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Cultured!: Songwriting 101 with Switchfoot

Cultured!: Songwriting 101 with Switchfoot

Here’s a given: Writing songs can be creatively challenging (draining, even) if you ask musicians around. But that’s the best part of it anyway—it’s always about finding the right words and perfecting the chords to effectively tell a story.

Aspiring to create your own music? American rock band Switchfoot, which recently performed at a teeming concert organized by Church Simplified, has some tips ready—and they go really deep! In an exclusive interview, the band tells us more about where to look for inspiration—one that has wrapped their award-winning music spanning for 20 years now. Here’s what we picked from their brain:


1. Just let it out. For musicians, beating the creative block can be frustrating such that you tend to spend too much of your time just finding inspiration without producing anything. Switchfoot vocalist and main songwriter Jon Foreman advises to just strike while the iron is hot—so get some pen, paper, and your tools handy whenever that moment arrives. He recalls a favorite “weird story” behind "On Fire" from their 2003 album The Beautiful Letdown, “My friend was visiting from Canada and spent the night. It’s just about time for me to drop him off at the train station, I’d never met him before but we were talking about writing a song together. Just before he left, he was playing those chords in the piano and we got, like, 15 minutes before the departure! We wrote it right there and then and dropped him off at the train station!”

2. Be childish and cynical. The beauty behind writing music is that it’ll let your freak flag fly—from which topics to write about to how it will be sung and played. But the truth is, says Foreman, “I think you can find inspiration anywhere, and that’s almost the trouble with inspiration. You need a child that fills everything with wonder, and you also need the critic who will tamper that then continue to steer it.”

3. Don’t fear exploring. Although their music has traces of religious praise that helped hand them a Grammy for Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album in 2001 and another nomination from the same body in the past, Switchfoot has repeatedly told in interviews that they shouldn’t be boxed as just “Christian rock.” Obviously, the band is more than that—their songs speak of journeys that go beyond religion and can mean stuff about life and love, too. This is why they enjoy writing for movie soundtracks, where, lead guitarist Drew Shirley says, “It’s more fun. It’s almost an excuse to try new things and try something different. That’s inspiring to us musicians since we always try to find something new and make new sounds.” Filipino keyboardist member Jerome Fontamillas adds on the excitement doing music for soundtracks, “Sometimes, the songs are ethereal but sometimes the songs are very aggressive.” Aside from the soundtrack for A Walk to Remember (it included hits "Only Hope," "Learning to Breathe," "You," and "Dare You To Move"), Switchfoot has written and recorded "This is Home" for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian in 2008. They also did one for TV series Hawaii Five-O, called "Out of Control."

4. “Just tell the truth.” Foreman adds, “One of my heroes early on said God doesn’t need a lawyer, your job is to tell the truth I found that very impactful.” He tells us this too bluntly that everyone just nods in agreement. For Switchfoot, their music has always been about the truth of “hope, because it deserves an anthem”—and this is still what they want to convey through their upcoming album to be released by July.

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Photographs by Vyn Radovan




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