Foo Fighters: New Guitarist, New Album
Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl discusses the making of his third and latest album, 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose', including getting used to the sound of his voice, building his home studio, despising Los Angeles and having his head screwed on tight.
Foo Fighters is finally becoming a band. Especially when Taylor joined after the making of the second record (The Color And The Shape), it became evident. The line-up seemed to really click. Now, if Chris sticks...
"Yeah, we're closer now than we've ever been. It's great. It's perfect now because we're capable of taking on anything that we wish to do."
Originally, when Foo Fighters started up, you didn't want to do a "solo" record, but that's sort of what it was.
"Well, you know what's weird? And Nate mentioned this a week ago. What we've gone through as a band isn't unusual. I think that people see the Foo Fighters as this revolving door of musicians (drummer William Goldsmith, guitarists Pat Smear and Franz) but we've kind of had to grow up in public. A lot of bands go through the same thing that we've gone through before they even release their first record, so the foundation of the band was the bizarre one-person-plays-everything on the first record. We had to iron out all the kinks and we finally have gotten to the point where we're totally comfortable with the band as it really is."
They say it takes 20 years to make that first album, but you never had that development phase.
"No, the first one we started playing shows after we'd been together maybe two months and the album came out soon after that. We just had to grow up in front of everybody."
Your voice sounds great on There Is Nothing Left To Lose. Are you comfortable as a singer?
"Thank you very much. I'm a lot more comfortable with it now. I definitely was not then and I definitely was not when we went in to make the last record. It was still pretty foreign to me. So I think that having toured for three-and-a-half out of four years, and having to get up and do it every night, you eventually get used to the sound of your own voice. And that's the whole thing, I just can't stand the sound of my voice, sometimes. But I'm a lot more comfortable with it now. Also, because I just don't give a shit, I figure, you know what, that's the way my voice sounds and that's the way it's gonna be. It's weird because you're searching for some sort of personality or some sort of charismatic element in your own voice, which is hard to find because it's your voice that you hear all day long."
You have that personality in your, er, tuneful scream. That's what's distinct, as in the song 'Break Out'.
"Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't know. It's, um, a hard thing to talk about, just because I think I'm an idiot (chuckles)."
Right. Okay. (Laugh.) Did you record anything non-musical in the studio?
"No, everything (long pause) is instrumental."
Any singing in a bathroom?
"We were pretty straightforward with it. We built our own studio in my house in Virginia and we stayed there the whole time we recorded. We didn't have anyone except the three of us and our producer Adam. He did the last Soundgarden record and he worked on the last REM record, and he's done Aerosmith shit and Ozzy shit and stuff like that. He's just a super mellow guy. He's about 32. He's from Seattle. He was the last person to record Nirvana. He recorded the last session we did about three or four months before Kurt died, or maybe less than that. He's a really, really super nice guy. It doesn't seem like he's working. It seems like he's lazy, like he doesn't want to work, but there's something that he does, in just setting up microphones and letting you go, that brings out the most in your music, and the sound of your instrument. He's really great. We owe a lot to Adam for this record because not only did he help build the studio, but he made it a comfortable place for us."
Tell me about your studio. Is this your dream studio?
"Well, kind of. I'm not into high technology equipment at all."
You don't know how to use it or you're not interested?
"I just don't appreciate it because I don't know how to use it and I don't need it. We just went and bought an old mixing desk from the seventies. We went down to Nashville and picked that up, got a nice analog tape machine and some old EQs and some old microphones. Didn't want to use any of the computer Pro-tooling or editing things that most people use because a lot of the time that will suck the life out of the song. The more you manipulate it, the farther away you get from the core of the music. So we really try to strip down and keep it bare and raw, and the album's far more raw than the last. There's a lot of stuff on the new record that is just flawed, you know, but in a beautiful way."
"There's little drums things here and there. There's little guitar things here and there. Having gone through the last record where we definitely tried to make it sound as right on the money, on the mark perfect as we could get it, this time we thought it would sound like a bigger record if we left the warts and all in it. So we did."
I guess, none of you are perfectionists?
"We actually kind of are. We worked pretty hard and we spent four months on about 14 songs. We would record it, record something else, a month later come back, record it again, a month later come back and record it again. And it was important that we got great performances out of every take. We really wanted to get as close as we could to making it sound right on, but we didn't cross the line where it started sounding unreal. That was the whole thing, we just wanted it to sound real, because we were disappointed with, oh, drum sounds for example. Most of the drums that you hear on the radio, or you hear on new band's records, have been so processed and put through the ringer and edited so that there's absolutely no mistakes, and it takes all the personality out of drumming, which is a shame, because most of my favorite drummers, legendary drummers, whether it's Keith Moon or John Bonham, Ringo Starr, whatever, all of these drummers were imperfect. That's how you could tell them apart from everyone else. Stewart Copeland from the Police was the same way. It just adds so much personality and so much of the person to their instrument."
Did you play any drums on this record?
"Yeah, I played on about four or five songs. There were just some things that Taylor does better than me and some things I do better than Taylor and we sort of met in the middle. He does over half of the record and I do a couple of songs."
