Many people know Jon Foreman from his time as the frontman of Swtichfoot but what a lot of people don\’t know is that he has a much softer, much more peaceful side to his music in The Wonderlands and this year he\’s releasing four separate, very different EPs and he took some time to talk to us about this elaborate music venture.
FRR: You’ve got a really cool project going on right now with The Wonderlands, you’re releasing four EPs, Sunlight, Shadows, Darkness, and Dawn. That’s a really cool thing to do and I know you worked with 24 producers, 24 songs. How did something that complex come about?
Jon Foreman: Ironically it was an attempt to kind of make it easier to make music while I was touring. I had all these songs and I was just kind of playing them for a friend of mine and he said these songs need to get out there and I was kind of lamenting the fact that I wont be home and be able to record anything like this for a really long time and so that’s when the idea came about, what if we had a bunch of our friends and musical heroes lend their musical input and have them co-produce these songs to put their stamp on everything. So that’s the way this whole thing happened, was how to make a record while you’re touring. You give the songs to the people you love and trust all over the world and they send them back and you go from there. So it’s been an amazing, wild journey, that’s for sure.
FRR: Was it an original plan to do four EPs, or was it one collection of songs that certain chunks had themes and you wanted to split them up into EP’s or was that the original plan?
Jon Foreman: Well, songs are always there for me, that’s never the problem. The problem is trying to find an outlet, a project, to put the songs on. So for me we did, I think definitely more than 30 but somewhere less than 40 songs in total with different producers and then this collection of 24 songs was culled from that list.
The thought was what if we could, it kind of became this theme of light and darkness and the polarity of it all and that got me thinking about the day and thinking what if we could chase the sun around the sky and shadows and light and darkness and use that as our vehicle to put these songs in, so that’s where the concept of The Wonderlands came from.
FRR: This music is so much calmer, so much more peaceful and intimate than your material with Switchfoot. How does writing as a solo artist differ for you than writing with Switchfoot.
Jon Foreman: Yea, I’m really fortunate to be able to have a couple different outlets to put songs on. As a songwriter to be able to, with Fiction Family, Switchfoot, and then the solo project, it feels like I can scratch all the musical itches that I want. With the solo thing, yea, it’s a gift. With the solo project, these for me feel like they were born in these experiences, I call them the after shows where after we go off stage I’ll go off in a parking lot, or a bar, or a coffee shop down the street and keep playing songs. Whether it’s a Bob Dylan cover or Beach Boys or a new song you just wrote earlier in the day, that kind of was where the solo project was born was in that spontaneous experience and so I kind of wanted to embrace that on this project and a lot of the songs that I played for the very first time in these after shows were included in this collection.
FRR: Two songs that really stood out for me on Sunlight were “Caroline” and “The Patron Saint of Rock n’ Roll” were those inspired by personal experiences or were those just, you’re sitting and playing and that’s what came out?
Jon Foreman: All this stuff is really personal. It’s kind of the only way I know how to do it I wish I could distill other peoples experiences, but yea, “Caroline” is about a friend of mine and “The Patron Saint of Rock n’ Roll” is kind of wrestling with faith and redemption against the back drop of kind of post-modern “churchianity” that exists in the Western world.
FRR: “Coffin” and “Fake Your Own Death” are another two that stand out as well. They’re a bit darker than what’s on Sunlight, they’re on Shadows and just from that title you can expect that darker content. I can expect Darkness will be even darker. What can we expect from the next two EPs? What’s coming up?
Jon Foreman: Yea so we’ve got Taylor York from Paramore did a track for me, Jeff Coffin from Dave Matthews Band and of course Bela Fleck he’s the saxophone player, trying to think of who else. My friend Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek- she sings a bunch in the new EPs and sings on a track and Cubbie Fink from Foster The People produced a track.
Darkness is, for me, almost, I think maybe not as frightening as Shadows. Shadows, many times for me can be a lot more frightening than Darkness itself. Once Darkness arrives you come to terms with the fact that you can’t see and maybe start to use other senses. There’s no shadows on the wall, there’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s just you and your mind, so that’s where a lot of that comes from.
And then Dawn, dawn arrives and it feels like a rebirth. The whole project begins with a song about death and ends with a song about death because I feel like that’s the context of our lives. The moment we’re aware of the terminal state that we exist here on this planet, maybe that awareness will allow us to seize the moment and treat other human souls with the dignity that is necessary.
FRR: You’re doing a 24-hour event the day that it releases. What exactly do you have in store for that big of a thing, and how will it work?
Jon Foreman: That’s a great question! I really don’t know yet but it looks like we’re going to be playing 25 different shows around San Diego and I’m going to be enlisting some of my friends and some of my musical heroes to help me sing these songs. I just kind of want to embrace the extremities of chaos and take the idea of the after show to the next level show after show after show after show- put them all in one day and see what that’s like.
FRR: Your faith has always played a big role in your song-writing and in the lyrics. Especially with Switchfoot you’re very good at letting that play a big role, but not forcing that on anybody- you make it so anybody can relate to the lyrics. As you get further into your career does that get easier or has that always been easy?
Jon Foreman: I think everybody has their own belief system. Whether you’re Agnostic, Atheist, Buddhist, Christian, whatever, the believe system is the decisions you make and the intentionality behind them, the way we treat each other day in and day out.
I don’t know, I guess just attempting to write honest songs means attempting to understand the world around me. I’ve never and never will claim to have figured it all out. In many ways these songs are just questions, and more questions and questions upon questions and I think ultimately that dialog, maybe music is one of the best places for that dialog to take place.
FRR: One thing I think is awesome is you’ve opened a school in California for underprivileged teens and music. Can you talk a little about that endeavor and what that’s been like?
Jon Foreman: It’s been a labor of love. We’ve seen over the past decade music and the arts programs in public schools being cut and the question then arises, ok, well is music important or not? And you look at any of the studies and they say for higher education, for keeping a job, for self-esteem for all comprehension in other subjects that music is incredibly important.
So then the next question is what are we going to do about it? So that kind of became the dream, what if we could actually open a non-profit music school in our own town that could assist for kids that couldn’t afford it or for kids that wanted a great place to learn in a group setting, what if we could be that for the next generation, so that’s where that dream came from.
FRR: So I know you’ve got the four EPs- two have released already, two are about to be released- then you’re hitting the road with Needtobreathe and Switchfoot. What’s the rest of the road looking like? Lots of promotion for the new album?
Jon Foreman: So we’re on tour with Needtobreathe right now. It’s been an amazing tour, we love those guys and Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors has been amazing, and also our friends in Colony House, they’re just a bunch of good people. It’s rare that you have a tour where not only everyone on stage but all the crew, every single person involved has been amazing and then after that I’m going to go out with a couple of my friends and do some more of the solo thing in Texas, Nashville, a couple of shows in California, New Mexico, Arizona, North Dakota, I’m not sure of all of them but they’re up on my website.