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AN NRT EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
In Bloom: A Conversation with Jon Foreman
NRT's Grace Chaves talks with Switchfoot's lead singer about his latest solo album 'In Bloom'
 


AN NRT EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, In Bloom: A Conversation with Jon Foreman
Posted: May 08, 2024 | By: GraceChaves_NRT
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I took a deep breath and opened the door of my dorm hall's third-floor lounge. I sat in the chair by the window, staring at the Pacific Ocean and the wildflowers blooming on Sunset Cliffs. It was a typical Monday morning on the shore of Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) in San Diego, and I was grateful for a couple of hours to catch my breath before tackling classes. I leaned back and put on Jon Foreman's upcoming album, In Bloom, with my eyes set straight ahead onto the glimmering sea. I couldn't help but smile as I thought of the irony of this moment.

Jon's band Switchfoot ignited hope within me and became an anchor in the middle of the dark storm of the pandemic. "I Won't Let You Go" was the song that carried me through so many dark nights of fear and anxiety. "Joy Invincible" reminded me that there was still joy in the pain. All the while, "Saltwater Heart" felt like a portal back to the West Coast I so badly wanted to live in while I was stuck in land-locked Las Vegas. And when I came across Jon's documentary 25 in 24? That's when I felt like I had unlocked a part of myself that had been hidden away.

More than anything, Jon's music inspired me to dream again even in the middle of the loneliness of the pandemic. And the biggest dream I had weighing on my heart was to move to San Diego--the city where so many of my family members live and where my heart has been drawn to since I was a kid.

"My love is strong enough to get you here," were the words I felt God whispering to me as Jon sang "Your Love Is Strong" at PLNU's Greek Amphitheater. And that was all I needed to know I had to chase after this dream.

So I did. With everything within me, I chased after this dream until it led me here, in a dorm hall a quarter of a mile away from the amphitheater where I heard "Your Love Is Strong." I sat in the lounge, watching the crashing waves as I listened to In Bloom--a record that perfectly encapsulates the feeling of living on the West Coast, which I now call home.

Music is more than just words and melodies--it's breathing with the potential to change lives. There's power in songs and the poetry found in them. That's why I'm still so passionate about music. There's weight to this, far beyond what we could ever fully fathom.

Jon's new solo album, In Bloom, has this kind of potential. There's depth and layers to each of the twelve tracks, and it's a beautiful invitation to stay present to the moment. It's a return to the lyricism and chordal progressions found in his first four-EP Seasons project, maintaining an element of timelessness. From start to finish, each song on this new album feels so poetic and intentional.

Jon's upcoming album was originally going to be called Arrivals--a follow-up to his 2021 album Departures. But Jon chose to embrace the unknown venture of In Bloom. He chased the unknown, said "yes" to the moment, and brought forth an album that, I think, is his best yet.

It was such a privilege to talk with Jon about In Bloom for NewReleaseToday. I can't express my gratitude enough for how his music has inspired and changed me, and I can't wait to see how In Bloom will inspire a new generation of listeners. These songs are a gift, and it was an honor to have this conversation with him about the record and his songwriting process.

 

Why did you decide to chase down In Bloom instead of a follow-up to your album Departures?

I can become fixated on one task--for example, making up a follow-up to Departures--and think, "I got to do it." [That one task] can become the detriment of everything else in my world. In those moments when I'm trying to grasp at this thing that's outside of my control, and in this particular instance [with Arrivals], I think it was driven by pride and ego. For me, that gets in the way of the joy of the moment. My favorite musical endeavors have always been fueled by joy rather than ego. So that's what I'm attempting to do with Switchfoot and with all of this--asking, "How can I embrace this moment?"

Both touring with Brandon Lake and this new album, In Bloom, are me saying "yes" to things I would normally say "no" to and recognizing the gift of the moment.

As humans, we're always continually looking to the next thing. We have this postcard in our minds of arriving, but that arrival will never happen. It doesn't exist. The phrase "death is the only arrival" came to me and resonated with me. I will someday arrive. But while my heart's still beating, let me be in transit. Let me be in motion. That's where the album comes from.

It's not a tragic ending. It's a beautiful arrival. I don't know what that's going to look like. When I breathe my last, I want to live everything on this side of the grave as best I can, but I want to reach the other side with open arms and see what lies ahead.