Did you start the actual songwriting after you finished touring behind 'The Colour And The Shape'?
"Yeah, we hadn't played any of these songs live. We hadn't even done many of them at soundchecks. So we went into a rehearsal space for about a month, coming up with ideas, and maybe had like four or five ideas, and wrote the rest of it in the studio."
You always write the lyrics.
What's 'Stacked Actors' about?
"Stacked Actors' is a response to living in Hollywood for about a year and a half, and my disdain and disgust of everything plastic and phony, which is the foundation of that city. And I just hated it. I had a lot of fun, but I had a lot of fun hating it."
Most people who live there say they hate it.
"Well, most people who move there, move there for some bizarre reason, some fucked up motivation, something that brings them out to become someone else. Everyone you meet there, wants to be someone else."
The single, 'Learn To Fly' -- looking for a sign of life/looking for a sign to help me find out why -- is a search for answers?
"It's kind of looking for inspiration, just trying to find (sighs) life."
The meaning of it?
"Not necessarily the meaning of it, but something that will make you feel alive. The last album was kind of depressing (chuckles) I think. It had a lot to do with the demise of a relationship, and missing someone and loving someone and understanding that there's no way you can be this person but there's no way you can be without them, blah blah blah, stuff like that. And having gone through a year-and-a-half or two years, two-and-a-half years later, you sort of had to learn how to live life again, and 'Learn To Fly' is that search for things to make you feel alive and exploring...I don't know what the fuck it's about (laughs)."
"'Live-In Skin' was actually recorded while we were mixing because I came up with it in between the time we had finished recording and mixing. I thought, 'Wow, this is kind of a cool tune,' and I started writing about the place that the band is in now. You'd have to read the lyrics, but it has a lot to do with me going head-on with my hate and I'm amazed that I'm still standing and I demand that we all blend in, and stuff like that."
Is there a song of which you're most proud on 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose'?
"'Aurora' is definitely one of my favourite songs that we've ever come up with. Lyrically, it's just kind of a big question mark, but the words sound good and it's a nostalgic look back at Seattle and the life I once had. That song actually questions the meaning of life, probably. It's probably the heaviest thing I've ever written."
How do you feel about where you are right now, with this band, and having gone through all the shit you've gone through?
"That's one of the reasons we called the album There Is Nothing Left To Lose, because that's how I feel."
Amazed? Enjoying life now that you're more stable?
"I'm at peace with everything. I really feel like my head is screwed on okay and I'm comfortable and happy. But at the same time, I'm just giving everything the finger, just saying, 'Fuck it. I don't care anymore.' I don't care because I'm happy."
Chris Shiflett: New Foo
"After a while you felt like you were a hooker in a red light district, just one after another," says Foo Fighters singer-guitarist Dave Grohl of the auditioning process which led to the rock band's discovery of new guitarist Chris Shiflett.
After Franz left the Foo Fighters, Grohl, drummer Taylor Hawkins and bassist Nate Mendel recorded the third album, There Is Nothing Left To Lose (due Nov. 2) with producer Adam Kasper (Soundgarden, Nirvana), then held auditions in Los Angeles for another guitarist.
While Hawkins was an old pro at auditions, having landed gigs that way for Sass Jordan and Alanis Morissette, Grohl had only been to one as a teenager to join Scream, the band he drummed for prior to forming Nirvana.
"We had never auditioned anyone before," says Grohl of Foo Fighters. "In the case of (original guitarist) Pat (Smear), he joined the band because he was a friend, and in Franz's case, it was the same deal. We had no auditions. He just joined and we went on our way.
"It was definitely a priority this time to find someone that was really good because Chris is by far the best guitarist we've had in the band and sings back-ups really well, and covers all the bases that we never could. So it's a huge difference.
"We auditioned probably 35 or 40 people," says Grohl. "A lot of people who came in were nervous and we immediately told them that we were just as nervous as them and we had never done this before, and didn't want it to be weird, so we'd sit down and chat and play a couple of songs."
Shiflett, who had spent the last four-and-a-half years playing in No Use For A Name, on Fat Wreck Chords, was hooked up for the audition by a friend of a friend. He was sent a tape of a few songs to learn, including the new track, "Aurora", one of Grohl's favourites, and "A320" from the Godzilla soundtrack.
"We spent more time talking at the auditions than we did playing," echoes Shiflett. "There was no real interrogation process. We just shot the shit and talked about tour stuff, band stuff and silly stories."
"We usually do a CIA background check, make sure he has no prior convictions," Grohl quips, then adds more seriously, "Of everyone we played with, Chris just seemed to be perfect. He was actually one of the first people auditioned and we hoped that the rest of them were going to be as good, but no one was. There are so many different things you have to take into consideration when you're having somebody join your...life."
As for the new Foo's life, he's done grueling tours before with No Use For A Name, but none quite like what lies ahead. "We just have a lot of touring planned," says Shiflett, 28, who performed his first show with the band Sept. 3 at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. "We're going to be gone for a very long time. I'm mostly looking forward to just playing shows, just to get everything wired.
"I'm sure after a couple of months of this, I'll look 45."
back to the features index