In December of 2006, my uncle gave me my very first CD as a Christmas gift. The album was The Beautiful Letdown by Switchfoot. By the time I had cracked the jewel case open, dropped the disc into my CD player, and listened to the first three notes of the spellbindingly stereophonic guitar riff that begins the first track on the album, “Meant to Live,” I was hooked.
Within days, I had memorized the lyrics to every track on the album. Shortly thereafter, my parents noticed that I had sharpied quotes from Switchfoot’s frontman, Jon Foreman, on my brand new converse. It should come as no surprise that when my mom drove me to Joplin, MO for my first concert, it was to see Switchfoot (ironically, GigSalad’s own Matt Holland was also at that concert and now we jam out to Switchfoot together in the GigSalad van during work trips).
I’ve always enjoyed interviewing our guests on The GigSalad Greenroom Interviews, but it would be an understatement to say that Switchfoot has a special place in my heart. Switchfoot helped me through some of my most tumultuous times growing up. Anytime I felt like giving up on my dream of becoming a musician, “Dare You to Move” kept me going. Anytime I began to feel purposeless, Jon Foreman reminded me that “… we were meant to live for so much more…” Anytime depression began to darken my perception of the world, Switchfoot would remind me that “The Shadow Proves the Sunshine”.
So when I finally got the chance to interview Switchfoot’s pianist and guitarist, Jerome Fontamillas, coming up with questions was no trouble at all. Keeping my cool, however, proved to be a bit more challenging.
GigSalad: Jerome! How are you?
Jerome Fontamillas: I’m great, man!
GS: You’ve been with Switchfoot how many years now?
JF: I would say probably around 17 years.
GS: You toured with Switchfoot before actually joining the band, correct?
JF: I did. That’s why I said ‘probably around 17 years,’ because I was just a touring musician with them, playing background. Then they decided they should probably put me in the band. [laughs]
GS: So how did you get that gig, touring with the band?
JF: This is a really funny story, but I was in other bands before — like local bands. When they were starting out, we would play together locally, in Southern California, and so I got to know them real well. But I decided to stop music and work a nine-to-five job. I got a job in downtown LA: filing and faxing data entry. And Jon [Foreman] calls me up and says, ‘Hey, do you want to play with us? We’re looking for a keyboard player.’ And I told him no, because I just got this job in LA. Then the second day on the job, on my lunch break, I hated it, so I called Jon back and said, ‘Do you still need a keyboard player?’ And he said, ‘Yes! Yes, please come by!’ So that afternoon, I quit my job.
GS: What do you think would have happened if you didn’t call Jon back and you stuck with the nine-to-five?
JF: I would probably be hating life working nine-to-five at a data entry level in LA! [laughs] I’ve always wondered that — would I have stuck it out? I really did not like my job… I probably would have been doing music and getting paid minimally instead of working at this office job.
GS: Switchfoot, is a surfing term, correct?
JF: Yes! If you know a little bit about surfing, it’s just to change the direction of your stance on a surfboard. So if you’re one stance, you switch it to the other stance.
GS: Is that an analogy for something?
JF: Three of the guys in Switchfoot grew up surfing, so they wanted to bring a little bit of that into their music and into their life. So ‘Switchfoot’ was just a natural term to use.
GS: Who in the band fits the laid-back surfer image best?
JF: That’s really funny! We’re very driven, so we’re not as laid-back as you would think. But I think it’s because it’s the musician in us — to do music and really want to get your music out there. Although, I do have to say, surfing is a big part of the band and three of the guys are avid surfers, so they do go out surfing to clear their heads… we have this thing called the BRO-AM and we do this concert and surfing on the beach to raise awareness for homeless kids.
GS: BRO-AM has been a pretty big part of Switchfoot’s image for most of the time the band has been around, right?
JF: Yes! Yes, we started that at least 13 years ago.
GS: How did BRO-AM get started?
JF: We recorded this album called The Beautiful Letdown and we actually started getting exposed to a lot of people. That album did really well for us. During that time, we wanted to, in a way, give back to the community that has helped us from the beginning, and San Diego is where we’re from. It’s a way of us giving back to the community that has supported us all these years. So we decided to start this thing to raise awareness [for] a lot of the homeless kids, because there’s a big homeless population in San Diego. And that’s basically how it got started. We wanted to incorporate a lot of the things that we are into, like surfing and music, so we put that into this event. Literally, it’s grown huge since then.
GS: After The Beautiful Letdown came out, when Nothing Is Sound was released, there was a little bit of a legal controversy about copy protection. Can you tell us what happened?
JF: It was happening to all of the bands in Columbia / Sony records at the time. Apparently, they were putting this spyware on the CDs and they weren’t telling the bands about it, and that’s where the controversy happened. You’re selling your CDs to all of your fans, but at the same time, these CDs have all of this spyware in there. It really was a big downer. The moment it was exposed, which was barely a few months after our album came out, they had to stop selling all of these CDs because it was exposed that there was this spyware on all of these CDs. It was a huge mess… the label had to recall all of those CDs and that really stopped the momentum of the album.
GS: So now I can’t help but wonder, have you ever gotten busted for — or gotten away with — doing something illegal yourself?
JF: Let me think… I have always gotten busted. [Laughs] I’ve gotten a lot of parking tickets. You know, as a band member, you’re going to downtown LA or downtown San Diego, and there’s no place to park! And sometimes you just have to park in the bad part and get the parkings tickets.
GS: If that’s the worst thing you’ve ever done, you’re probably doing okay.
JF: [Laughs] Well I’ve had to shell out a bunch of money, but yeah. I’m grateful that it hasn’t gotten any worse.
GS: So no speeding tickets or anything like that?
JF: I haven’t gotten any speeding tickets myself. I’m not going to say who in the band, but they have had a lot of speeding tickets and I want to say they have a warrant for their arrest in certain states. I’m not going to say who though. [Laughs] It might get to the police.
GS: Can you tell us what they play?
JF: [Laughs] Well, they play a lot of instruments. I can’t say who. It’s actually really funny.
GS: Who’s the worst driver in the band?
JF: Well, it’s funny because from the very beginning when I joined the band, Chad [Butler] drove a lot. We were in a van, so we would have to drive overnight to the next gig, and there were times where I would be in the passenger side looking at him, seeing that his eyes were almost closed. That’s scary.
GS: What’s the best piece of advice that you could give to someone who’s trying to get to where you are in your career right now?
JF: Being a musician and being in a band is not for everyone. If you don’t like traveling and if you don’t like leaving your hometown, it’s probably not going to be for you. And advice number two is, you really have to like what you’re doing. If you don’t like playing your music or playing your instrument, again, it’s definitely not for you.
Switchfoot’s 14th annual BRO-AM beach fest will be held on June 30th. A benefit party will be held on June 28th to celebrate San Diego’s local youth organizations. Tickets for both events can be purchased here.
For more information about Switchfoot, BRO-AM, and the causes they support, just click here.