You've always been one to write the songs that others are afraid to sing. You tackle difficult subjects--even death and depression. Why choose to write about these topics?

For a guy who doesn't have any neck tattoos, I write a lot of songs about death. For a suburban dad who's barefoot most of the time, that's a strange fixation. But I don't think it's a tragic fixation. There's a line in "In Bloom" that says, "Yesterday's tomb, tomorrow's womb." You could flip that to "Yesterday's womb, tomorrow's tomb."

There are so many good, happy-clappy, beautiful songs out there, and I love them. But they don't come to me. I tend to write the ones fixated on death and transformation. I'm a person who tends to be up in the middle of the night thinking about life and death. I have a hard time letting things go. And this last season, there was a lot of loss. There were a lot of things I was wrestling with, trying to figure out what to do with them. As you get older, things start to drift and shift, and the rivers that we all are begin to pull in different ways. And it's a beautiful thing, but it's also a strange thing to see.

Maybe it's an iceberg analogy, where we used to be one big iceberg, and it's now splintered into a bunch of different things--new journeys and different people going different ways. It's beautiful, but it felt like manure--it felt like fertilizer. But even in my own garden, these things are used to bring forth a crop--tomorrow's fruit.

On In Bloom, you tap into the same musical structure as your original four Seasons EPs. Why did you decide to return to this style?

If it was going to be Arrivals, it was going to be structured in four EPs, with In Bloom being one of them. It was going to be In Bloom, Fruition, Decay, and Seed (or some form like that). I definitely wanted to bring back the cyclical nature of the first four EPs.

On those EPs, I was aiming to let the songs speak for themselves rather than having any production in the way. And that was the goal of this new album. I wanted to rethink what a folk song would sound like in 2024

James McAlister (who has worked with Sufjan Stevens and Taylor Swift) brought this album to a spot that feels modern, yet nothing gets in the way. It aims for timelessness without being precious. Hopefully it evokes some form of the modern trim of synthesizers amidst the ever-present folk song of the acoustic guitar.

You use a lot of metaphors on your new album: sidewalks, dark rooms, the sun, the ocean, wildflowers, mosaics... why did you incorporate so many metaphors?

I think in metaphors. Putting things in terms that aren't metaphors, hyperboles, or parables is actually more difficult for me. Writing metaphors isn't difficult, but it's trying to reel them in and stick with one rather than [many] that's [challenging].

I love poetry that leaves room for the listener to find themselves in it. I feel like the poems that draw me in are the ones that are a bit nebulous and cloudy.

Some of the lyrics on your new album are heavy, yet they're balanced with beautiful melodies and chordal progressions. Talk to me about that.

I was really interested in the chordal changes that allow for heavy thoughts not to feel heavy. Sometimes [I'll get a] philosophical idea that's weighty and dense, [so it] needs something free and easy [to pair it with]. Something to make it feel like you're not in a philosophy class. [Because] if you can take it to the beach, suddenly, we're all happy.

I wanted to make a record I would want to put on in the afternoon on a beautiful day, go for a drive, and never have to skip a track.

I think my last project was wrestling with some heavy stuff, and I love it, but you have to be present and attentive to it. But this album has layers. You could put it on and listen to it [many] times before you actually know what the songs are about. I thought through all the lyrics and wanted to make it palatable so it felt like a day at the beach rather than a day at the funeral.

The album concludes with "Sojourn," and it almost feels like an open-ended song. Like there's still more to come. It seems to encapsulate the theme of "never arriving, but always becoming." Was this intentional? Why did you decide to end the album like this?

I intentionally cut it off halfway through. There's an entire next verse to the song, and I chopped it off because it felt like it gave too much away. It felt too "arrived." I wanted it to feel like the next part of the conversation is in the listener's hand. This is my offering, but the silence allows the listener to potentially respond.

I think the most important button in the studio is the mute button. I can be in a song, on a guitar [with] ideas and things to say. But on this last song, I'm trying to allow the breath to leave and return, hopefully giving the listener a chance to reply. That's the hope of the album and the last song.

Having the ocean and the wildflowers on the album cover almost feels like a juxtaposition--having something as chaotic as the sea next to something as beautiful as wildflowers. Talk to me about this contrast.

