Culture Interviews Music

Interview: Drew Shirley Talks Hope, the Tension Between Art and Commerce, and Family

Interview with Drew Shirley of Switchfoot. Conducted on Tuesday, April 15, 2020.

Converge Media: Welcome to…this Converge Media Interview. One of the first ones that we’re doing in this new Converge era. I’m here with Drew Shirley of Switchfoot. How’s it going, Drew?

Drew Shirley: Hi, yeah, I’m well, I’m here in San Diego, California at home in the backyard right now.

I love it. Yeah, we would just like to acknowledge that at the time of this interview we are in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, which, depending on where you’re listening, could be still your reality or it could be a thing of the past but how’s it going with you in this lockdown and how are you making things work here?

So, I’m at home with four kids just like everyone, and I’m just kinda trying to figure out this new abnormal. It’s definitely challenging in a lot of ways, but I have a lot of friends who have it worse than me. I have good days and bad days, I think like everyone, I’m trying to sort out the news, trying to figure out where to get a good mindset from, not to be swayed, some kind of a balanced mindset, it’s kind of a tricky one to find. You know I’m just being honest, I have good days and bad days but overall family is healthy, we’re here, and you know, we’re gonna make it through this.

Yeah, we are, for sure. And is Switchfoot, or are you, part of any charities that are doing relief effort? 

Yes, for sure. So Switchfoot is doing some different relief efforts here in San Diego. We’ve partnered with Feeding San Diego because kids are in need of food that have been…the COVID-19 has just amplified that problem. Because a lot of these kids would eat at school, and now all the schools are shut down. So, it’s tough. Feeding San Diego is one of our partners and they’ve been adjusting and pivoting their model to get food to kids at home, to do drive-thru distribution, to do all kinds of really innovative things with the grocery stores and food outlets because of the Coronavirus. That’s one thing we’re doing, we raised money for that. We did something called The Home Food Challenge that you can look at online, where we just cooked a little something at home and told people to spread the word and give to Feeding San Diego.


I’m also involved in starting an artist relief series that’s coming up and we’re almost sure that the name will be Melody League Sessions which is (trying to) raise money (for) artists struggling during this crisis. So that’s something you can be on the lookout for as well. As we release new information, as we figure out how to respond as artists during this time, the voice and the platform that we’ve been given as Switchfoot, it’s all gonna be found on our socials and on

That’s good to hear. Alright moving out of a COVID-19 mindset, if we could imagine ourselves back in normal times. I guess we are you right now, just in your life, music-wise, family-wise, faith-wise. At this stage of your life and career, where do you find yourself?

That’s a great phrase, “this is where we find ourselves”. I’ve been contemplating that phrase and finding, trying to find myself as well. So…as I was telling you, before, when we were chatting, I have four kids, I have four daughters, proud girl dad. Anyways, it comes with a lot of growth, responsibility and humbling. Me personally, I’m learning that I need to step up in a lot of different areas. I think that being in a rock band and touring for a living can allow you to be immature and not responsible for things you should be and I think I’m just turning the corner…my wife could probably tell you more about that than me, personally, cause she sees it very clearly. I’m also, with God, you know you said if I could imagine a time without the Coronavirus, well that’s hard to do. But this crisis has definitely reminded me how unstable and quickly overturned a lot of our systems are.

Oh for sure.

So if you think about our economic system now entering into a kind of economic recession. If you think about our trust of media and society, our information channels have been challenged through this. You think about…the entertainment industry that I work in has gone through tremendous upheaval where I make money for my family playing large events well all large events are shut down. So…

Yeah, it changes things.

Yeah, it does, so I guess, where I go with that is that I’m being disentangled from my trust in the world systems and further strengthened in my trust in God, and I’ve been looking to God more and more in new areas of my life. 

I think that’s something that a lot of people are going through right now. Or at least, a lot of people of faith and kind of having to recalibrate… a lot of their paradigms about, you know, how do I fit in the world? How do I relate to God? Now that everything is shutting down..but it’s also kind of exciting I think God’s doing a lot of great things in a lot of people’s lives.

Absolutely. Hope shows up in this time, this is the time. This is it. We were made for times like this. If you’re a believer and you have hope this is where we show up, this is where we should respond and be lights in dark times. 

A hundred percent.

And hope is stronger than fear. And people will always fear, right now especially and probably more and more, the older we get, you realize there are more and more things to fear. When you’re a kid, you’re invincible.

