It's one thing to pour your heart and soul into touring the world, making a record or making a film. But to do all three—and still be functioning husbands and fathers—takes a special kind of crazy, or a special kind of calling. Or maybe both.
A year on the road, thousands of hours of footage captured, dozens of songs written, weeks of editing videos, sound and songs, is all coming together for Switchfoot and their Fading West projects. Their film made the rounds in small theaters across America this fall, and on Dec. 10, releases to on-demand video outlets such as iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Cable Movies on Demand, Google Play, Xbox Video and others. The Fading West EP gave us a taste of the music that came out of the adventures they had around the world, and the full-length Fading West album will tell the rest of the musical story January 14.
Mary Nikkel recently attended their Fading West Tour, where they showed their film and had a question-and-answer session before launching into a mini-concert. (Make sure you check out her exclusive concert and film review here.)
I also had the chance to attend the tour, and before playing their Newberg, Oregon show, Switchfoot drummer/film producer Chad Butler and multi-instrumentalist and all-around nice guy Jerome Fontamillias took some time to talk about one of the most frenetically paced seasons of their lives, and the ultimate values and goals driving it.
You've made so many albums and now you've done this film. What's more gratifying? Or is there a difference? Do you feel a certain way with this being done as when you close out an album?
Chad: This was the biggest project we've ever encountered. There were moments when we just were overwhelmed by it all. It's such an undertaking, a movie and an album. It was quite an adventure. During the course of the year filming, that was a whole new dynamic of suddenly doing what we do on a daily basis, trying to pull off a show and flying to a new city and playing a show and doing all that internationally and bringing a five-man film crew everywhere we went. So, logistically, it was quite an undertaking.
And then just getting comfortable in front of the camera. Then with the goal of actually creating a new album in front of the camera, and there are scenes in the film where it worked well. There are a few songs that come to life. The song "Salt Water." There are a few that were written while the cameras were rolling.
Would you recommend people see the film first before hearing the album?
Jerome: It's a good preview to the album and you'll understand the songs more.
Chad: I think the goal of this tour was to hand deliver the film and the new music at the same time and I think that for me as a fan of film there is an emotional connection to the music when you attach it to a scene in a movie, and when you're introduced to a song and there's the dramatic pull of the storyline. That's I think one thing that I did not expect in this whole thing was the story that unfolded.
So did you know what story you were going to tell as you were going into this?
Chad: No. Basically we set out to do two things. To travel around the world to our favorite surf spots and make a record in the process. We did not anticipate the drama of the human element—our family life, our personal brotherhood and all of that which ended up being stretched during the course of the year on the road and filming. Ultimately the songs that came out of those experiences were the ones that I would not have put on the list at the beginning, but at the end like the song "Love Alone is Worth the Fight." That came out of us questioning why we do what we do.
That's a powerful song, too. Now that you've showed the film and played the songs, what songs do you find in performance are resonating most with people?
Chad: That one and "Who We Are." I think there's just an immediacy to those songs.
Jerome: "Love Alone" is one. I mean what Chad was saying what we went through to capture that song and the emotions that went through it.
Chad: It's been really fun. We've played four different new songs on this tour. "When We Come Alive" being the most recent one that we introduced to the set and that, for me, is my favorite song on the record.
Why is that?
Chad: I think that there's just this anthemic, intangible lift that that song has that when I hear, it the sky opens.
Jerome: It feels like everyone is drawn to the same pull. That song just resonates that.
It's deep without being heavy. Same with "Love Alone is Worth the Fight," same with "Who We Are." All deep without being heavy. They're light.
Chad: John always says it's harder to write a song that's up. It's easier to write a song when you're down. I think "When We Come Alive" is one of those that came out of joy.
How much say did you guys have in the cutting room floor process? Obviously you had a director you trusted and who saw this narrative throughout it all, but what did it look like afterward with you guys?
Jerome: In those credits Chad is credited as producer, so he had a lot of say.
