Switch foot's newfound independence
Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - April 29, 2011 - 12:00am

Manila, Philippines - Fresh from its victory in this year’s Grammys, the American alternative rock band Switchfoot returns to the country for the Manila leg of its Hello Hurricane world tour.

In a phone interview, the band’s Filipino-American guitarist/keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas told The STAR that they’re thrilled to be playing tomorrow, April 30 — a follow-up to their successful show here in 2007, which he fondly recalls was transformed into a huge sing-along session. “How the audience sang so loud, almost as loud as the band’s playing — that was our favorite moment, especially for me being Filipino, from our last concert.”

During the group’s first visit, Switchfoot whose other members are brothers Jon and Tim Foreman, Chad Butler and Drew Shirley, also did some balut-eating onstage, and might pull a few surprises come concert night. Nevertheless, expect songs from its seventh full-length studio album, Hello Hurricane, winner of the Best Rock/Rap Gospel Album at the 53rd Grammy Awards last February — plus the most requested from the band that spawned such hits as Only Hope, Dare You To Move and Meant To Live.

Jerome said that the album is a landmark work that speaks of the place that the group now finds itself in. Hello Hurricane, after all, is the result of the upheavals they collectively experienced during its making — how they embraced them and saw the underlying opportunity for new beginnings.

The band has been open about its sentiments that its music somehow got compromised in previous outings. For Hello Hurricane, they took a leap of faith, building a home studio in their base in San Diego, California, signing up with a new label, taking a return-to-roots route in the creative process, and emerging with a renewed sense of meaning.

Jerome said that it took them a couple of years to finish it, and during that entire period, they were able to record over 90 songs, which they had to narrow down to 12 for the album. The group also found a new producer in renowned hip-hop bassist and producer Mike Elizondo, who has worked with the likes of Dr. Dre, Eminem, 50 Cent, Pink, Maroon 5 and Fiona Apple.

“The title is a metaphor for the storm that we were facing. We went through so much as a group and to be able to overcome the adversities, and to be able to record Hello Hurricane, and earn a Grammy, it’s one of those things that make you go wow. We’re glad we did it, and we’re glad to be able to still do music,” explained Jerome.

The newfound independence merited not just a Grammy, which Jerome said, made his parents, who originated from Manila and Romblon, incomparably proud. But it also garnered further validation with favorable reviews from the critics, with Billboard hailing it as “a sleekly presented modern-rock album with no shortage of bruising guitars or catchy choruses.” These are coupled with the group’s signature honest and thought-provoking songwriting.

Switchfoot’s (from left) Jerome Fontamillas, Tim Foreman, Jon Foreman, Drew Shirley and Chad Butler

Among the songs, the personal favorite of Jerome is the Sing It Out track because of its simplicity, and this was also his first attempt to write an orchestral score for a song — which he said is a big part of his growth as a musician.

In retrospect, Jerome said that Switchfoot sound has evolved immensely from the time it started out as a three-piece band in the late ‘90s. Jerome joined Switchfoot in 2000, and a few years after, the band finally made its presence felt in the mainstream after its songs got included in the soundtrack of the 2002 Hollywood movie A Walk To Remember.

After over a decade in the music scene, Jerome said that “we’ve grown, we’re learning to write, perform and record and truly make music together, and it just keeps getting better.” In other words, the group is just staying true to its name, which takes after a surfing term — being the surfing fanatics that the members are — that simply means changing stances or directions.

This will be evident anew in the latest project, which they have just finished recording two weeks ago. Entitled Vice Verses, the eighth studio album is slated for release this July.

The sound might have evolved, but one thing is certain, their music still bears the marks and influences of the group’s spiritual beliefs. How do they reconcile the things that they believe in with the industry that they thrive in?

“You have to know first your priorities. We are believers; faith is probably the most important thing for us. We use that to guide the course of our lives and our careers.”

“But a lot of our songs connect with all sorts of people, whether Buddhist, Christian, etc., because we write songs about life experiences, and hopefully, people will continue to connect with that.”

Catch Switchfoot live in Manila for the Philippine leg of the Hello Hurricane World Tour tomorrow, April 30 at Phil Sports Arena (formerly Ultra).

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