Guitarist Drew Shirley takes fervr onto the stage and behind the scenes of this Grammy-winning band.
Their nine albums have sold 5.5 million copies worldwide, one going double-platinum, another winning a Grammy Award. They’ve had alternative radio hits, performed sold-out global tours and raised over a million dollars for charity. Who are they? A band that derives its name from its surfing roots – Switchfoot.
I was honoured to meet them before they performed at the Hi-Fi in Sydney. They greeted me with a handshake and a smile and lead me through the venue. Without warning I found myself standing on Switchfoot’s epic stage, basking in Switchfoot’s blue lights, secretly patting Switchfoot’s drum kit (who wouldn’t?). Was this what it was like to be a rock star?
I was pulled away from my delusions of stardom and led into an interview room. Their lead guitarist and all round cool guy Drew Shirley gave Fervr the run down on the band’s documentary and album Fading West, what’s kept the guys together for almost 20 years, and his advice for young people like you on how to ride the waves of life.
Can you tell us about the film Fading West, and your album of the same name?
We look at Fading West [the album] as a soundtrack to a movie. The movie is about a band – our band – who searches the world for inspiration and waves. Surfing has a big history in the band; that’s how the band got started, met through surfers and the name ‘Switchfoot’ is a surfing term, so to our core, surfing is in there. We wanted to make a record that was inspired by different locations, so we went to five locations … And the music is what was inspired by that trip. There are songs that are not in the movie [that are] on the record but most of the songs on the record come from the movie. It taught us a lot, it was a good thing to have personally, just to document our lives for a year. We’re a band that wants to be known, so we don’t hide behind ‘cool promotional material’ and stuff, we wanted the movie to be a real honest look at the band.
How did you film the movie?
We had five guys travel with us the whole time. So the first day we started we thought, ‘What are we doing?’ There were cameras around us all day long and it was exhausting and horrible, ‘We made a huge mistake’. But then we got used to it and adjusted to that reality show lifestyle where you just have cameras around you the whole time. Then we had to figure out what the plotline was which was even harder because we just filmed for a year and then looked at it all and said, “Okay, what story do we want to tell?”
What story does the movie tell?
We took a country for each guy in the band. So mine was South Africa. I just started to talk about what inspires me about South Africa. And then Jerome was Indonesia and what inspires Jerome about Indonesia. But it’s really a story about our lives and the turns they take and the lifestyle we live – it’s the most behind-the-scenes look that we’ve ever given at what we do.
Can you tell us about your Bro-Am events? And why you started them?
Bro-Am is a surf contest and concert on the beach for charity. We started it because we wanted to use our platform to benefit kids and try to raise money to help those less fortunate; sort of put our money where our mouth is because we’ve always been very philanthropic and caring of others and kids and needy and those certain unjust situations. We’ve done a lot of tours with organisations like Habitat for Humanity, To Write Love on Her Arms and we wanted to just start our own event to do the same thing. That was ten years ago and we’ve done ten of them, and it’s become a main event in San Diego’s action, so it’s pretty rewarding. We’ve raised over a million dollars in the total ten years. We’re excited to do it again this summer.
Switchfoot has been together since 1996. What keeps you guys together?
Yeah the life of a rock band is usually like two years or three years. They usually self-destruct pretty quick. I think having brothers in the band, in our case, has been a good thing; it’s really family oriented. And, now that everybody has families of their own, we’re all focused on something bigger than just the band. I think a lot of bands get focused on the wrong things because their vision is too small. We see music as just a part of who we are and part of what we do. And it’s just a blessing to have the guys that we have in the band because honestly it comes down to nobody having a diva attitude, there’s a real grounded family kind of rock-and-roll vibe. We don’t take ourselves too seriously but we take the music seriously, which is important.
Do you have any advice for young people?
We have a saying that says, “Life is short, live it well” and what that means is, if you look a little closer, life is not always good times. Life is full of pain, heartache, some people experience a great deal of depression, or stress, or pressure. Some people experience a great deal of success and achievement. For others it’s mostly disappointment after disappointment. But you can live those things well. It’s possible to be disappointed well or to be upset well because you can’t stop life from happening to you, but it’s all about what you choose to do with that. Some of the most inspiring people I know have had the hardest lives I know. So, you can’t stop those things from happening to you, it’s what you do with what you’ve been given that matters.
Of course, I’m sure a lot of your readers [NB: that’s you Fervrnites!] will understand the faith element of what that is. Faith is much bigger than music. It’s who you are, it’s not what you do. Music is what you do. Being a believer is an identity and it’s a ‘who you are’ thing. So I would encourage these kids – and anyone really – live out of who you are and not out of what you do.
See Switchfoot at Easterfest on April 4 or in Europe from May. Buy tickets at www.switchfoot.com