Jon Foreman: ‘My place in the world is to be honest’

tomstoneartist.com
tomstoneartist.com

There is not much to say about singer/songwriter Jon Foreman that hasn’t already been said. His fans adore him, lyricists wish they could pen the poetry he writes, and whether it is friend or member of the press, general consensus is that Foreman is a genuinely good guy. So where do you start when interviewing a man who has fronted Grammy award winning band Switchfoot for 17 years? By asking him about his upcoming solo project The Wonderlands, and how on earth came up with a song for every hour of the day.

“It is kind of a crazy concept isn’t it?” Shares the San Diego native. “I’ve always had this thing where music was this location for me. It was this place I could go, whether it was other people’s songs or my own songs. In the songs I would find a place, I would find almost like this world that I could…go too and suddenly, going back to my own world, it made a lot more sense,” he shares.

It was this experience that prompted him to create the 4 EP collection to be released throughout 2015. “I thought, ‘What if I created a world out of music, lyric and melody?’ And that’s where The Wonderlands was born. I thought, ‘Why not start with light and darkness?’ Just travel throughout the day and get one song for every hour and see where that goes.”

With each EP containing 6 songs, some were penned for The Wonderlands while others have been waiting for a project this diverse.  “[They] were kind of orphaned from many other projects, especially from back home like 10 years ago, when you have this song you really love and believe in and it doesn’t fit anywhere,” he says. “Because of the polarity of this project, you know, trying to figure songs for 3 o’clock in the morning, it allows you to reach new highs and new lows that maybe you didn’t fit on other records.”

If trying to figure out songs for the early hours of the morning wasn’t enough, Foreman is also taking on the mountainous task of performing 25 shows in 24 hours. No, that wasn’t a typo. Foreman and his band (plus any friends who aren’t on tour) are going to attempt to break a Guinness World Record when they bring The Wonderlands to life in San Diego on October 24.

“We’re gonna have a party…I want it to get weird; I want to play like a Bar Mitzvah, a Mexican restaurant. You know, I want to play my old Junior High,” he laughs.  “I want to see how far we can push things.”

Dropping the first EP from The Wonderlands on May 26, Sunlight is Foreman’s take on the early hours of the morning. “I have a really hard time writing about light. I have a much easier time writing about darkness, because darkness, it grabs you. It’s more lyrical somehow… Sunlight, when you’re happy, it’s hard to write songs. You just want to go surfing with all your friends.”

Be that as it may, the tracks on Sunlight still capture the essence of the early morning. “Shoot, the first song is talking about how we’re all gonna die!” He says about the opening title, “Terminal.” “But like, finding the bright spots of the moment …So that’s what I’m hoping Sunlight is, entering into a day, certainly with a world of pain and death, but highlighting the beauty of what it means to be alive.”

He points out that the song best capturing the essence of the EP is, “You Don’t Know How Beautiful You Are,” which was released prematurely as a bonus track on the To Write Love On Her Arms soundtrack. “I think we all kind of put on masks …because we’re afraid to be hurt, and we keep our face distanced from ever letting our true emotions out, and keep someone from truly knowing who we are, you know? That comes from a fear of pain,” says Foreman.

“Logical as that seems those masks also eliminate the possibility of joy ever entering our lives. So for me, that is a song is about taking down the walls that we build up around our hearts, and actually being authentic and letting joy in.”

The Sunlight EP also delves into the themes of religion and faith. “The Patron Saint of Rock and Roll” is Foreman’s shout out to a church he doesn’t feel like he belongs to, and “All of God’s Children” is a euphoric and hopeful tune about unity and healing.

“I had the privilege of meeting one of my heroes a little while back, and one of the things he said stuck out to me, that ‘God doesn’t need a lawyer. You’re a songwriter’…That frees me up from trying to defend God,” he shares. “My place in the world is to be honest…I can be honest with pain, I can be honest with the beauty, I can be honest with the frustration, I can even be honest and say I really have no clue about most of…the higher issues.”

It is in this place that The Wonderlands is found. “That freedom kind of allows me to write songs, instead of God and the legalism. Somewhere in there is a beautiful path.”

Aside from his faith, asking Foreman about his family and how he maintains solid relationships on the road gives us a glimpse into his thoughts on life. “I think, certainly my faith is a huge part of who I am. I think the western idea…is more of a platonic thought where we divide ourselves up into different things where we say, ‘Oh, now I’m a musician, now I’m a father, now I’m a friend, now I’m a husband.’ You never turn any of those things off. They’re always there.”

In light of this, he is constantly pushing himself to look beyond the compartmentalization of a moment and seeks genuine relationships. “The biggest struggle that I face is balance, and how do I unplug from the machine, you know? We’re all trying to be efficient with our lives,” he shares. “It kind of takes away from your soul somehow… So, I think for me, finding time to have really inefficient conversations and spending time pretending to be a dinosaur with my daughter; those are the things that help me remember what life really means.”

While on the road, Foreman and his bandmates have established close friendships with many of their peers.  He employed more than 24 of his close friends and heroes to produce The Wonderlands, including Andrew Wessen from Group Love, Taylor York from Paramore, Jeff Coffin from Dave Matthews Band,  Ryan O’Neil from Sleeping At Last, and Darren King from Mute Math. King actually built a track from a Youtube video of one Foreman’s after shows. “What an opportunity to have musical sparring partners, who are going to hit back,” he says.

As a member of Switchfoot, Foreman is also going on tour with NEEDTOBREATHE this Summer on their Tour De Compadres.  “I know it’s going to be a lot of fun…I can promise you good old California rock and roll, and a couple of surprises,” he laughs.

Friendship has similarly played a role in Switchfoot’s long established relationship with non-profit To Write Love On Her Arms.  Bringing hope and help to people walking through depression, addiction, self-injury and thoughts of suicide, Foreman was the first person to wear their iconic title tee on stage in March of 2006. “That weekend was a wild weekend, and I remember it to this day…I was like, ‘I gotta wear this [t-shirt] on stage man, this is such a cool story. I’ve got to tell the story.’ So, to think that it’s…not only still going, but that it’s reaching so many people and had such an incredible impact, that’s an amazing thing to look alongside.”

Of his friendship with founder Jamie Tworkowski, he says, “It’s very rare that you as a band, that you know somebody on a personal level for years before you know them… in a professional way.” Foreman penned an opening note for Tworkowski’s book If You Feel Too Much, which coincidentally, is released the same day as Sunlight. “I think it’s a real privilege to see someone with that kind of drive and compassion all the way through their journey, you know?  And he’s seen us through a lot of our journey as well.”

The Wonderlands signals a bright new season for Jon Foreman, and as he explores the themes that come with each hour of the day, we will see the heart of a performer who just loves to play music.  “I can’t wait for people to hear these songs… many of them were played in a parking lot first.”

FDRMX Eyes: the Fiona Noakes Band is an alternative rock band from Ottawa, Canada. Check out their music video, “Ghost of the Abyss.” It’s not bad, eh?

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