Switchfoot toured Europe with Bon Jovi and performed throughout Asia and Japan in the last year. But what humbles Switchfoot drummer Chad Butler is thinking about the band’s hometown roots. 

“I was just thinking, we won the San Diego Music Awards’ Best New Artist award in 1997, when we released our first record in ’97,” Butler says of “The Legend of Chin.” “When we got that award, at that moment on stage, I had no idea of what the next two decades of my life would be like playing music. It’s a special thing to look back on.”

More than 10 San Diego Music Awards later, the band will return to the 2020 event to perform on Monday, March 23, at House of Blues San Diego. The awards start at 7:15 p.m.

Switchfoot is also nominated for Artist of the Year (with As I Lay Dying, Earthless, Rebecca Jade, Slightly Stoopid, The Frights and The Sleepwalkers); Best Song for “The Strength to Let Go” (along with “Blinded” by As I Lay Dying, “Blame It On My Youth” by Blink-182, “She Go” by Hirie, “Love Luck” by Little Hurricane, “Rockin’ with the Beat” by P.O.D. and “Naïve Adolescence” by The Frets) and Album of the Year for “Native Tongue” (against “Nine” by Blink-182, “Death Atlas” by Cattle Decapitation, “Davacas XX” by David Maldonado, “Dreamer” by Hirie, “Gnomes & Badgers” by Karl Denson Tiny Universe” and “Paradise” by Mattson 2).

“We’re thrilled,” Butler says. “It’s an honor to grow up here in such a supportive community, and since the beginning we’ve felt the San Diego music community was always cheering for us, and to be honored like this is really special.”

San Diego music and performers around the world have “constantly” inspired Butler. His first concert was X-Fest from 91X when he persuaded his parents to let him see The Sugarcubes, Public Image Ltd., De La Soul and New Order.

“It was eye opening that all those different genres could perform to the same audience,” Butler recalls. “Everybody was singing along. To me, at that point as a kid growing up in San Diego, you’re trying to figure out where you fit in. So many times, the music you listen to defines who your friends are. 

“I think it was that festival that opened my eyes to the unlimited possibilities of music. It was all accessible. You could enjoy all these different types of music and fit in with all these different types of people who liked those bands. It was a motivating thing as a musician—the unifying power of music. When we walk out on stage, we see people in the audience from all walks of life singing to the same music.”

Butler, whose band is working on new music, says Soma played a big hand in Switchfoot’s career. 

“We used to go see shows in the old Soma, the new Soma,” Butler says. “We originally played in the small room and then the big room. Those were incredible memories for us. We put out a live concert DVD back in the day from Soma. Obviously, the Casbah was a venue where I saw all my heroes—Rocket from the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu and Pinback. Everyone was supporting one another, even if they were different genres of music. I’m so thankful to be from San Diego and this incredible family of musicians.”

Switchfoot is like a family as well and Butler is grateful—and surprised—the band has been together for 23 years. 

“It’s so rare for bands to stay together for decades,” Butler says. “The average lifespan of a band is, what, two records, most? They dissolve for whatever artistic differences. 

“I think part of the magic for us is we were friends before we were in a band together. We were in different bands in San Diego and in high school and college. We were playing with different musicians until we joined forces as Switchfoot in ’97. Here we are in 2020—23 years later—and we’re still making music together and surfing together. That’s a big part of it—being friends off stage. We’re living here in San Diego. We all have families here. We just love making music together.”

To fledgling bands who may be in the audience at the San Diego Music Awards, Butler says to “enjoy the moment.”

“Whether you’re playing at a birthday party in your background or in front of an arena of people, just be present,” he says. “Enjoy that moment. Every day’s a gift. You don’t know what tomorrow brings. That’s something I look back on on the early days as a band. There’s a human tendency to be looking for the next big thing. It’s hard sometimes to resist and enjoy where you’re at.”

This year, Switchfoot is home for the first half of the year, before heading out with Nickelback and fellow San Diegans Stone Temple Pilots.

For the future of Switchfoot, Butler sees the Bro-Am continuing. In 2005, after traveling the world, Switchfoot dreamed up an idea to give back to their hometown that supported them as surfers and musicians, to rally their great community and to invest in kids who might need a hand up. The Bro-Am has since grown in impact and size, gathering over 17,000 people to the beach for a “more bro than pro” team surf contest, Rob Machado Bro Junior surf contest, free beach concert and numerous vendor booths. The Bro-Am Foundation focuses on initiatives in two areas that create a thriving future—physical and community well-being along with opportunity and empowerment through music, art, surfing and education.

“We’re so proud of the Switchfoot Bro-Am in Encinitas at Moonlight Beach,” he says. “It raises money and awareness for youth charities. It’s blown up into this big music festival on the beach and has surf contests. It’s all to give back to local kids. I never dreamed that it would become so enjoyable and such an amazing community event. 

“I hope that goes on long after the band is done performing.”

Beyond their career achievements and creation of Bro-Am, Switchfoot has also maintained a deep commitment to a variety of humanitarian causes, lending its support to such worthy organizations as CURE International, DATA, the ONE Campaign, Habitat for Humanity, Invisible Children and To Write Love on Her Arms.

Thanks to all the work Switchfoot has done, Butler appreciates one thing. 

“Last year, we toured Europe with Bon Jovi, Asia and Japan,” he says. “I love traveling and seeing new places, but there’s no place better than San Diego. The more I travel, the more I am sure of that statement.”  


San Diego Music Awards

7:15 p.m. Monday, April 23

House of Blues San Diego,

1055 Fifth Avenue

Tickets start at $36,