Seven years into their career, Switchfoot were only beginning their legacy.
On Feb. 25, 2003, the rock group released their fourth album, The Beautiful Letdown. The project marked their first on a mainstream record label, Columbia Records, an "interesting" move in frontman Jon Foreman's eyes because the album was "so spiritually driven." A Christian band at heart, Switchfoot had released their first three albums through Universal Music Group's Christian imprints Re:Think and Sparrow Records — and it was time for mainstream audiences to hear their message.
Though the album wasn't an instant success — it debuted at No. 85 on the all-genre Billboard 200 albums chart — The Beautiful Letdown has undoubtedly become Switchfoot's staple record and spawned hit singles "Meant to Live" and "Dare You To Move" (the latter of which got a second life after initial placement on their third LP, 2000's Learning to Breathe). That a Christian rock band broke through while the likes of 50 Cent and a newly solo Beyoncé dominated was inspiring to many up-and-coming acts.
Twenty years later, some of those artists have left their own stamp on The Beautiful Letdown. Out Sept. 15, The Beautiful Letdown (Our Version) [Deluxe Edition] is a 25-track reimagining of Switchfoot's breakthrough album featuring re-recordings by the band themselves, as well as covers from hitmakers Jonas Brothers, Twenty One Pilots, Jon Bellion and more.
"We weren't so sure about it. I mean, it's a strange thing to do, revisit songs that you crafted when you were so much younger," Foreman says of the concept, which was first pitched to the band by some close friends. "But the idea was intriguing — what these heroes and friends of ours would turn these songs into if they were given complete control."
As Foreman recalls, the group initially planned on having the reimagined tracks be an EP. But before they knew it, every track on the album — including a B-side, "Monday Comes Around" — was spoken for.
Calling the project "a true honor," Foreman also notes that hearing artists his band inspired put their own spin on The Beautiful Letdown has brought new life to the songs. Like Bellion's version of "Meant To Live," which Foreman listened to while watching the sunrise in Perth, Australia: "I had tears in my eyes hearing this song that I've played a thousand times as if I was hearing it for the first time."
Below, eight of the artists who were part of The Beautiful Letdown reimagining — Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, Noah Gundersen, Adam Young of Owl City, Sloan Struble of Dayglow, Ingrid Andress, Ryan O'Neal of Sleeping At Last, Matt Thiessen of Relient K, and Caleb Chapman of Colony House — detail how their cover came together, and the impact that Switchfoot has made on their own careers.
Why did you choose to cover the song you did, and why is it important to you?
Ryan Tedder, OneRepublic: ["Dare You To Move"] came out right when I was trying to figure out if I wanted to be a solo artist or start a band. There hadn't been a lot of alternative-sounding bands that were having success in the mainstream, but still felt cool to me and authentic and had actual messages to their music. Also, they were raised in the church like I was. I didn't want to be a CCM [contemporary Christian music] artist because it felt too limiting, and Switchfoot was a group that I knew came from the same background, but was having success in the mainstream with just great music.
That song came out at exactly the time I needed to hear it. Even the message behind "Dare You to Move." I was so nervous about moving to L.A. for the first time. That song came out and I literally picked up and moved. That song has a lot of meaning to me.
Noah Gundersen: "Dare You To Move" was already taken! "This Is Your Life" has one of those timeless radio rock choruses that feels both familiar and brand new every time you hear it. I also think the sentiment of being responsible for your own happiness really resonates with me.
Adam Young, Owl City: I really relate to the fact that the physical things on planet Earth that we as humans desire are ephemeral. Fame, wealth, beauty, success… those can make you happy for a time, but none will ultimately satisfy you because they don't last forever. I think the point of "Gone" is that the only thing that does last forever is your soul, so ensuring that you store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust can't get at them, is an enduring piece of wisdom. It's a truth that inspires me.
Sloan Struble, Dayglow: When I was about 5 years old, my older brother showed me Switchfoot. I'd listen to his (probably illegally burned) copy of The Beautiful Letdown every day on his portable CD player. I remember thinking this record just embodied "cool."
"Adding to the Noise" was always a favorite to me because of its stick-it-to-the-man undertone. What 5-year-old doesn't love poking fun at consumerism and big tech?
Ingrid Andress: The guys actually picked “On Fire” for me to sing — it worked out great, because that's one of my favorite songs on the album. It's such an emotionally vulnerable song, and I've always been drawn toward that kind of music. I remember singing along to it in my room when I was growing up, so it was a really amazing full-circle moment for me when Jon asked me to sing it!
Ryan O'Neal, Sleeping At Last: When Jon called to invite me to sing on "Monday Comes Around," I think I blurted out a "yes" before he finished asking. I am a forever Switchfoot fan. "Monday Comes Around" is a great song with a gorgeous melody and I was beyond honored to be welcomed into the reimagining of it!