There’s that innocence, for sure

“Nothing’s gonna hurt me.” And then you grow and maybe you just realize more in your life about how fragile life is, how there can be sickness and disease and accidents and evil, real evil in the world and it brings a sober sense of opportunity for fear and you have to realize and actively engage hope instead of allowing fear. Fear is easy, hope is harder. So it’s an active process.

That’s a great segue into my next question just talking about being a child and having that childlike innocence, being free from fear. I guess, as a younger man, what drew you into music and what drew you into making music and creative practice? Was it always something that you wanted or was it something that you discovered along the way.

I, as a person, have a tendency to just follow things that are happening and allow them to happen, sometimes to a fault. But that is how I got into music. I didn’t set my determination and forge my own path. I literally just kept doing what I was doing since college and I’m here doing this still today. I started playing music in high school, and then in college and things just kept opening and starting for me and I just kept, like, falling into it, I guess, for lack of a better word. Like I said, sometimes to a fault, I just allow things to happen. But yeah, with music, I was playing in another band, and I started another band, it was seven years old, then I met the Switchfoot guys and..that band broke up, it was called All Together Separate, Switchfoot asked me to start playing with them, you know at the time they were a smaller band, obviously than they are now, and I was like “Ok, yeah I’ll do that for a little while.” But then that turned into the last 16 years, playing with the band Switchfoot.


And you came in, I understand that you came in right after “Beautiful Letdown” in 2003, which was like, their…introduction to the world at large. They had those three albums previous to “Beautiful Letdown” but “Beautiful Letdown” is kind of the thing that put Switchfoot on the map. You came in after that. I guess my question is: as a band was there…where you trying to maintain that success or were you guys just moving on to the next thing? I guess, what’s the balance between trying to maintain success and the creative process as well? Is there a balance to be struck there?

Oh, there is. The tension between art, and then commerce, and faith, the intersection of those three things is where we find ourselves as Switchfoot, a lot.

That’s a fascinating intersection.

It really is because you don’t want to sell faith, that’s just messed up. Like, “Buy this because we’re…” that’s just not good. And you honestly don’t want to make art just to make money…

Then you’re just an entertainer, essentially.

The tension between art, and then commerce, and faith, the intersection of those three things is where we find ourselves…

Yeah, you’re just a sell-out. And people don’t even want that. They’re like, “Oh, that’s fake.” But you do have to find a way to support your family if you want to do this and not just kind of have it as a side hobby. How do we that? I honesty, we just continually pull on each of those three things. Faith. Art. Commerce. Like wait, let’s balance this way. It’s a struggle. It’s a tension.

Do you think the tension though is what creates the success in a lot of ways?

I do. I do. Our lead singer, Jon Foreman, really, kind of, navigates that tension well. Even in his lyrics, he’s good at speaking that out. And we live in it. We really do. We wrestle with decisions like, “Take this huge tour, you’ll make a million dollars.” And then Jon…this is an actual conversation and I’m not going to say which tour it was, cause I don’t wanna (have) business implications in this, but it was this big tour, they were gonna offer us a lot of money, and I actually said, “Why don’t we consider it?” And Jon was like, “It just depends how much your soul is worth.” 


Holy Crap

Like, you don’t wanna sell out.

Yeah, and I know exactly what he meant. All the money in the world isn’t worth doing something that we honestly aren’t feeling like, is ours to do.

Totally, it reminds me, that conversation, or that quote that you just said…I’m reminded of, in Song of Songs that verse that’s like, “if a man were to give for love all the wealth of his house he would be utterly despised.” And it’s like, what is the cost of, you know? Essentially all these things that we value like love and hope and our soul and authenticity and truth and there is no cost to those things, right? You can’t put a monetary value on those things.

Yeah, it’s the things that are unseen that are eternal.

Totally. Well for me, Beautiful Letdown, Nothing Is Sound and Oh! Gravity were formative albums in my middle school years, in terms of developing my music taste.

Ah, you’re making me feel old man.

Dude, yeah, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, those albums they formed…just a lot of my music taste and the lyrics…Oh! Gravity is my all-time favourite Switchfoot album…

Sick, yeah, I like that a lot.

Yeah, it was a great album. Still is a great album. Still great.

Still is? Thanks, man.

I guess there’s like, for me, I feel like there’s a specific energy that came with those albums, it was kind of like this, and a lot of your music still is, it was kinda contemplative but there was also this…aggression, if I had to define it. In the process of making those albums, did you feel like there was anything, and I guess in making any album, do you feel there’s a specific energy that goes into an album or, does each album have an identity, each project have an identity? Or are you guys just going with the flow?

No, they all have an identity. I can remember when we were recording Oh! Gravity, what was going on, where we were, what the vibe was, what the relationships were like, that’s what music does, it locks a moment in history, it kind of gives you that quick trip back in time…

It’s almost like a photograph, in that sense.

