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Switchfoot

While on the road in the midst of their Hello Hurricane Tour, Jesusfreakhideout.com caught up with Switchfoot's drummer Chad Butler while the band was on a stop in Seattle, Washington. Butler sought shelter from the Seattle rains as he discussed life's storms and the making of their latest project, Hello Hurricane.
This interview took place on: 1/12/10.
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  • Jesus freak Hideout (John DiBiase): I saw your Philadelphia, PA stop of the Hello Hurricane Tour. How has your experience been playing the whole record each night? And thank you for playing "Evergreen." It was awesome!

    Chad Butler: *laughs* Yeah! It's been sort of an adventure. We definitely stepped out to do this whole record live and play this whole record front to back. It has been a little crazy. We didn't know if people would pay attention for that much new music, and it's been quite a surprise to see people really sing along. Even in the early part of the tour when the record had just come out, it seemed like people were singing along to every song. I guess that's the power of the Internet and people hearing it early, which is cool. And then coming back in the second set of the night and doing old songs, like "Evergreen" like you mentioned, has been really fun! Seven albums of material is a lot to draw from. There's definitely a lot of audible calls where somebody in the audience will grab Jon's attention and hold up a sign for an old song or something and we'll try something we haven't played in seven or eight years. It's been a lot of fun.

  • JFH (John): What are some of the rarities you guys have pulled out of the Switchfoot catalog?

    Chad: Well last night, we were in Portland and it seemed like the whole crowd wanted to hear "Chem6A," which is a lot of fun. It's about as old as you can get for Switchfoot! That song dates back almost fourteen years now. That's been as far back as we've reached, but definitely a lot of songs off of each record. In fact, I think there's been a few nights where we've intentionally tried to play one song off of every record. It's just been fun. Sort of a history lesson. *laughs* But yeah, it's been amazing because this is a special record. We've never wanted to play an album like this live front to back, y'know? There's a whole lot of records that you record and there's those two or three songs that really connect live and the rest of it works better in a studio environment. And this one, the sequence of the record and the songs that made the final cut, we really wrestled over with the live show in mind, and really creating a flow that would work in a live setting. We've never done that before, so it's something completely new.

  • JFH (John): Do you think you'll ever do this again with future albums - playing the whole record live? Hello Hurricane

    Chad: Y'know, I didn't think it was a good idea or necessarily gonna connect. We thought maybe we'd try it for a little bit until we were told to quit *laughs* by the audience, but it worked and I think it can be done. I know bands have done it before, we're no pioneers in that sense, but for us it's definitely something that we could do again. I think, in particular because this album was labored over for so long, and the batch of songs was so enormous - I mean, we recorded over 80 songs over two and a half years - and whittled it down to these twelve - that it seems much more thought-out than any other record previous for us. So I can't imagine doing that process again. It was painstaking and heart wrenching at times, but ultimately, that's why I think it's so emotionally satisfying for us to play the songs as a unit like this, as a complete album - Side A to Side B - in a real listening experience.

  • JFH (John): How was working with Mike Elizondo different than working with other producers and how much did his input affect the final product?

    Chad: Well, typically, we've brought in a producer from the front end of the recording process and there's a certain quantity of songs that sort of weigh in by the A&R guy at the label, obviously the band, and the producer, sort of equally choosing songs and going, "OK, we're going to go in and record these ten, eleven, twelve songs," whatever it is. But for this one, the process was so unique. We were completely independent. We broke ties with the record label several years back, and just built a studio in San Diego. Basically, we stopped being Switchfoot and had to really reevaluate and build from the ground up, which was such an eye-opening process for us. It really allowed ourselves to ask some hard questions. Y'know, "Why are we doing what we're doing?" and "What do we want this next record to say? What do we want it to sound like?" And then to be able to have the creative freedom with no time constraints to explore every possible whim musically and basically chase every production idea, song idea, to the end for the first about year and a half, two years. And then in the last few months, we brought in a producer, which was more to make sense of the mess we made. *laughs* - than in previous records when you're actually collaborating with someone from the get-go, and how you're going to attack the song. So we had this giant mess of eighty fully-recorded songs. I mean, these weren't just laptop demos, these were full-band versions of the songs - the keeper tracks we had spent months on. Seven or eight variations of fully-record versions of each song. From all different stylistic approaches to different tempos, half-time, full-time, full-band, stripped down, orchestral, electronic, whatever. And then to bring somebody in at the end to look at it and say what's good or bad. To get that kind of fresh ears on it was really helpful. And Mike, ultimately, is a song guy. I don't know if you know much of his discography, but he's a legendary hip-hop producer, writer, player, y'know, out of Dr. Dre's camp, done all the Eminem records, and really has all this urban sensibility. But ultimately, he's a songsmith. He really reminded us, "What are the songs that only you can bring? What are the songs that only Switchfoot can deliver?" Basically reminding us of who we were. And it was with that filter that we were able to choose, collectively, these particular songs from these particular versions of them. **There's a slight pause and then very suddenly we hear a loud car horn in the background. John laughs.** I apologize for the car noises. They're actually orchestrated to emphasize my words. I'll have them honk when I mean it!