Chad: We spent basically a year on the road filming and then a year editing, and it was interesting because simultaneously we were recording all the album, brought all these new song ideas home, so we are recording that in our studio simultaneously editing the movie, and then to bring it full circle the last stage was then taking these new songs and placing them back into the film, into the scenes, but the editing process was difficult because we had a massive amount of footage. We could've made Lord of the Rings. The first cut was over three hours and we had to get it down to 80 minutes. There were a lot of extra scenes that I'm sure will come out in the bonus version.
What happens next after this tour? I've heard varying things as to where the film goes from here. Where does it go from here?
Chad: It comes out digitally December 10th. Like Amazon, all the digital outlets and then it'll come out in physical form next year. It's going to be on video demand platforms as well—all the different places that movies can be seen these days and there'll be a limited theater release. We're going to do some after this tour.
Do you guys have any idea what cities yet or are you still working that out?
Chad: Still figuring that out. To be able to personally deliver it on this tour was a dream come true. It's way better to see our story and our family on the screen. To be able to be here feels like the right way to introduce it to our fans.
There's really not much for you to do for your opening act, in a sense.
Chad: It's the most consistent opening act we've ever had.
Always starts and ends on time. That's so great.
Chad: There have been nights where we've been able to sneak in the balcony and listen and to hear their reaction to the film. It's different every night. There are some nights where the crowd is just super loud and enthusiastic and they're cheering for the surfing and they're laughing at the ridiculous parts and then there's other nights where they're much more subdued and much more emotionally attached to the human element of the story. It's fascinating to watch how people react at different spots.
Jerome: It's one of those things like you're presenting something and you're like, "I hope they like it. Watch this part. I hope they like this part." If they're kind of glazing at you, it didn't work. People have been moved by it. People have been moved by a lot of the scenes, and the music is a preview of the album.
What do you guys hope people come away with at the end of the day when people see Fading West? How are they left changed? Every filmmaker wants to evoke certain emotions and even actions. What is that for you guys with this?
Chad: I think as a band that has been together this long, making a ninth record is such a rare thing, but I think that looking for inspiration and looking for hope and purpose and new ways to communicate is something that I hope inspires other people to do that in their own life, regardless of whether they surf or play music.
Speaking of the surfing thing, Hurley is partnered obviously with this. How did that partnership come about and what's that been like for you guys? It sounds like a really cool connection.
Jerome: We worked with Hurley for a while in a lot of different events like The BroAm. We've developed a really good relationship with them and the fact that they were behind this film is awesome.
Chad: We have a few partners that have helped us out sponsoring this tour and the film and everything. Macbeth shoes, Ultimate Ears. When we set out to finance this thing ourselves as an independent project, there was no movie studio funding this, no record label funding this. This was just Switchfoot. So we appreciate the support of our friends too to be able to get it out and get it seen, which is important to us.
Will we be seeing the film on the screen at Hurley stores?
Chad: Yeah and Journey stores, clips showing in the various outlets.
It's cool to have such a big-name company come behind just a faith-filled project. It's not something you see every day.
Chad: It's just a gift that we have the support of people from the surfing community, from the music community and in the film the BroAm is that day that represents our band the best, because it's about bringing our music and our friends in music and our friends in the surf world together to do something to help others, and I think that that's really what we've tried to do through our tours and even writing songs about the homeless kids in San Diego—Just trying to tell the stories of what other people are already doing. It is a platform that we don't take lightly, but we don't take ourselves very seriously. We're just lucky to be able to do this and to tell the story of what's going on.
This does mark then the beginning of your professional surf careers. You're on the radar.
Chad: (Laughs.) That dream ended a long time ago. We definitely still have the love for the ocean. It's a connection that's kept us alive as a band for many, many years, because we're friends off stage.
Would you do it again? Would you make another film?
Chad: Too soon.
Jerome: We're still recovering from this one.
Chad: We need to catch up on about six months of sleep.
Chad, you've expressed your passion for film. Is that something, even outside of Switchfoot, you would do again?
Chad: Yeah. Storytelling to me is just so much fun and it is great when you have a complex narrative, when you've got some layered story, when it's not just the obvious. This was one of those things that was a learning experience, trial by fire because not only were we making the film, we were in the film, sound tracking the film. What better way to make soundtrack for a film than just make your own movie?