Matt Thiessen, Relient K: Switchfoot requested that we cover "Ammunition" specifically. However, [Relient K's lead guitarist Matt] Hoopes and I were talking about it in the car the other day, and we said we would have picked it over any other number from TBL. I always loved the energy of the song. It has a tinge of pop-punk flavor that especially appealed to me at the time the album was released.
Caleb Chapman, Colony House: Well, I got a phone call from Jon asking if we'd be up for recording "Redemption" specifically, so the song chose us, I suppose. We just couldn't believe we were going to get to be part of such an iconic project celebrating an album that impacted our whole band so profoundly.
Any fun memories from reimagining the song and/or recording it?
Tedder: I recorded on a tour bus, so my most fun memory was that we had to turn the air conditioning off. It was in the summer and we were in Texas or something. We had to kill the generator so there wouldn't be the sound of an engine running in the background. I probably lost three pounds from sweating while I was recording the song because it was unbearably hot. We were trying to keep the laptop from overheating and all my gear from shutting down. It was kind of a feat to pull that off [Laughs].
Gundersen: It was a lot of fun digging through the original stems for this tune. Hearing Jon's solo'd vocals, along with some of the cool and weird little ear candy that got buried in the original mix. Imagining what the process was for each one of those little parts, knowing that they are all significant in their own way.
Young: I recorded a lot of random objects around my house and cut them up into tiny microscopic samples and used them as layers in the drum sounds on the track. Silverware, door handles, ice chunks, an antique Victrola. I cut down most of the sounds I recorded and only left the attack in each sample. This left me with a palette of extremely short click sounds that made great layers for snare drums, kick drums, clap sounds, etc. I had a lot of fun with this during the recording process.
Struble: Tim [Foreman, Switchfoot's bass guitarist] and I met through a mutual friend, and we got to hang out for the first time in San Diego while I was passing through on tour. That was the first time I ever went surfing, and it was with a childhood hero of mine. If that wasn't already an epic day enough, he asked me after if I'd want to cover a song for the record. It was such a personal full-circle, mind-blowing moment.
Andress: I just remember thinking the whole time Sam Ellis and I were making it, "Don’t f— it up. Don’t f— it up." The song was already perfect. I'm glad we found a way to still keep the integrity of the song while adding my own spin on it. Once I got past the nervous part, I had so much fun diving in!
O'Neal: It was an instant joy to get to sing. Jon and Tim recorded the track and I couldn't help but smile during my entire vocal recording session.
Thiessen: Oh yes. First of all, the assignment was a catalyst for Relient K getting together for the first time in over a year. What a gift. We were able to rehearse and record in conjunction with Dark Horse Academy in Franklin, Tennessee. Basically, there were students helping, observing, and hanging throughout pre-production and the recording. We had a blast working in that environment. We also used the opportunity to record an additional cover of Switchfoot's song, "Home," from their Legend Of Chin LP.
Chapman: Funny enough, we were in the studio working on some music to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of our first album, When I Was Younger, when I got the call from Jon. It was perfect timing because we were already in the headspace of looking back fondly on the music that has brought us to where we are today.
What does Switchfoot and their music mean to you?
Tedder: I think aspirational is the term. They were a great, cool band with huge, cool songs right when I needed an example of just that to justify my own pursuit. Obviously I'm a fan of U2 and the Beatles and a lot of bands from decades before me, but Switchfoot was early 2000s — right when I was like, What do I do with my life? Can you be successful in a band in 2003 and what would it sound like? I needed a band like that at that exact moment in time.
Gundersen: Growing up in a conservative religious home, Switchfoot was one of those bands who's message and identity was just vaguely Christian enough so as not to scare my highly sensitive parents, while still being far enough outside of the bland vanilla Christian music industry to actually be interesting. And the hooks are undeniable. There's also a kind of innocent hopefulness of the early 2000s that The Beautiful Letdown in particular seems to embody.
Young: I have fond memories of Switchfoot's music all the way back 20 years ago. I was in high school at the time The Beautiful Letdown came out, and I remember I'd just gotten my first car. Having my own car meant my world got exponentially bigger, and I rejoiced at the new freedom made available to me. I listened to Switchfoot's music a lot in that car, and when I think back to that season of my life, which was very pivotal, I always think of Switchfoot.
Struble: There was a time in my life when Switchfoot was one of three bands, probably, that I knew existed on the planet. Their music is just so core to my childhood and my upbringing. It lives deep in my brain. I've been a fan always, but it won't ever not feel nostalgic to me no matter what new music they make — it's like watching grunge-Mister Rogers or something for me. It will always remind me of learning to skateboard in my driveway and just being a little prepubescent punk.
