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Drew Shirley is the unsung guitarist in Switchfoot. Unsung because since 2003 his fretwork has helped catapult Switchfoot into the consciousness of the many radio-rock fans whose preference is for melody and sing-along choruses. Since Shirley joined the band they have achieved Grammy nominations and an award (in 2011 for Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album), Billboard top-10 success and tours that take in the America’s, Europe, and according to Shirley, their strongest territory outside their native United States, Australia.
He joins the A List to discuss Switchfoot’s brand new album, Native Tongue, which will be available on January 18th, and other relevant subjects, particularly for the band’s Australian audience.
“Australia has been, I think our biggest overseas fan base. So, we’ve had an incredible relationship with Australia, like even from going back and getting the Soundwave festival where we went to a bunch of different cities and we’ve done our own tours. We’ve gone on surfing trips to the Sunshine Coast and we’ve been in Melbourne, in Brisbane and we’ve got friends all over Australia who we’ve kept in touch with over the years.”
That new album, Native Tongue, is sure to sate the desires of fans in Australia and abroad. However, it is an update on the band’s sound via the exclusion of a dominant guitar sound which has been replaced by a variety of keyboards and synths. This modification to the sound, it may have been done to take advantage of the shift in listener preferences for less guitars across modern pop, and bizarrely, even rock music, yet it is in no way a contrived strategy by the band to attract a broader audience. The title cut and “Voices” may even achieve heavy rotation on commercial radio.
“So, this album, we’ve reached more into keyboards than we ever have. A couple of albums ago we get a soundtrack album called Fading West (’14) and we decided to put the guitars down for a minute and see how that felt and we picked them back up again for the last record Where the Light Shines Through (’16). This one we actually had some friends produce with us. Instead of going with like a hot shot, really expensive producer, we reached out to some friends and in One Republic, Needtobreathe and another friend who plays with James Taylor. We had them speak into our songs and give us some ideas.
(The songs) “Native Tongue” and “Voices” were produced with the guys from One Republic and I think it shows because for us that’s really new, like we always play guitars on all our records, a lot more than we did on those two tracks.
I think you’re right, it’s going to be more radio friendly. We wanted to stretch out a little bit as far as pushing the envelope with things that we had done before and it’s just good for musicians to not get caught in a rut but to keep pushing yourself… keep changing… write on a different instrument or you know, push yourself to record in a different way or work with somebody different than you have before. It just, opens up creativity. Again. I don’t know. Something about that process that you just have to keep stretching to get creative.”
Does Shirley think terrestrial radio is still important? Or has the rise of podcasts, Spotify, Apple Music playlists and social media influences taken their place?
“Well, I think they’ve taken their place. Yeah… you could just look at the data and it’s just not reaching people like (radio) used to. It’s all streaming services now. And what’s interesting about that is that when you’re on a streaming service, people are choosing what songs they want to listen to or keep listening to. The metadata you get back from those services, it’s really interesting because you’re seeing data where someone actually thought, ‘I want to go listen to a Switchfoot song’ instead of just a radio programmer saying, ‘Alright, I’m going to feed this to all my listeners.’
Pre-order/ purchase Native Tongue from iTunes here.