The ocean and the shore are always going to be the most interesting places for me--where they meet, their embrace, and their sloppy, wet kiss. The Pacific will never be the shore, and the shore will never be the saltwater, yet that's where their conversation takes place.

On the album cover, it was simply and purely a happy accident that both the ocean and the shore were represented like that. But when I was looking through the photos afterward, it felt like it was perfect for this record.

The photos were taken a year ago. My friend Erick Frost and I just happened to be [by a flower field], and we were having lunch together. He's an incredible photographer, and he had his camera and [offered to take] a couple of pictures of me in the flowers. He sent them to me, and I didn't think anything of it. I took other photos for the album, but the guy working on the album cover found these photos. He thought they would fit the album better.

Even the story of how the photos came to be fits the theme of being present to the moment and saying yes to the uncomfortable. Taking photos in a field of flowers is not something I've done before and may never do again, but I'm so glad we did it.

What's one takeaway you hope listeners have from the album?

My hope for the listener is the same hope I have for myself: to be present to the present. I tend to be obsessively focused on the past or the future--the past in the form of regret, the future in the form of fear or hope. But often, these ghosts from the past and phantoms of "what if" from the future can weigh me down and distract me from the beauty of what is right here, right now. This is exasperated by the devices we're always staring into and the power they have for us and over us. My hope for the listener would be that this album would be an invitation to celebrate the joy of the present moment.

There are so many ways to get distracted. The tools we have now are so powerful that our ability to distract ourselves and lose the plot has never been stronger. I'm hoping this album can be a call to the present moment--to the breath we have right now.

We are forever in the present tense, the now, and the Maker Himself exists there. And if He does not exist there, He exists nowhere.

 

You've been doing music for over 27 years, and you're still going. What keeps you motivated and inspired? 

It's odd, and this may be hard to explain, but I am so enamored with music. I love it. I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas, melodies, and lyrics. People ask me how I stay excited about it, and I feel strange that I don't have an answer. It feels almost childish to say, but I just love music, and that's the truth.

When I was little, my parents took me to a parade, and I went missing. They looked everywhere. But when they looked at the parade, they saw me--this little four-year-old kid--marching in the band. I'm drawn by music. I love listening to it. I love making it. I love the places it can take me. Maybe someday that [feeling of enamor] will go away, but it hasn't yet, and I hope it never does.

Music is a big enough ocean to where I will never master it. I think that lack of control is what makes it beautiful. It's like the ocean, where every day you come to it, and you find different parts of yourself there in the reflection.

The etymology [of the word] "invention" comes from Latin, and it means more of a discovery than something you create. It's an uncovering. To invent something is to uncover. That's what songwriting is. It's much more of a receptivity than it is a hammer and nails with a blueprint. You don't know where you're going with it--you uncover and discover it.

Switchfoot recently announced their summer tour, but do you plan to tour solo this year?

I hope I'll be doing a tour. I definitely will be doing one show at the Belly Up [in San Diego], but I don't know beyond that. It's been a busy season [touring with] Brandon Lake and Switchfoot.

If I didn't have a family I love and want to be present to, I would say, "Let's go! Let's take this thing on the road." That's the double-edged sword. I love playing music, but I love being present in my kids' lives. I always say that I play music for free, but I'm paid to leave my wife and children to go on tour.

My wife is so gracious, my kids are amazing, and my bandmates are incredible. Everyone [has been] very patient with me along the way, and I'm really thankful to have bandmates who really believe in this solo thing. And right now, my brother's in the studio making his own solo project, which is a true victory for me because I've been peer-pressuring him to make this album for a decade. I can't wait for the world to hear what he's working on.

Any final thoughts?

I'm so excited for people to hear the record. I know everyone lives very busy lives, but if anyone has a road trip or an [extra] hour doing laundry and they want to listen to the album, I'm excited for them to hear it.

[I hope it's listened to] as a whole because I think it really makes sense as one body of work. It makes sense broken up too, but I'm really excited for people to listen to the whole record front-to-back.

Pre-save In Bloom, releasing on May 31, here.

Grace Chaves is NRT's News Editor. She's been part of NewReleaseToday since 2019 and is continuing her journey by majoring in Multimedia Journalism at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.

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