By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park — Switchfoot, an alternative rock band that formed in the surfing community of San Diego 20 years ago released their tenth studio album, Where the Light Shines Through, this summer. The band, famous for songs like “Dare you to move” and “Meant to live” off their breakthrough 2003 album The Beautiful Letdown, are scheduled to play Clifton Park’s Upstate Concert Hall Thursday, October 13.
Drew Shirley, the band’s lead guitarist for the last 13 years, spoke with Your Clifton Park about the secret to the band’s longevity, playing Guns n Roses songs in his garage back in San Diego as a teen and taking his four daughters to shows.
Q: Can you tell me about how the band has evolved over the years?
A: We’ve been a band 20 years now and we just put out our tenth album. The band started and still is based in San Diego. The term “switchfoot” is a surfing term. If you don’t know surfing or skateboarding, you might not know that. We’ve been around the world many times. The band is stronger than ever. There is nothing different that we’d rather be doing.
Q: What do you think is the secret to your longevity?
A: We have brothers in the band. There’s a strong relationship there between Jon and Tim Foreman. They fight sometimes but they always make up. They have a history that will outlive the band. That family feeling works its way through the rest of the band.
Q: Before Switchfoot, you played in a band called All Together Separate. How did you meet and eventually start playing with the other musicians that now make up Switchfoot?
A: We [as All Together Separate] played a lot of bands with Switchfoot. We kind of grew up together playing the Southern California rock scene. I joined just before the Beautiful Letdown came out. That album was massive — almost sold 3 million copies. That catapulted us into the mainstream music industry and allowed us to keep doing what we’re doing today. The band I was in before was a regional band. We would open for Switchfoot or sometimes they’d open for us. We were both just cutting our teeth in the Southern California music scene.
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to make music for a living?
A: I was in college called California Baptist University studying fine arts. I was a music minor and a theatre major so I’m kind of using my degree!. I had to choose between being a resident assistant at the college or doing music full time. The residents job paid more at the time. It was a steady income but I had this deep conviction that if I don’t try to do music as a living now, I might never do it. I decided I’m going to focus on music 100 percent and any other job I have is just going to allow me to do music.
Q: How old were you when you got your first guitar?
A: I was 17. It started just as a hobby. I’d play at church or jam out to Guns n Roses songs in the garage. Then Pearl Jam hit and I started playing all the Pearl Jam songs and Nirvana songs. I was self taught on guitar. It’s taken me to many places.
Q: Of all the places you’ve toured, where do enjoy playing most?
A: I love travelling to Europe. Our European tours have been some of our most memorable. We’ve also had really great shows in Seattle, LA, New York and Nashville. Sometimes the smaller shows are the most fun. It’s not just the big arena shows that are the highlights. Sometimes the smaller shows have the best energy and most connection with the audience.
Q: Did you grow up in a musical family?
A: Yeah, actually. My mom taught choir and piano. She made me take both piano and choir lessons as a kid. Guitar was basically my rebellion against that. My dad was in the Navy. He travelled a lot. He was always gone which is probably why I’m used to being on tour and travelling so much. We’re kind of in the service –the service of music.
Q: Do you have any children?
A: Yes! Four daughters. It’s a lot going on but I love them. It brings so much life to me. Anyone who has kids knows that children are one of the hardest and the best things. They’re three, six, seven and 12. They’re full of love and creativity. Keeps me young and on my toes
Q: Do they come to your shows often?
A: Anytime we’re anywhere near San Diego or LA, yeah. Sometimes I’ll fly them out to New York for a show. Recently we played a show in Florida at Disney World. They think all shows are free.
Q: How would you describe this latest album, Where the Light Shines Through?
A: It started off as a really dark album. We were writing and recording and something happened when we were playing this song “Where the Light Shines Through.” Even the hard, difficult, sad times can turn around and actually be the most influential and best times of your life. That’s why we titled it after that song. It’s our tenth album so we knew it had to be good. Number 10 seems like some kind of monumental decade album. We wanted it to be really good. I think the lyrics on this album are some of the best yet.
Q: Can you tell me about the writing process? Is it collaborative?
A: It’s collaborative but John comes up with most of the lyrics and the theme and we all take them and see how they want to grow. If you likened it to a garden, John plants a lot of seeds and then we all start caring for different songs and playing demos and laying guitar tracks down. Whatever songs grow the best, we pick those and focus on them.
Q: If you could tour with anyone, who would you choose?
A: I would choose Led Zeppelin. Big Kenny Page fan. That band made so many different styles of music. It was electrifying every time I’ve seen them play.
Q: One of our readers wrote in with a question. Here’s what she said. “Your songs “Dare you to Move” and “Meant to Live” are two of my all-time favorite songs not only for their melody, [but] especially the lyrics. Do you find with the current state of affairs in the world that those lyrics are more relevant now more than ever?
A: Yes, I do. Those two songs are very special. They’ve been able to speak to many people’s lives in many different time periods. The world right now is in such a strange place. There’s a lot of turmoil. Those songs are motivating songs, they’re searching songs that cut to the core of who you are and what you’re doing with your life. It’s important for everyone to ask those question. As a band, we like to ask questions more than we like to give answers.