Yeah, it is. And that triggers a lot of things. Um, there was a lot of angst. There was definitely some tension, like I said, struggling with art and commerce. We were on major labels, they were wanting major singles and videos and we were on all the MTV, VH1 channels and all that…and all the late-night shows, we were doing, you know, David Letterman and who else was big, obviously, Conan and Jimmy Kimmel and all that. Yeah, so, each album has its own, I mean…we think of songs, kinda, like kids, and they kinda all have their own identity and they grow up. Some of them get lost along the way. They just go off and you never see them again, like, “What happened to that song?” “I don’t know.” 

Yeah, gone forever.

…that’s what music does, it locks a moment in history, it kind of gives you that quick trip back in time…

And some of them end up being world scholar type people, songs that go and speak to a lot of people. And you kind of just don’t know, like honestly, let’s just look at our biggest songs to date: “Dare You to Move” and “Meant to Live.” Those were written, like in Jon’s bedroom at 3 in the morning…and then boom, they just take off and have this life of their own, to where they speak to people all over the world. You just don’t know, that’s the cool thing about art. It can give voice to people who are looking for words to describe what they’re feeling. So the best song is the most honest one because if you’re honestly giving voice to a feeling you have, someone else is going to be able to pick that up and be like, “Yeah, that, me too, that’s exactly what…I was trying to say or feel and that song did it for me.”

That’s great, so if songs are like kids, and we could apply this to albums as well..broader projects, do you have a favourite Switchfoot child, album or song?

Yeah, I don’t know. It would depend on the day. I like, right now, because you mentioned Oh! Gravity, right, and I kinda forget what songs are on what albums…

Oh, I believe it.

Is Politicians on there, or Dirty Second Hands?

Um, I think that’s the one previous…Nothing is Sound. “Politicians” is on Nothing is Sound.

I loved that one. That one carried a lot of…sort of a triumphant rebellion which I think Rock and Roll expresses well. “Politicians.” Same with “Dirty Second Hands,” but yeah, I think right now…you know, it’s so hard to pick your favourite. Usually, it’s probably one of the newer ones. 

That’s a good segue. Where are you guys right now in terms of that sound that you are trying to create? The energy you’re trying to produce and put out there into the world, or the feelings, you talked about capturing feelings and putting them out there. What are you guys trying to do these days?

Well, right now our mantra, for lack of a better word, is for an album and thought is “Hope Deserves an Anthem.” 

Yeah, so Native Tongue is, for those listening, Native Tongue is the latest Switchfoot album, and you guys really doubled down on that theme, that you were talking about, Hope is the Anthem.

Yeah, and we feel like that album was made for a time like this, in our (world) and society and all the things going on around the world. And we’re still in that mindset of trying to really own the place and the voice we have to put that message out, because there’s only one you and there’s only one me, and there’s only one Switchfoot and we have a voice that can speak some things well and we’re trying to find the songs that only Switchfoot can sing and one of those themes is definitely “Hope Deserves and Anthem” and we want to be a band that is rallying the masses to sing that anthem together.

Shirley, right, pictured with Switchfoot lead singer, Jon Foreman.

That’s great. And I guess, you know, you don’t want to look too far into the future but, you guys have been going at this for a long time, Switchfoot has been 23 years, 11 albums, I guess, you don’t want to ask the question, “How long does this go on?” but where do you see you guys going into the future? Post-2020…

Yeah, we want to make music as long as we can. We have no shortage of songs, Jon is writing a lot of music, we have an archive vault of so many songs in our studio that aren’t out yet and new ones that are being worked on and written. My dropbox is full of songs and ideas. Where do I see us going?  We kind of take each album as a fresh start, as a new (phase). We don’t have the next four planned out, we basically just go, “Ok guys, do we still have something to say? If yes, let’s make that album.”

Then you say it.

And we do it. So currently we are making music we are planning to get out there and play it for people. We’re finding smarter ways to do that and care for our families because the touring life’s a hard life to sustain with families and kids.

How do you strike that balance? I mean a lot of people in the entertainment (industry), whether that’s sports, athletes, musicians, actors, you know there seems to be…it’ seems to be more difficult to strike that balance between family and career. But how do you do it personally?

