Switchfoot keeps faith with fans

In 2004, alternative rock band Switchfoot scored big with the Top 10 Modern Rock singles “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move.”

Yet when its last album failed to repeat that success – despite being a progressive, but not inaccessible, move forward – the group found itself parting ways with Columbia Records.

“We're fortunate to have ridden the wave of ‘The Beautiful Letdown,'” says guitarist Drew Shirley of the 2003 album that spawned those hits. “We got a lot of exposure. Now we can be an indie band, but have people know who we are.”

Switchfoot remains firmly rooted in the Christian market. Its late-2006 effort “Oh! Gravity” was nominated for (but didn't win) three Gospel Music Dove Awards in April, and the band headlines Sonfest Saturday at Carowinds Palladium. Third Day, Mark Stewart, Red, Runkidrun and Hawk Nelson also play.

The label split was mutual, according to Shirley, 33.

“It's hard for labels to make a lot of money like they used to. It was better for both of us to go independent,” he says while taking a break from loading equipment into a studio that the band is building. “We have this vision of starting our own thing. …

“With the Internet, it's easier to do it yourself. We're going to take on a lot of the work the label was doing, but we're a really hands-on band.”

Switchfoot's hands-on approach extends into its involvement with charities as well. It's toured in support of To Write Love on Her Arms, a nonprofit organization that helps youth combat depression, cutting, addiction and suicide.

Last weekend the band hosted its fourth annual Switchfoot Bro-Am on Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, Calif., where the band's two loves – surfing and music – come together in a benefit concert and surf competition. This year's event benefited StandUp For Kids, which helps homeless teens in the San Diego area.

In August it joins Robert Randolph, Third Day, and Jars of Clay on the Music Builds Tour, which benefits Habitat for Humanity.

That tour stops at Raleigh's Time Warner Cable Pavilion at Walnut Creek Sept. 19. Also in September, the band appears in “Call + Response: A Concert to End Slavery,” a film that draws attention to the issue of human trafficking.

“We really like to lift up worthy causes while we're touring and show people practical ways they can be involved in their city or, say, help someone build a house,” says Shirley.

Despite the group's do-gooder status and foothold (pardon the pun) in the Christian rock community, it still doesn't consider itself a Christian act.

“We want to play for all people. We like to keep that door open at all times.

“Christianity, to us, is a faith, not a genre of music,” he says. “We tend to ask more questions in our music instead of giving answers.”