  • JFH (John): *laughs* That's awesome. Now, you also worked with Charlie Peacock, too, on some of the demos?

    Chad: Yeah! That was actually the first incarnation of a new Switchfoot album. We went into the studio for a week with him while our studio was being constructed. We didn't wanna wait, so we had a bunch of ideas, bunch of song ideas, and went into Big Fish Studio in San Diego where we had done previous records and just, as an experiment, set up all in one room and just jammed the songs all together rather than taking turns recording and overdubbing like we'd normally do. And it in some ways was a failed experiment, because nothing from those sessions made the record. *laughs* And there was a lot of music we laid down over a week's time with Charlie. But Charlie's role in our lives has always been that of a mentor, obviously musically, but personally, and that week we spent with Charlie was invaluable and just the state that we're in, the headspace we're in and just how to approach a new record together. And I think we walked away with maybe nothing to show for it musically per say, but just the desire and eliminating some ideas was just as good as creating new ones. Being able to say, "OK, we're not going to do the record this way and we're not going to do these songs, we're going to keep pushing." And it was a safe environment with someone that we knew and trusted and I think he was able to shoot us straight and say, "I think you guys are reaching for a horizon that's much larger than anything you've experienced before. And that became the motto - to really push for something that we hadn't seen yet. The tangible goal of capturing on ones and zeros a recording of a known song was not enough. It had to be pushing for something we hadn't felt yet. So that's basically what we walked away with from Charlie was just that desire to go back in and keep writing and keep pushing and looking. Y'know, I do credit Charlie for the beginning stages of what became this record, although no piece of music had made it. There was one idea that did survive those sessions. There's a song that, at the time was called "I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning" and the demo for that song has been released with the bonus disc for that record. The guitar riff from that became "Mess of Me." So, long story short, that's all that we did with Charlie. And then we went back into our own studio for the following two years and did the rest of eighty new songs.

  • JFH (John): From those 80 songs, I know your next album Vice Verses is already planned to come from that. Do you know when Vice Verses might be coming out? And do you guys have plans for any of the rest of the 80 songs?

    Chad: No plans in the near future. I think that's the beauty of the position we're in, because all of these songs will see the light of day in some shape or form. They'll each have their time to come out. I think that right now we're so focused on Hello Hurricane that it would be unfair to these songs to put out another batch right now. They'll all come out in the future. We were talking the other day about maybe there'll be another EP or another album that leapfrogs before Vice Verses, y'know? Sort of depends on how all these songs fit together in the right time and the right place.

  • JFH (John): I know people are wondering about Vice Verses. Do you think, then, it might come out next year?

    Chad: I would imagine that. I don't know. It all just kind of depends on how this year shapes up for us.

  • JFH (John): OK. Can you tell us about the Eastern Hymns for Western Shores EP?

    Chad: Yeah. *laughs* That's an interesting one, something that we recorded before Hello Hurricane. And it just didn't feel like the next statement. It's a little bit darker, and a little bit more experimentation musically, that seemed to fit together into a 5-song EP. I'm sure that'll come out maybe sometime this year. We'll see.

