Switchfoot invades Cabooze Plaza: a conversation with guitarist Drew Shirley

Grammy Award-winning band on tour as part of Tour de Compadres stops in Minneapolis on Friday, June 24.


Chris Burkard

Photo by Chris Burkard, courtesy of BB Gun Press.

Paul Patane, Senior Reporter

After sixteen years, nine studio albums, and a stack of awards, San Diego-based rock band Switchfoot has played all over the world and throughout the Twin Cities, including at First Avenue and Target Center. Next up, they hit the Cabooze on Friday, June 24 with fellow groups NEEDTOBREATHE, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors and Colony House.

In addition to playing packed concert venues and having sold over 5.5 million albums, Switchfoot is actively engaged in the San Diego community by raising money for children in need through their annual Bro-Am competition.

Taking a brief break from their tour while in Portland, Oregon, guitarist Drew Shirley had a chat with The Oracle to talk many things, including music, the band’s 2013 documentary Fading West, and their upcoming concert at the Cabooze.


Oracle: As a band that’s been around since the twentieth century, you guys have played all over the world with a slew of different acts in various formats in diverse venues. How has your tour with NEEDTOBREATHE as part of the Tour de Compadres compared to tours you’ve done in recent years, and what makes this tour in particular unique for Switchfoot?

Drew Shirley: That’s right, we have been around since the 1900’s. This tour is something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time. The NEEDTOBREATHE guys have been friends of ours for a long time, but we’ve never had the right timing to tour together. Now in our career, we’ve done a lot of tours. We’ve played for about fifteen years, and I’ve seen the whole country, and the world, and we have learned to appreciate the people. For a while, when I was a little younger, I would just be ahh I’ve never been to Portland before, or I’ve never been to Minneapolis before, but now I’ve been to all those places, and it’s just all about the people. There’s a great camaraderie on this tour. We have brothers in three of the four bands, and that’s kind of rare. It’s also very refreshing to be with such good music and such great musicians and such good friends.


O: There are some unique opportunities available for audience members through Tour de Compadres, such as the ability to purchase tiered VIP packages that allow concertgoers to experience things like getting photos taken with all the acts involved, laminates and even exclusive songs being played backstage. What’s it like being able to give that kind of individualized and unique attention to hardcore fans?

DS: It’s awesome. We love meeting people. We’ve heard some great stories and really get to meet people in that capacity. You always hear some great stories, and people bring letters that allow you find out how much your songs have meant to people, which is so life-giving to us because that’s why we do what we do. We want the music to get out there and impact people like it has impacted us. We see those meet and greets as a real gift to us as well as a gift to the people who buy them because we get to hear those stories.


O: As a band that clearly identifies with surfing, southern California and San Diego in particular, what would you like a Midwestern resident to take away from seeing Switchfoot live for the very first time at the Cabooze in Minneapolis?

DS: Music means so many different things to so many different people. Everyone takes away something different, but for us, we just want people to experience the music. You know, every time we do our show we kind of mix up set lists, and Jon will change songs in the middle of the show or the middle of the set, we never stick to it. We never stick to our set list. We want people to experience the honesty, and the source of where our songs, of where it was written, and comes from live. There’s a real bond that happens with an audience and with the band when you see them live. It’s something really special. It’s like a conversation really, that happens. I think we just want people to experience the music and let themselves, let their guard down, and experience the music.


O: As a testament to how rooted you are in the San Diego and surfing communities, you hold a special event every year called Bro-Am. Can you share what makes the event so special and what Switchfoot aims to do through it each year?

DS: Bro-Am just happened last week and it was awesome. It was epic. What makes Bro-Am so special is that it’s a surf contest and concert on the beach, but it’s all to help kids in San Diego. The community really rallies together, and comes together for this event. We had 13,000 people out on the beach and we’ve raised over a million dollars. We feel like we are just a catalyst for that event, we’re just a funnel that takes the money and gives it to a good cause. We’re very blessed to be able to have such great sponsors and the bands that play, all play for free. The Bro-Am, we started eleven years ago and it’s gotten better and bigger every year. So much so we started our own music school because of it. All of that together is something that I feel very lucky to be able to do. I feel like it’s a real gift that when we started that, that it actually worked, it actually happened, and it’s actually helping people and that it’s grown to be such a force. I just feel lucky to be a part of it.


