Billboard: “Switchfoot Hopes Surf Documentary Will Help It Crest the Charts Again”

A rather interesting article on Switchfoot’s new “Fading West” project has been published on Billboard:

Last year, while touring for 2011 album “Vice Verses,” Switchfoot visited famous surfing locales in New Zealand, Indonesia and South Africa, looking to inspire a new album and document how the Southern California Christian rock band’s passions for waves and soundwaves collide.

“There’s a freedom music and surfing both share,” drummer Chad Butler says. “There’s a sense of awe and wonder when you’re out in the ocean looking at the infinite horizon and feeling surrounded by the rhythm of waves and tides. That’s often where I find myself falling in love with music again.”

The tour was captured in a new documentary about the band, directed by Matt Katsolis, that follows Switchfoot as it began crafting ninth album “Fading West,” due Jan. 14 on Atlantic. The documentary, which arrives on iTunes on Dec. 10, shares the album’s title and artwork. The film is part of the same promotional push by the label and the band’s team at Red Light Management, though it’s a separate product and Atlantic doesn’t own any rights to it. The film was partially funded by several brands Switchfoot has partnered with through the years — Hurley, Ultimate Ears, Macbeth and Journeys.

“The real impetus was that we all release records. In this competitive climate, how do you cut above the white noise?” Bruce Flohr, Switchfoot’s co-manager at RLM, says of the film. “We felt like it was time to tell the story of Switchfoot. The movie is laying a foundation of what’s to come from the record.”

For the band members, both the album and film are an opportunity to re-evaluate the way they create music — and hopefully have their story reach a bigger audience along the way. Their breakout came with 2003′s “The Beautiful Letdown,” which reached No. 16 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 2.7 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But the band, which has often been pigeonholed as Christian rock, has struggled to match that crossover since: “Vice Verses” sold just 188,000 after bowing at No. 8 on the Billboard 200.

“The movie certainly positions the band — and the album positions them musically — to become a much more mainstream band than they’ve been on the last couple records,” Atlantic senior VP of rock marketing Anthony Delia says. “It feels like it could reach a bigger audience. We look at the movie as a very valuable promotional tool for the album and a really amazing personality piece for the band.”

Switchfoot began working with producer Neal Avron at the band’s San Diego studio in early 2013. Looking to channel new ideas, the group set aside its signature guitars for as long as possible. “That was an exercise in tying our hands behind our backs and trying to push ourselves to new sonic space,” Butler says. “And I think it worked.”

The album has been preceded by two radio singles, both released the same day to different formats. “Who We Are” rises 23-22 on the Alternative chart, and according to the label, “Love Alone Is Worth the Fight” recently became the first single played in its debut week by all 55 Christian adult contemporary stations that report to Nielsen BDS. The tracks are receiving equal promotion, and the label hopes “Who We Are” will cross over to top 40 formats next year.

But Flohr says this campaign isn’t reliant on radio. He’s more focused on how the film and album can promote each other. Already, he says, the band is getting opportunities, including festival and tour offers, it might not have previously. “We’ve done a lot of things that are outside the norm of just promoting a song to radio,” Flohr says. “People are looking at ‘Fading West’ as a campaign rather than an album cycle.”

Switchfoot released the three-song ‘Fading West’ EP on Sept. 17, leading into a U.S. headlining run that included a screening of the film and a Q&A with the band. The group will embark on another domestic tour in March and play festivals stateside and abroad in the summer, leading into the 10th edition of its annual charity festival, Bro-Am. Atlantic is exploring promotional events in January that will engage the surfing communities in California and New York, and the act will also perform a live-streamed concert during release week.

“It’s an exciting experiment for us — an invigorating moment in our career where suddenly I think we’re more comfortable than ever being Switchfoot,” Butler says. “Here we are as surfers trying to explain ourselves as musicians, and finally our story is being told.”


23 responses to “Billboard: “Switchfoot Hopes Surf Documentary Will Help It Crest the Charts Again””

  1. MatthewB

    Any opinions on when an album pre-order package might be?

    1. Josh H

      Yeah it’s still not clear whether the Holiday packs are the official pre-order or just Holiday packs. I’d prefer a physical CD over the digital download, even though the EP sounds pretty sweet

  2. Jeb

    The label’s happy, the management’s happy, and, most importantly, the band’s happy. It sounds like everyone’s got what they wanted, and I’m glad to see that Switchfoot and co. are focusing on reaching a broader audience.

  3. Lody

    Quite interesting indeed… but alas, whether these bits of news are good or bad, we will have to wait and see… or rather, what I mean, is I’d like to wait for the official dates for next years tours and shows before getting excited ;)

    Live streamed concert! *0 *

  4. Aron

    Thankyou. This was very interesting to say the least. I became more excided for the movie, the album and especially the future of my favorite band.
    I’m a bit speechless so I’m gonna leave it with this.

  5. Jon Fazzone

    Was i Dreaming or is Switchfoot doing The Winter Jam on Radio 104.5 in Philly on Jan 25th ??? That would be GREAT !!!

  6. ashley

    Interesting article. I think it’s really great for them that they are getting called to do other festivals and shows. It was interesting to see them play at a festival along side Marilyn Manson and Slip Knot in Fading West. But like Jon mentioned, ‘all bands play uncomfortable shows but not all of them do it on purpose.’ I think it’s great that they are reaching out to audiences with different backgrounds. This movie is probably one of the greatest things they’ve ever done. Will Fading West also be on Netflix/Hulu on December 10th as well?

