Christian band Switchfoot seeks fans' help

Mon Oct 30, 2006 4:31am EST

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NASHVILLE (Billboard) - In recording Switchfoot's new project, "Oh! Gravity," the lead vocalist with the Christian rock group says part of the goal was to erase the boundary between artist and audience. So the band devised ways to make the fans part of the process.

"In music, the band is only half of the equation," says JonForeman. "The other half is the listening public. The word fan is awkward . . . For me, it's a partnership."

Switchfoot's "partners" were able to get an up-close look at the making of the album via a 24-hour webcam that allowed viewers access to the recording sessions. The band even ran a special contest on its MySpace page.

"The band started really marketing the record six or eight months ago with a cowbell contest where a fan could win the opportunity to play the cowbell on one song," says Bob Semanovich, Columbia Records VP of marketing. "They had 22,000 entries." The winning fan got to play on "Amateur Lovers."

"Oh! Gravity," which hits stores December 26, is the San Diego-based band's sixth studio album and its third for Columbia. The band is also distributed to the Christian market through EMI Christian Music Group. Switchfoot's first Columbia effort, "The Beautiful Letdown," has sold 2.6 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, spawning the hits "Meant to Live" and "Dare You to Move." Last year's "Nothing Is Sound," has sold 549,000 units.

That's a respectable number, but sales of "Nothing Is Sound" were hurt when it was one of 15 Sony CDs recalled because digital rights management software on the discs raised security concerns. That's one of the reasons Foreman and his bandmates -- brother Tim Foreman, Jerome Fontamillas, Drew Shirley and Chad Butler -- wanted to ensure "Oh! Gravity" had such a fan-friendly launch. "The whole cowbell contest was about how do we blur the line between who we are as a band and the people who listen to us," Foreman says.

"Oh! Gravity" contains the same caliber of thought-provoking, articulate lyrics that the band has become known for, but the new album -- produced by Tim Palmer (U2, Pearl Jam, the Cure) -- rocks harder and has a more aggressive sound. Such songs as the title track and "American Dream" have an edgy, punk-rock intensity, while "30 Second Hands" boasts an alt-country rock vibe.

The band is currently on tour, with a date set for Monday in Columbus, Ohio.

"Financially, it makes more sense to tour after the album is released -- and we'll do that, too," Foreman says, "but we were just itching to get out on the road and play these new songs."

Reuters/Billboard

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