SoulQuest headliner Switchfoot defies labels, concentrates on message

Posted Sept. 27, 2012, at 11:18 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 27, 2012, at 5:32 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — In some ways, Switchfoot is a victim of its own crossover appeal.

The five-man band from San Diego has been playing together since 1996 and has eight studio albums to its credit, but when you mention “Switchfoot,” there’s often a hint of confusion, a few seconds of processing, and then a blank look.

Follow that up with song title “Dare You to Move” and the look changes to recognition. If not, add from the movie “Walk to Remember” and that usually clinches it.

That, in a soundtrack, signifies how Switchfoot carries great cross-genre appeal, yet is still a slight mystery to much of the mass listening audience.

The nationally successful Grammy Award-winning crossover band is headlining the SoulQuest Christian music and social justice festival — the first of its kind in Bangor and the last event of the 2012 Waterfront Concerts season — Saturday at the Waterfront Pavilion.

“There have been shows before, but there’s never been anything of this caliber from a Christian standpoint in Bangor,” said Alex Gray, Waterfront Concerts promoter.

Several stories and articles reported that the band stopped playing at Christian festivals and doing interviews with Christian organizations in 2003, as they supposedly thought the speculation about the band members’ faith was distracting from the music. Not so, says Chad Butler, founding Switchfoot member.

“We’ve never avoided any festivals intentionally. Saying yes to one thing is saying no to something else,” he said.

The Rock Church Pastor Kirk Winters said he thinks it’s exciting for Bangor and that quite a few members of his church are going.

“I commend Bangor for the effort to diversify,” Winters said. “I think a band like Switchfoot appeals to those who are secular and nonsecular alike. It speaks to a younger generation of people who don’t really like to listen to hymns and organ music.

“It’s another vehicle for a faith-based message.”

This daylong vehicle starts around noon with the gates opening at 10 a.m. Other artists scheduled to perform include Needtobreathe, Brandon Heath, Phil Joel, Peter Furler and The Wrecking.

“We’re looking forward to it. Needtobreathe is going to be on the bill and it should be a great night of music. They’re friends of mine,” said Butler.

Butler is also the band’s drummer, percussionist and a self-styled surfer dude.

“Yeah, the three of us who started the band met surfing before we ever started playing music together,” he said. “Being from San Diego, we chose the name, which is a surfing term, but it also applies to life.”

That’s a common theme with many of Switchfoot’s songs, which almost always involve a lesson, an observation or a message.

“I would describe our music as very honest and we ask a lot of questions,” he said. “There are some deeper meanings in some of them for us personally. I think the best songs are the ones that aren’t afraid to dive below the surface.”

Butler, lead vocalist and guitarist Jon Foreman, and bass guitarist and backing vocalist Tim Foreman started the band. Jerome Fontamillas (guitar, keyboard, vocals) joined in 2000, and Drew Shirley (guitar, vocals) rounded out the quintet in 2003.

“We take the music very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously and I think that’s how we’ve managed to stay together and enjoy being around each other so long,” said Butler. “We don’t have life figured out completely.”

That hasn’t kept them from trying as they offer thoughts on hit singles such as “Dare You to Move” and “This is Your Life.” After this tour is completed, though, Switchfoot turns its attention to a new documentary film and soundtrack titled “Fading West” slated for release next summer.

“We’ve always wanted to score our own film and create a soundtrack,” Butler said. “It’s our version of surfing and music around the world, sort of Like U2’s ‘Rattle and Hum’ meets ‘Endless Summer’ with some ‘Dumb and Dumber’ thrown in.”

For tickets, visit waterfrontconcerts.com.

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