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions!

Thanks for doing this interview with us. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions!

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