    1. Golden Girl

      YES!! I was wondering that also! Will Fading West be on Hulu and Netflix?

  7. Selena

    I’m excited for the future of the band! I pray for many more albums. I have enjoyed growing up listening to Switchfoot and I would love for my two young sons to have many more future albums to grow up listening to. My five year old is almost ready for his first Switchfoot concert!

    1. Matthew

      I’m sure they will have many more albums to come!

  8. Ian

    Only 188K copies of Vice Verses have been sold? I was hoping it was more than that.

    1. Daniel

      Well, only about 250k copies of Hello Hurricane have been sold, so while a definite decrease in sales is evident, you also have to remember the continuing trend that people no longer buy music. So the seeming 25% decrease in sales is partially explained. The other aspect? Well, to be honest, while I do not dislike Vice Verses, I find it to be one of Switchfoot’s weaker albums overall, mainly due to a lack of consistency. I absolutely love some of the songs, but two or three absolutely grate on me. Fading West will be a huge test for the band. I think the Billboard debut position, while dependent on other releases, will be very indicative of the band’s overall popularity. Another Top 10 debut would be very satisfactory.

      1. Daniel

        After a quick perusal of some music industry sites, the only major album that appears to be releasing either the week of January 7th or the 14th is a new one from Bruce Springsteen. So I expect Fading West’s competition to be relatively light, hopefully. Maybe Top 5 is a bit optimistic, but I will be very disappointed if they fail to reach the Top 10. Avril Lavigne’s album release this week is projected to debut at around 9 or 10, and it is only projected to sell around 40k albums. Vice Verses sold 50k in week one.

        Another aspect that will be interesting is whether sales increase from all the EP pre-orders. I presume they will be included in the first-week tally.

        1. Aron

          The Fray is also releasing their new album that same day. The week after that, Young The Giant (they played once at the Switchfoot Bro-Am) are releasing their new album.

          Both these bands are definitely more popular than Switchfoot and they produce alternative rock as well.
          It’s gonna be harder than you might think.

        2. Israel

          I hope they push Love Alone Is Worth The Fight to Top 40 Mainstream radio stations instead of Who We Are.

  9. em

    i find it interesting how the management, marketers and reporters are going on about sales and publicity techniques as if it’s their ticket to stardom yet not once have i heard the guys themselves talk about fading west that way. i understand that naturally the marketers and managers are going to be more concerned about the numbers-that’s their job and certainly i want switchfoot have success-but this article just makes switchfoot sound desperate. like the purpose of fading west is to gain more fans instead of a way to show the people who are already true fans a deeper part of who switchfoot is. especially considering how little the guys are worried about publicity and a big show. Just funny how different the focal points are of the managers vs. the actual band members.

    1. Brittany

      You completely nailed what I was thinking.

    2. ellijordan

      I was also thinking just that…

    3. alicia

      Spot on Em! I was thinking the same thing.

    4. Golden Girl

      Yeah that’s exactly what I was thinking the whole time I was reading this.

  10. i am who i am

    Well, not to be too cynical here, but lets face it: this is marketers and managers. Its their job to claim that their clients upcoming product will sell big. I remember back before Vice Verses was released, Switchfoot’s management said they would be taking them down the same path as U2 after Joshua Tree and Coldplay after A Rush of Blood to the Head. What exactly was that supposed to mean? I’m not really sure, but I think that Switchfoot’s version of those records was The Beautiful Letdown. The bottom line is every band has their selling prime. Switchfoot reached their’s with TBL, and they’ve gone down in sales with every subsequent record (as far as I know), which is pretty expected. They’re still a big band in their market, but the chances they ever make another platinum record? Pretty slim.

    But fortunately, record sales do not determine quality (take Radiohead for example: Their 4th record, Kid A, has sold 4 million units worldwide. Yes thats not bad, but its arguably the greatest record of all time, in my opinion. Many records have sold many, many more units than that) and I don’t think that should be the focus here. We know it isn’t from the guys in Switchfoot, but their marketers are supposed to do this. I just don’t think it will result in a big increase in sales for the guys.

  11. Aron

    In a review for Indie Vision Music, Ian Zandi wrote that the song “sets the beat” and is the “best possible track they [Switchfoot] could have picked to be the start of the Fading West EP.” He also added, “Jon sounds cleaner than ever before as his grizzly bear vocals are nowhere to be found. Musically, the song is very spacious. I would compare the atmosphere of the EP itself to the likes of Coldplay, Bon Iver and Arcade Fire. This is not to say that Switchfoot sounds like those bands. They don’t really. It is more of the feeling of the music. It evokes emotions, it is relaxing, engaging, and it’s encouraging. ‘Who We Are’ may not be my favorite Switchfoot song but it is very fitting.”

    I copied this from wikipedia, I thought it was very interesting.

  12. Devin Smith

    It’d be a tough tough road for “Who We Are” to breach the top 40. But, since it isn’t a hard rock song, I think it’ll have a much better shot than Dark Horses ever did. :P

    Hopefully “Love Alone Is Worth the Fight” will get a crack at the alternative charts. It’s rising very quickly on the Christian charts, to say the least!