O: A couple years ago, your band shot a raw and informative documentary while you were on a world tour which provided a rare and thorough glimpse into the life of the band. What was it like being so intimate and open with the public and has that documentary experience changed how fans and concertgoers identify with your music and yourselves as individual artists?

DS: We filmed Fading West a few years ago. When we put it out as a documentary, I think it changed the way people saw us because they never had such a behind the scenes, honest look at the band. It was the most revealing kind of piece we ever put out. It made people feel like they knew us a little bit more. They kind of became friends with us, in a way. It was difficult to put that out for us because we had to decide just how much we wanted to share with people and where we were going to draw that boundary. Especially when something happens like Jon’s daughter has to go into the hospital. That’s kind of private information so we really struggled with whether or not to put that out. We decided to do it because our hope is that if we live our lives openly and if we live our lives like we live our music, which is the most honest song is the best song, then the most honest documentary would be the best documentary. We tried to put as much honesty into it as we could and we feel like people now know us a lot better.


O: You initially played with Switchfoot as a touring member before being added as a permanent band member. What do you think you’d be doing today if you weren’t part of the group?

DS: That’s a great question, man. There was a little period of time where I didn’t know if I was ever going to play music for a living again. I’ve got my teaching credentials. I’ve always really liked teaching music. My mom was a music teacher. I think I might either teach music or help with special-needs kids. My younger brother has Down syndrome, so I’ve always grown up feeling like I could help and be a part of helping special-needs people.


O: Back when you joined Switchfoot, the band wasn’t topping the charts quite yet and had yet to win a Grammy. Looking back, what do you think is the biggest difference between your time as a touring member and where the group is at now in terms of both music and collaboration?

DS: When I joined the band we were just about to release the album called The Beautiful Letdown. The band was just playing 300 person clubs. It was very small and we were just touring as a start-up rock ‘n roll band. That album came out right when I joined the band and it was crazy, it was like a whirlwind. Those years were so busy and the band went through a lot. We played festivals and TV shows and toured around the world. We were really learning what our voice was. The album, The Beautiful Letdown, set a precedent that we were a large stage band, a band that could play to a mass amount of people, and have something to say to a mass amount of people. Since then, we’ve found that the anthemic songs are our favorite. The anthems that lots of people can sing and lots of people can relate to, and the sounds that welcome a lot of people to listen. That anthemic sound has become something that’s grown pretty strong since I’ve joined the band.  And we’ve just gotten stronger together as brothers.


O: Do you have a favorite guitar you’ve owned?

DS: Oh yeah, of course. The first real guitar I got was a Fender Strat. A friend of mine worked a deal for me to get it straight from Fender. You know, Fender is in Corona, California, which is not far from where we live in San Diego. So that Fender Strat, I bought it as a custom shop guitar from a friend and later found out that it was not a custom shop guitar. He just [laughter] had some friends of his put together spare parts and then just tell me it was a custom shop guitar when it really wasn’t. I kind of got duped on that one but I still love the guitar, still have it and still play it in studio.


O: Switchfoot has played several venues across Minnesota and the Twin Cities in particular, including First Avenue and Target Center. Do you have a favorite Switchfoot in Minnesota memory that you can recall?

DS: I do. There used to be a club called the Quest and I think it closed down or changed names [the Quest was replaced by Epic, which is now closed]. But this club called the Quest, we had played there many times over the years. One year we were coming in to play, and it was snowing and there was snow everywhere. And we were trying to push our gear across the snow [laughter] and it was a mess. It was just a mess because we’re from California, and I think the thickest jacket I brought was like a denim jacket. So I was freezing and I had to go out and buy a bigger jacket and some gloves. But I remember pushing our gear into the back of that club, and getting in the club, and there was this like kind of lightening, circular lightening-looking wall piece in the club, like electricity would shoot through it or something. It was a cool looking art piece, and the show was so insane and so exciting. It was just like man, I’ll push our gear anywhere to play music. I decided yeah, it doesn’t matter, I’ll push our gear and load it through the snow, I don’t care, as long as we can play for people it’s worth it.

For more information about Switchfoot,Tour de Compadres and the show at the Cabooze, visit: http://www.cabooze.com/event/777127-needtobreathe-minneapolis/ .