Switchfoot Premieres Film, Announces New Album

Brian Nevins

Says drummer Chad Butler of the band's "Fading West" doc: "We set out knowing that we were going to document whatever happened -- whether that ended up being the demise of Switchfoot or the rebirth of something new."

Switchfoot premiered a rough cut of their upcoming documentary and surf film, Fading West, on Wednesday night at the Grammy Museum’s Clive Davis Theater. The band will showcase the film on their upcoming fall tour, which kicks off in September in St. Louis, before releasing it digitally later this year. The Southern California rock band will release their ninth album, also titled Fading West, on Jan. 21 via Atlantic Records.

The documentary was filmed during the band’s 2012 world tour in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Bali, and is part surf film, part rock documentary and part travelogue. Director Matt Katsolis followed the group has they toured in countries with prime surf spots with the overall goal of jumpstarting their next album. 

“We’ve made eight albums as a band together,” drummer Chad Butler told The Hollywood Reporter after the premiere. “That’s a lot of work as a band. Most bands don’t last this long. We looked at each other and said ‘Well, if we’re going to continue we have to find new inspiration, and we have to get out of our comfort zone.’ So we decided to pick our favorite surf spots around the world and book a tour based on that, hoping to find inspiration for new songs. That’s where this album began. We’re finishing up the album now and seeing all the ideas for the songs come alive in these different countries around the world is so cool.”

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The film features surf legends like Tom Curren and Rob Machado, and talking head spots from musicians like Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett and Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin. The band and the filmmakers didn’t go into the project with any specific narrative, although several storylines do emerge throughout the film, including a poignant segment about frontman Jon Foreman temporarily leaving the tour when his young daughter needed surgery. The musicians’ families -- the five members have 11 kids between them -- play a key role in the film, although ultimately Fading West finds its power in that unlikely marriage of surfing and music.

“We set out knowing that we were going to document whatever happened,” Butler said. “Whether that ended up being the demise of Switchfoot or the rebirth of something new, we were going to document it one way or the other. We had two themes: surfing, music and how they intersect. And looking for inspiration for a new record was the motivation to chase those themes. I feel like we succeeded in finding the means to make a record based on and inspired by the ocean.”

Fading West showcases several of these key inspirational moments in the early stages of the band’s new album. Switchfoot collaborated with various musicians around the world and brought back some unconventional instruments to make the disc, which they recorded back in California with producer Neal Avron. Some of the songs appear in various stages in the film, but Fading West the album is not meant to be a soundtrack to Fading West the film. The documentary is a companion piece that reveals the process of a group of musicians searching for new reasons to continue making music together. The album follows Switchfoot’s 2011 album Vice Verses and comes from a very different place than that disc.

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“One of the limits we put on ourselves was to narrow the colors we were going to paint with,” Butler said. “We put down the guitars and tried to build the songs based on other instruments. We’re a guitar rock band primarily -- that’s where we’ve come from. We had this motto in the studio: ‘Guitars are the last resort.’ We’d build a song based on other instruments and vocals. There’s this 100-year-old tea kettle I picked up in a pawn shop in New Zealand that ended up inspiring a lot of rhythms in the music. Embracing other cultures and the instrumentation of other cultures is something we set out to do intentionally. Coming full circle, we ended up adding the guitars at the end but it was a nice to tie our hands behind our back in that regard.”

Fans will have an opportunity to see the film on the band’s fall tour, where Switchfoot will screen the documentary, perform a stripped down set and participate in an audience Q&A. The group will also release an exclusive tour EP on September 17 that will feature a few songs from the upcoming album. So although the album’s release won’t arrive until next year, there is ample opportunity for fans to experience the new music, something Butler feels is important.

“I think it’s our best record, which is interesting for someone who’s been in the band since the beginning,” Butler said. “You have albums that people buy more of, and there are peaks and valleys in your career, but it’s not about the numbers. It’s what you love to do. And for me I feel like we were able to really rekindle that love for the ocean and that love for making music together through this journey that we went on this last year.”

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