In the early 2000s, while the alt-rock band Switchfoot was working on their fourth album, The Beautiful Letdown, the group flew to New York to perform for its new label, Sony Music. Midway through one of the cuts from that record, “Dare You to Move,” a top Sony exec walked out of the performance — and frontman Jon Foreman could hear him muttering, “Why do you keep signing this expletive-expletive-expletive?”
As the band prepares to release a deluxe version of The Beautiful Letdown, which has sold more than three million copies since its release 20 years ago, Foreman recalls the impact of that moment. “That is a pivotal point for us as a band,” he says. “We had a choice: “Do we listen to him, or do we say, ‘Forget him, we’re going to do what we think is right, and we believe in these songs? That’s where we came from. That’s what that album in 2003 represents — an album that almost didn’t exist at all.” (Sony declined to comment on Foreman’s recollections.)
By phone from the band’s San Diego studio, where Switchfoot is rehearsing for a tour on which they will play The Beautiful Letdown in its entirety, Foreman discusses the “Our Version” version of the album, which dropped in August — as well as covers of its tracks performed by the Jonas Brothers, Jon Bellion, Twenty One Pilots‘ Tyler Joseph and others, that fill out the deluxe edition due Sept. 15.
As you rehearse for this tour, playing all those songs again from The Beautiful Letdown, what are you learning about the album?
We’ve grown up as a band, learned how to play our instruments, learned how to play together. It really has been enjoyable to step back in time and remember who we were and what we were singing about and how we were playing.
What were some of the technical challenges of recreating a record from 2003?
It’s all the happy accidents that are funny that are hard to recreate — but we leaned into that. At the beginning of one of the [original] tracks, “Ammunition,” my friend, Matt Beckley, a producer, happened to be in the room when we were tracking that. His laugh is the last thing you hear at the beginning of that track. We tried our best to imitate that, and I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” and called Matt and said, “Can you send us a track of yourself laughing?” So it’s his laugh again. We tried to jump back exactly into the headspace that we were in when we had made the record the first time.
Why did you decide to re-record an “Our Version” of the album?
We all were kind of talking about the album and we thought, “What if we made the album, but this time, instead of for [the Sony exec], let’s record it for everyone who’s supported us the last 23 years — for everyone who’s sung along with these songs?”
So did you wind up making the album that Sony wanted, back in 2003, or did you release the one Switchfoot had planned to make all along?
The album that came out was entirely our dream — the dream that, with John Fields producing, we loved, and that certain unnamed executive at the top of Sony Records hated. We were relegated to [Sony-owned distributor] Red Ink. It was actually the best thing that could’ve happened to us, because not only did everyone at Red Ink believe in this album and fight for it, it galvanized why we do what we do, and the idea that we don’t play music for the people who don’t understand it. We’re not for everyone, we’re going to be for ourselves. Irrespective of whether people get it or not, we’re going to sing our songs.
Did you wind up working with that Sony executive again?
Fast forward maybe a year and a half, the album had sold 2 million copies, and the same guy comes back, all smiles and handshakes and pictures, with platinum albums and a lot of talk about how “I believed in you guys all along.”
How much did Taylor Swift‘s “Taylor’s Version” re-recordings over the past few years influence Switchfoot’s “Our Version”?
Tell me about sitting in with her.
We were playing a smaller arena in Arizona [in 2011], and she invited me to come over and play “Meant to Live.” Our friends Needtobreathe were opening the night, and I was struck by just how poised she was on and off stage. She was in complete control, not only onstage but offstage. Everything was accounted for. It’s really fun to see this [Eras] tour blowing up for her.
For the deluxe version, how much input did you have on the reimagined versions from the other artists?
We gave them completely no direction. Some said, “I want you to play the instruments,” and some, like OneRepublic, just wanted to do a more traditional duet. I loved all of it. Jonas Brothers wanted to work with John Fields, who produced the original version. I called Fields and he said, “Oh, is this the talk when you’re going to be the A&R guy and tell me what we’re supposed to do with the track?” And I was like, “Nope! I’m just calling to say hi. I could care less.”
What do you hope both parts of the new version accomplish?
It’s such an odd project, to be honest. Being a songwriter, writing new songs is my favorite thing in the world to do, but to look back and celebrate where we’ve been — that’s what this project is aiming for.