Andress: I grew up in a conservative family that only allowed me to listen to Christian music. I would get so bored with all of it, so when Switchfoot came on the map, it truly changed my world sonically. A Christian band that plays cool rock music? I mean, come on. That was pretty different at the time, so it gave me inspiration to think outside the box when it comes to genres.
O'Neal: Back in 2000, Sleeping At Last had the privilege of being the opener at a Switchfoot show at a small venue in Illinois. Already a fan of their work, it was a huge opportunity to get to open up for a band I so admired. They were instantly lovely to me and my band and in some miracle of kindness, [Switchfoot's drummer] Chad Butler videotaped our set and shared it with his friends at record labels.
I was — and still am — entirely blown away by such kindness to share some local band's music with others. A few years later, Switchfoot was sweet enough to extend an invitation to open up for them on their Beautiful Letdown US Tour. It was a first-ever Sleeping At Last tour and was such a pivotal and wonderful experience.
Forever grateful to the Switchfoot family for their friendship over the years, and the incredibly generous encouragement they've given from the start of Sleeping At Last. To have the encouragement of your heroes is such a rare and special gift.
Thiessen: We met the guys in a gymnasium in Toledo back in '97. I can still remember the warmth in their eyes as they approached us and shook our hands for the first time. I've never known a band that are as kind, loving, and nourishing to everyone they touch. They've impacted RK and my life more than I'll ever know.
Getting to play shows, festivals, and entire tours with them, while watching them intensely impact the world, has to be one of the most gratifying blessings of God that I've ever witnessed. I am so honored to be their friend and a big fan.
Chapman: I could write a book with this kind of prompt. Since my brother and I were kids, we have dreamed of being in a band together. When Switchfoot's first album came out, my dad brought it home, put it in the CD player, and explained that there were two brothers in the band and that they made rock 'n' roll music!
About a year later, we ran into Jon, Tim and Chad at a mall in Nashville and got to meet them and tell them that they were our favorite band. Fast forward to The Beautiful Letdown... I had a pre-release copy of the album and remember being in the locker room before PE class one day asking all my friends if they knew who Switchfoot was. Most of my friends had not heard of them yet. To anyone who said no, I simply responded with, "You will know who they are soon."
Each one of us in the band has unique and powerful memories attached to this album and to this band. We are honored to now call Switchfoot friends and mentors. They have led a life and career full of artistic and personal integrity that has laid the groundwork that so many of us have tried to emulate. Their kindness is their legacy, and their intentionality is like a superpower. Their music is a reflection of their heart: bold, uncompromising, disarming, and powerful. You know what they say, right? "Never meet your heroes" — unless it's Switchfoot.
What is your favorite Switchfoot song and why?
Tedder: "Dark Horses" because it's an underdog anthem and I've felt like an underdog my whole life.
Gundersen: "Dare You To Move." As a kid who struggled with depression and anxiety, this song was a sort of self-talk anthem for me. I think it instilled something in me and my own music, something about the duality of hope and struggle and one's own choice in how to engage with life. This feels like the essence of Switchfoot: hope, pain, and potential.
Young: I'd have to say "Chem 6A." It was the first Switchfoot song I heard back in 1997, and I remember learning it on guitar. Memories like that are priceless to me.
Struble: I freaking love "Gone." I was hooked after the first time I heard that for years. And the fact that Owl City is covering it! That is so satisfying to me. Owl City and Relient K were both bands that I admired alongside Switchfoot, so to be on this record with them is just beyond special to me. I don't think I'll ever acknowledge it as reality! Maybe it's not, who knows!
Andress: It's hard to pick, but "This Is Your Life" is probably my favorite Switchfoot song. It gave me a sense of agency over my life when I was growing up and how important it is to be present in the moment. It was pretty high-concept for me at 10 years old, but it inspired me to go after things in life because it's the only chance we have to do it.
O'Neal: There are so many that I adore, but "Only Hope" is one of my favorite songs of all time. A rare song where every single element feels in its right place. The production somehow feels intimate and expansive at the same time, and the lyrics express a deeply personal and yet completely universal story. This song perfectly captures what Switchfoot does best.
Thiessen: "The Shadow Proves The Sunshine" is definitely one of 'em. "Company Car" always makes me really happy. I'm not a big "favorite" picker, but Switchfoot as a whole is definitely one.
Chapman: It's an impossible question. Too many songs over too many years. Switchfoot is not just another band to us. It goes deeper than what is our favorite song. In our eyes, their career is an arch that doesn't exist without every piece playing its part. Every song serves a purpose, and without it, the arch collapses. That's what makes them different. That's what makes them Switchfoot.
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