March 22, 2019 Interview – Jerome Fontamillas of Switchfoot
For over 20 years, Switchfoot have prided themselves on bringing a sense of hope with their music. From their big emergence into the mainstream spotlight with their 2003 album The Beautiful Letdown, to the experimentation of 2014’s Fading West, and most recent diversity of Native Tongue, they have continuously moved forward. Sometimes a conscious effort to challenge themselves, but always a natural progression, Switchfoot has not only been truth with their listeners, but most importantly, themselves.
A band of family and friends, together they are back out on the road this spring touring North America with an energy that is not only explosive, but also, hopeful. Taking the time to chat, Keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas sat down to recollect his near 20 year position with Switchfoot, how time off helped them with the creation of Native Tongue, defeating cancer, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – Switchfoot has been going strong for over two decades now. Having commercial success, achieving highly charted records, and partaking in extensive touring, the band has reached great heights. First, briefly tell us, what has the journey been like for you in your time with the band?
Jerome Fontamillas – When I wanted to do music when I was little kid, I felt, it would be awesome to play in a band. To be able to play in a band, and doing it for 20 years, you never think that’s going to happen. I am really grateful for the opportunity to be able to do that.
Cryptic Rock – It truly is a great thing. What has always stood out about Switchfoot is the band’s ability to evolve musically. Having been a part of the band for nearly 20 years yourself, how would you describe the evolution?
Jerome Fontamillas – We are 5 guys in a band with different musical tastes who come from different musical backgrounds. The common core is that we love music, we love melody, and we love music that moves people. That comes out in the writing process; we’re always pushing ourselves to write music that we believe in and to write music that we ourselves would die for. I think with every album you push yourself to write the best kind of songs that you can.
Cryptic Rock – Most certainly. Speaking of everyone coming from different backgrounds, prior to Switchfoot, you were a part of the Industrial Rock scene.
Jerome Fontamillas – Yea! My roots come from a more Industrial Rock and heavier Rock genre. It was an easy move going into Switchfoot because the song is key. I’m able to bring those type of elements into Switchfoot in a way, a more creative way, and I think that really helped out a lot with the band.
Cryptic Rock – The evolution of Switchfoot continues with the band’s most recent record, Native Tongue. An album that is a full wall of sound, what was the writing and recording process like?
Jerome Fontamillas – It was different on this one compared to our previous albums, because we took almost 1 1/2 years off before doing this album. Obviously as a musician, you are always thinking music, and I guess going into the studio and recording these songs, there was all these pent up ideas; you just want to throw it all in there, feeling, you have 100 ideas for a song. You record all these ideas and I guess these are the songs that pop out of that. It was during the hiatus that these songs came about.
Cryptic Rock – A break sometimes can do a band good, and Native Tongue came out very well. Switchfoot has also always put on incredibly energetic live shows. That said, you are out touring in support of the new album with shows throughout the next few weeks. How has the tour been going thus far?
Jerome Fontamillas – It’s funny, if you don’t exercise for a week, you can feel it. (Laughs) For us being on hiatus for 1 1/2 years, it took a little bit of adjusting to get back into being in a Rock band. Man, it’s so enjoyable and we enjoy just connecting with the audience. The people coming to the shows are so excited to sing the new songs, but also the old songs, it’s really an awesome time!
Cryptic Rock – That is great to hear, the tour continues through Mid-April, so people should get out and see Switchfoot!
Back in December the news was released that you were diagnosed with cancer. The good news is the cancer has been removed and not spread. A very scary thing to go through, what got you through it all?
Jerome Fontamillas – I feel like I dodged a bullet. Cancer is one of those things that can happen to anyone. Life sometimes will bring you these walls that you have to push through. The support I had from the band and my family was everything. It is one of those things that you think, I may not be able to do music ever again, or, I may not be able to play in Switchfoot because of this.
You understand that life is a gift, and yea, I was given a second chance to be able to keep doing music. Not a lot of people can do that, and I can feel that with humility that there are a lot of people who are going through the same thing I went through and they may not come out as fortunate. It’s one of those things where you just feel more.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. Even when you have a family member or a close friend diagnosed with cancer, you feel it more thereafter.
Jerome Fontamillas – Totally, it’s a scary thing. As a said, I did dodge a bullet. It is one of those things I don’t take lightly. You want to live life better, you want to live life fuller.
Cryptic Rock – It is great to hear that you are healthy and ready to continue touring with the band. Unfortunately we are all guilty of taking something for granted at some point or another in life. That in mind, how did this chapter in your life change your perception?
Jerome Fontamillas – It totally changed my perception. We’ve been singing songs of hope for 20 years, and you get accustom to it, and you see how it affects people. When something like cancer happens, these songs take on a whole new meaning. It is like, these songs are not just for the audience anymore, these songs are for me, the person who helped write them. It’s a powerful thing, it’s humbling, and you can break down at anytime because this is something that was very serious.
When you are up on stage playing a song like “Hello Hurricane,” and singing it out to the audience, you are really singing it to yourself. It’s crazy and it is surreal. We write these songs of hope, and we would think they are for people, but again, they are not just for everyone else, they are for myself. These are the things that help me.
Cryptic Rock – Of course, and that personal feeling is what makes it connect with others. You can’t fake something like that.
Jerome Fontamillas – Yes, you can’t fake it, you can’t run away from it. The moments at the show are very powerful and moving. It’s just awesome.
Cryptic Rock – Seeing the band really does put on great live shows, as you said, it is different for you now on stage. What are some of your feelings on stage?
Jerome Fontamillas – Oh my gosh, there are so many feelings, especially after what I went through. I take each lyric times 10 pointed directly towards me. It affects me probably more than the audience. There could be times where you are just crying on stage, no one can tell, but these songs are affecting you that much.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, well it is great to hear you are healthy. Seeing you come from an Industrial Rock background, and have also worked heavily in Alternative Rock, what are some of your personal musical influences?
Jerome Fontamillas – Going back, I grew up with bands like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. Moving forward, you start listening to bands like U2 and Radiohead. What got me into the more Industrial aspects of it was bands like Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy. Then, on the more Alternative end, because I did work with a lot of Alternative bands, a lot of Shoegaze bands from the ’90s, like My Bloody Valentine. I did produce one of the Starflyer 59 albums and that was a big offshoot of that era. It is one of those things that you latch on to certain kinds of music and these are the ones that moved me throughout the years.
Cryptic Rock – Very cool. One last question. Beyond music we cover movies, especially Horror and Sci-Fi. If you are a fan of those genres, do you have any favorites?
Jerome Fontamillas – Growing up, it was obviously the Star Wars and Star Trek sagas. As far as Horror, I loved the Alien trilogy. I like a lot of Sci-Fi, in fact, I recently took my kids to the movies to see Captain Marvel. I like to share the fun Sci-Fi stuff with my kids.
Cryptic Rock – It is always exciting to share something with your kids – especially something you enjoyed when you were younger.
Jerome Fontamillas – Totally, they latch onto those. I was telling them, “Daddy used to watch Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope when he was a kid.” It’s so cool to connecting with them.