Boston.com THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
ROCK NOTES

Switchfoot steps toward stardom

Rock 'n' roll frontmen can be a notoriously self-centered, me-first breed, so it's a welcome change to talk to Switchfoot singer Jon Foreman. His band is soaring with the modern-rock hit "Meant to Live," one of the more thought-provoking tunes on the radio.

In it, Foreman asks the disturbing question: "We were meant to live for so much more -- have we lost ourselves?" That's a long way from just wanting to party and pick up chicks. Call it a message against materialism.

"It means that yes, I do need money to eat, but I need more than just a new cellphone or a new car," says Foreman, whose band has emerged from the Christian-rock camp (it was nominated for three Dove awards a couple of years ago) to become bona fide stars on MTV, even though he and the members are not impressed with the typical trappings of success.

"We've never defined ourselves by how many records we sold," says Foreman. "It's doing our job passionately that concerns us the most."

The passion is evident on "Meant to Live," a grinding tune with distortion-laced guitar that flies out of your speakers. Some observers have called them a rip-off of Creed. There is a resemblance in that particular song, but the rest of Switchfoot's album, "The Beautiful Letdown," is a more expansive work that incorporates not only guitar rock but a wide body of music from synth-pop to yearning, Sting-like ambience. Many of the arrangements are quite intricate.

"I really appreciate records like the Beatles' `Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,' where you have a French horn on one song and a full orchestra on the next and everything is produced for the song. Many bands today, however, want songs that just sound the same, as if they were produced in the same box. But I feel the song is king and every track should be different," says Foreman, 27.

Switchfoot, which formed eight years ago at the University of California at San Diego and is named for a surfing term, is in the vein of other Christian-tinged acts from Lighthouse to U2. They do not preach on the album, however, preferring to state simple spiritual opinions and ask probing questions without lecturing, which is probably why the band has become so popular among mainstream listeners.

In "This is Your Life," Foreman sings, "Today is all you've got now/ Yesterday is dead and over/ This is your life, are you who you want to be?" In "Gone," he affirms the band's anti-materialism with the line, "Like Al Pacino's cash, nothing lasts in this life."

The hit "Meant to Live" was a reaction against T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" and Eliot's line, "We are the hollow men . . . We are the stuffed ones." Foreman wrote the song when he woke up one morning in his apartment on the beach in San Diego.

"Even though I wrote it in the third person, it's really about me," he confesses.

As for the Christian leanings of the band, he says, "For us, it's a faith, not a genre. We've always been very open and honest about where the songs are coming from. For us, these songs are for everyone. Calling us `Christian rock' tends to be a box that closes some people out and excludes them. And that's not what we're trying to do. Music has always opened my mind -- and that's what we want."

Hanging it up Quick Fix, one of Boston's best hard-rock bands, is calling it quits with a show tonight at the Middle East Upstairs. "This is it for us. Thank you for all of the love and support over the years," bassist Eric Donohue wrote in an e-mail this week. So what's up in the future? Donohue says he'll continue playing with Ad Frank and the Fast Easy Women. Singer Jake Zavracky is busy with a new solo project, and guitarist Eric Barlow is working on various musical endeavors. I always thought these guys were music lifers, so it's good to see them continue in the biz.

Still going Playing country-rock in these parts is never an easy task, but the Darlings are staying committed to it. "We hope to play more in Boston," says co-leader Simon Ritt. "We hope to do more shows at the Kirkland, and also at Sally O'Brien's, which has a honky-tonk night once a month." Tomorrow, the Darlings perform at Johnny D's in the 10:30 p.m. slot. If you haven't yet seen them but enjoy a good night of country-rock (with the emphasis on rock), then you're in for a treat. They also feature Kelly Knapp (known for her work in the Bristols) and guitarist Billy Loosigian, a major-league performer, who has been in the Nervous Eaters and is now back with Willie Alexander's Boom Boom Band. Ritt says he's also excited about sharing the Johnny D's bill with the Fritters. "They do a lot of hayride boogie songs and feature Betsy Nichols, who is originally from Nashville," he says. And here's a twist: The other act on the bill is the Irreverents, a Warren Zevon tribute band. Bits and pieces The Milky Way in Jamaica Plain will finally get a full liquor license later this month. . . . The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown has a winter music series, "Songs and Stories," starting with Garnet Rogers on Jan. 30, followed by Patty Larkin (Feb. 20), Gordon Bok (March 13), and Richard Shindell (March 26) . . . Improved singer-songwriter Dana Mier is at the Lizard Lounge next Wednesday. . . . A special "Night of the Chanteuse" is at Johnny D's Thursday featuring Leah Callahan and Christine Zuffery from All the Queen's Men performing a set of all Edith Piaf songs. . . . Tonight: Chicken Slacks Soul Revue at Johnny D's, Max Cherry at the Abbey Lounge, Sand Machine at the Middle East Downstairs, Bruce Marshall at the Black Horse Tavern, Freddie White at Springstep (across from Medford City Hall), and a reggae DJ battle at the Western Front. . . . Tomorrow: Jeremiah Freed and Asect at T.T. the Bear's Place, Dwele and Scratch (from the Roots) at the Middle East Downstairs, and Ken Selver and Mick Calaggero at O'Leary's Pub.

© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company