Just a quick digest:
Fiction Family, “Fiction Family”
On paper, the combination of Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman and Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins seems improbable — and risky. But as Fiction Family, the two San Diego musicians find plenty of sonic common ground and, most important, a dozen richly crafted and intriguingly rendered songs. “When She’s Near” and “Out of Order” kick off “Fiction Family” on a trippy note, establishing the duo’s airy harmonies. Offbeat sound effects and loops color several of the songs, but the strong songwriting is Fiction Family’s foundation. Foreman and Watkins are brothers in arms, which makes this partnership a fully functional “Family.”
New Christianity Today Interview
Fact or Fiction?
by Andy Argyrakis
Ever since Switchfoot's Jon Foreman and Nickel Creek's Sean Watkins met, they've talked about writing songs together. It took almost five years for it to happen—in the form of Fiction Family, which recently released its first album. Recorded in their respective home studios, the self-titled debut features both men stretching one another's artistic imaginations in unexpected directions. Christian Music Today recently sat down with Foreman and Watkins to discuss the project, the creative process behind it, and where they go from here.
You both grew up in the San Diego area, but had you known one another before working together?
Sean Watkins: We actually just met when we started this record.
Jon Foreman: And we started the record like four or five years ago! Nickel Creek and Switchfoot were on the same bill at a street fest in San Diego. It was cool to say "hi" since we were both from the same town. After that, we said maybe we should write a song sometime and traded e-mail addresses.
Who was the first to follow up?
Foreman: A couple weeks later, we saw each other at a local coffee shop. I had a melody and a thought, and I gave it to Sean. The next day he finished the song, and that was the first taste of the fun to come. After that, we started writing more, then after a couple of songs, we thought an EP would be kind of cool to have. We literally went from three to five songs making up a cool EP, to adding a few more and thinking we could make this a real record.
Given your busy schedules, how did you hunker down in your studios to finalize these songs?
Foreman: There was no hunkering! It was whenever we felt like it or had the time. There wasn't a moment when I was like "oh man, I gotta do that song for Sean." It was very much like true recess for school when you can go out and play. That's the best way to make music—there's no one with a timeline, deadline, or telling you "that should sound like this because this is our marketing plan," which kills music. When you're doing it with a friend for fun, it feels like the songs can be exactly what they're supposed to be—nothing more, nothing less.
Watkins: Especially for us, it was the only way we could've done it. We weren't in a position to record in a real studio and spend money on the clock. We didn't really know what we were doing at all and that's why we had to do it at home. It became kind of a musical vacation to work on between this busy season of touring with our bands. There was a lot of corresponding, sending MP3s and ideas back and forth pretty consistently throughout the last few years.
Did you set out with any specific musical goals in mind?
Foreman: I wanted to dive into a different world. As a musician, I still feel like there are areas of music I'm still lacking and want to improve in, that I want to explore. This is the vehicle to get there, both in the studio and live.
How different is the dynamic of recording as a duo versus your respective solo stuff?
Foreman: When you're by yourself, there's not a sparring partner. Sean would take the songs to places I wouldn't. It's amazing to think how we both put on two hats—the producer hat and the artist hat, and we both traded. It's allowed both people to be very artistic and free, but while keeping each other in check too.
Watkins: We know how to balance. Both of us have both of those sides, and we can switch. When one of us is being one way, the other one can balance it out.
Did you try to avoid the whole "Switchfoot meets Nickel Creek" tag?
Watkins: We didn't really set out aiming for anything or avoiding anything. For all we knew, fifty people were going to buy it, so there was no need to worry about what it would be. Our aim is trying to do something new, and since there were no stakes, it could be completely whatever we wanted to.
Given Switchfoot's popularity with both mainstream and Christian audiences, how will this material translate to both?
Foreman: I don't think either of those words exist in the way many people think they do. I believe in a God that transcends soul, matter, time, and space, so when I'm writing a song, I'm not thinking about the we/they. There is no we/they if we're all in a journey toward truth, though I suppose that can sound really new age-y. I'm a believer, but I think that the boxes that are commonly put on Christendom by the post-modern world can be really destructive to the way we produce art and produce love to those around us.
Your recent solo EPs quote Scripture much more than typical Switchfoot fare. How have non-Christian fans reacted to the more overtly spiritual songs?
Foreman: I work with all sorts of different people from all sorts of backgrounds—agnostic, Jewish, whomever—an amalgamation of different people with different perspectives. But "Your Love Is Strong"—which is mostly taken from the Lord's Prayer—is one of their favorite songs. I think in [believers'] heads, it feels like a real great divide, but I don't feel like the rest of the world sees that. I think the big deal for most people is the way we treat each other—that speaks much louder than any song. If you're a jerk, it doesn't matter how you're singing or what your faith.
The solo EPs were really personal, and I felt like I could dive into the personal part who I am. But for this album, it felt like an exploration of a fictional world.
Sean, considering Nickel Creek is primarily known with the mainstream crowd, how might this project widen your audience with Christian music listeners?
Watkins: If you're a songwriter, you're gonna write about the different parts of your life. I totally agree with all of what Jon said. To me it feels dishonest to leave one out of the other.
With Nickel Creek, we would just play the songs and it doesn't matter who comes and listens. We don't try to aim for one specific demographic or belief system. There will be people who come to you because they find similarities in beliefs, and that's cool. There are some that don't and they still like the music, which is also cool.
Is Nickel Creek still on a hiatus?
What's the status of Switchfoot's next studio CD?
Foreman: Some of 'em are actually recording right now. We've got our own studio and we're holed up. We've worked with a handful of people [including Charlie Peacock] trying to take the songs to different places and I think we've finally come to a place where we have a great team. We have 75 songs and we're trying to whittle them down to the top 12.
Is there a future with Fiction Family or this a mere one off?
Watkins: I would love to continue. Jon and I talked about more Fiction Family stuff; it's kind of open-ended when we have time. I also have this band called Works Progress Administration [including Toad the Wet Sprocket's Glen Phillips, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' Benmont Tench, Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins, and members of Elvis Costello's band]. We just meet as friends in the studio with everybody having fun and just sort of experimenting with music. We have a record and are now trying to figure out what to do with it, but it will probably come out in late summer. So that's the next thing, but we'll definitely Fiction it up!
Foreman: The Family reunion is coming!
New Music Reviews
And here's a sweet fanvid of the popular TV Show LOST, set to "This Is Home." I love this show, and seeing how its turning out, the song SO fits.