  • JFH (John): Now, the actual recording process for Hello Hurricane, how was that different than previous records?
    Chad: Well, we spent most of the recording time alone, and then brought in Mike Elizondo to help us finish it. So the bulk of the recording was done with just ourselves in our own space, working whatever hours we wanted. There was an incredible freedom artistically to do whatever we wanted and to take our time. We did bring in some of our favorite engineers - Darrell Thorp, who has worked on a lot of our favorite records like Radiohead and Beck. And incredible tones and capturing great sounds. So we did work with him for awhile, then Shane Wilson who worked on The Legend of Chin, just brought in some old friends, y'know? And just took our time. It was different in that nobody was looking over our shoulder. There was no deadline to meet. At the same time, we felt like we were living the dream! Working in our own space, sleeping in our own beds, being in San Diego, getting to go surfing every morning, and then go back to the studio and record all afternoon. But when you're looking at two years of work and you've got eighty songs and really nothing to show for it in terms of a cohesive album or a cohesive musical statement, it can seem a little bit overwhelming. And there was a dark period there, about two years into the process where we didn't know, "Is this record going to drive us into the ground? Is this going to go on forever? Are we ever going to find that connection of one album to put out?" And those decisions are hard. Those conversations are hard! So we started thinking, "So what are the songs we want to die singing? What are the songs we want to play for the rest of our lives? And the songs that move us on a heart level?" There's a lot of music experimentation in the process of eighty songs. A lot of excitement comes from, "Oh that's a new sound I've never heard Switchfoot do!" Or "That's an impressive musical part on that song, should we include that?" And I think those things fall by the wayside when you're talking about a theme and a heart of what the song's saying. What is the statement you want to make? And these twelve songs really came together around the idea of the title track, "Hello Hurricane." That's actually an idea Tim came up with before the song was even written. During the process, he threw out that title inspired by working for Habitat For Humanity down in Louisianna. And post-Katrina, we had that opportunity to build some houses and [one for] a lady in particular who had lost her home in the hurricane. It's an interesting story. She was building her new home with us and [she shared with us that] she had lost her leg in the evacuation. Her statement was, "I walked out of my old house, I'm gonna walk into this new one." She had every right to be bitter at the world and frustrated with life, but she had chosen hope and chosen to face the storm head on that she had been personally battling.

    I think our storms all look different, individually. We go through different things and we can't control what comes at us. Our part is how we react in the face of that storm. So that determination in the face of struggle is sort of the connected idea that started to link together the heartbeat between the twelve songs that we chose. As a performance, I think we were able to elaborate on it a little bit during the show to describe this vision of a hurricane coming, a hurricane arriving, and a hurricane passing. Just that image of what happens in hard times. There is that part that we play in reacting in the midst of it.

  • JFH (John): Is there a specific musical moment on Hello Hurricane that you're most proud of?

    Chad: I think the song "Free." For me, that has meant a lot to me in this season of the last couple years, personally. I think it's very easy to become bound up in your identity - your work, and to allow the things that you do to define you. And I think that when there's a lot of turmoil about what's going on in your life or what you're going to do or not do next, that uncertainty can be something that you become bound up in. I think that experiencing freedom in the midst of those complicated times is the key and that's something that I've been appreciating about that song in particular. That's sort of been an anthem for my own life in the last couple years. And live, that song musically has taken on a life of its own. It's very different in the show than it is on the record. We sort of elaborated on the idea that there's a lot of drumming going on on stage. Everyone gets in on the rhythmic action and it's a lot of fun.

  • JFH (John): What does 2010 look like for Switchfoot?

    Chad: Man, we have had such a privilege to deliver these songs first hand to our audience. And I don't take that lightly! I don't think that every band has the relationship with their audience where there's that interest and that trust level to be able to play all new music and have that kind of enthusiasm that we've experienced on this tour. We started in November when the record came out and our intention was to sort of experiment with that playing-the-whole-new-album set for a few weeks and see how it went. And here we are several months later and it hasn't stopped. It feels like people are really into the idea and appreciate [it]. To me, it's almost like a theatrical performance of the songs. I feel much more connected to what comes next in the set. I feel like there's an emotional journey that people are willing to go on with us and I'm really appreciative of that. I'm also excited to take these songs around the world. We've had the privilege over the last few years to do a lot of international touring and play in a lot of places that we've never dreamed of. These songs being meaningful to people halfway around the world still blows my mind. I'm so thankful I'm able to play music every day let alone getting to see the world and meet people from all different backgrounds and cultures. So we do have a lot of international plans. We'll be going overseas pretty soon. We're going to New Zealand and Japan and Australia in the next coming months. And then Europe in May. And then South America beyond that. I guess I'm just still blown away that fourteen years later I get to see the world with four of my best friends and play songs I believe in every day! It's a privilege.

  • JFH (John): Any last comments?

    Chad: Thank you for your interest in the music and for taking the time to give it a listen. And I really appreciate it. Life's short - live it well!

    Switchfoot's new album, Hello Hurricane, is available NOW wherever music is sold.

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