Yeah so, for me it ended up being a mindset and taking responsibility for a place that I have in our family. For a while I kind of thought, “Well, I’m touring a lot. My wife’s at home. Let’s let her lead the home life.” And that just didn’t work well because she was doing all the practical stuff because I’m gone which is normal, I get that. But, in the responsibility mindset, she was shouldering more responsibility than she should, and I was not shouldering the responsibility that I should. And that’s a mindset, and she knew that and I knew that, and it was just this unbalanced, you know, I kinda have recently tried to bring that more into balance so now, even though I travel, maybe I’m gone physically to a tour, I’m still thinking as if I’m responsible for the things that I’m supposed to be responsible for at home. And processing those…

That’s awesome.

Yeah, so when we talk on the phone or when I’m home for the days off, or when the tour is over, I’m still in the place of proper relationship, or maybe just a little closer to a proper relationship. I can’t say that I have it right but, for me, that was a big part of it. Just that shifting mindset of owning the responsibility that I’m supposed to own and not kind of, just abandoning  and leaving to tour and having my wife shoulder more than she’s supposed to.

That’s awesome. I guess, continuing down this vein, Switchfoot aside, you personally, what are some of your passions or projects outside of music, outside of Switchfoot?

Yeah, so I work on the board of an organization called Wedgewood Circle. I run the music aspect of that group. It’s a group of high net worth investors that invest in arts and culture. So we fund projects…

That’s cool.

Yeah, it’s very cool. We fund projects in music, TV and film, and literature. And so I’ve had the opportunity to help artists along the way and help fund projects and bring money from investors and connect it to the patrons of the arts. And no one’s doing that, churches don’t do that much, they do some, uh, record labels don’t really fund like they used to. And so we’re finding new ways to actually help artists make records, make songs, make videos, make impactful things. I’m also…

And, sorry, and what’s the website for that?

Yeah, And so the Melody League Sessions I’m about to launch are going to be in a partnership with Wedgewood. We’re just finishing up and sorting out some of the details with how to use both things to help other bands, like, help other art to rise up.

That’s awesome.


That’s super cool.

Yeah. I love that. I have a mentor kinda heart, I want to build into other artists, I want to give away guitars and information and help other players, you know, pedals, and I geek out over gear. I love that kind of stuff…I’ve also been consulting a non-profit called Humans Against Trafficking, which is a really cool initiative here in San Diego, that is helping…prevent and protect people from human trafficking, which is a big problem that’s very subversive and hidden so we’re trying to do things to bring that more to light and to help and to prevent. 

That’s awesome, we’ll plug both of those in the interview, in the transcript.

Yeah definitely, and more info’s coming out on that this year, we’re working on some pretty cool stuff. 

I guess, you talk about Wedgewood and mentoring other musicians and…creatives and artists. What advice would you give to young musicians or young bands or young artists coming up?

Wow, well I want to go back to what I said about having your own voice. Look, there’s only one you. You need to say and speak things that you… don’t try and be someone else, you know. Artists spend a lot of time critiquing and analyzing our music and trying to sound like someone else or play like someone else, but if you are playing with all your heart, you got a unique voice that’s pure and people will connect with that. And it doesn’t have to be always happy or even always cool. Like, be the nerd musician that takes off and everybody loves, you know? I’m just giving an example cause like, “Oh, I don’t want to be nerdy,” but like, “well maybe you’re supposed to be.” Maybe that’s your voice.

Be that voice.

Look, there’s only one you… don’t try and be someone else.

That’s my voice, I’m the nerd voice. It’s like, you know what? I don’t care anymore, this is who I am. I hope that it connects with somebody. It’s not going to connect with everybody. Some people will not like what I have to play or say, and that’s ok because the world and the body that we’re a part of is bigger than just one part. The Bible puts it this way, “The ear can’t say to the foot, you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Yeah, “I don’t need you.”

I don’t need you, how can your ear say or foot say, “Well you don’t walk, or you don’t listen” you know, well we both need each other so get woke to the mindset of “We’re a part of a body.” We’re not just individual parts.

That’s great.

So realize that about you, yourself as a band and a musician. You don’t have to say everything in one song, you don’t have to be everything in one band. You’re a part of a bigger picture, and so like realize that and just play your part.

That is awesome. Drew it has been a pleasure. We’re gonna let you go, but this has been great and blessings on you guys as you continue to navigate this post-COVID world I mean, we’re believing that it’s going down, I believe the stats show that it is levelling out there in the States and starting to go down.

Yeah, it’ll pass.

It’ll pass and thank you for doing this interview, it’s been a pleasure, and taking time out of your day.

You’re welcome man. Here’s from San Diego, California. I want to thank you guys all for listening and for the people listening to our music and checking us out, we just appreciate you and I hope that we see you all soon.

Alright, keep doing what you’re doing.

 Alright man, thanks again.