Inside The Lives Of One Of Rock's Biggest Bands.

Total Guitar

Dave Grohl and Chris Shiflett on being guitarists, husbands, fathers and die-hard music fans.

Dave Grohl The bigger a band gets, the harder it is to keep a hold on the reigns. Your private life becomes public property, the band dynamic becomes a pressure cooker and any shreds of normality have long disappeared. Some bands find the unrelenting eye of stardom too much and turn to drink and drugs for refuge. But others make it through. Sure, they have their share of tales to tell, but somehow they've managed to keep themselves on track. Foo Fighters are one of the latter bands, and Dave Grohl and Chris Shiflett are their guitarists.
&NBSP After The gargantuan success of the double-disc rock and acoustic album of 2005, 'In Your Honor', and the stripped-back affair of their live record 'Skin And Bones' in 2006, the Foo Fighters nabbed some breathing space to sample life 'on the outside', away from touring, media attention and self-imposed demands in the recording studio.
&NBSP But it didn't last long. In between straddling promotion for 'Skin And Bones', capturing precious moments with their families and delivering awesome performances at Live Earth and last summer's V Festival, Foo Fighters were sweating over their sixth studio album in 12 years, 'Echoes, Silence Patience And Grace'. With lead single The Pretender dominating rock charts the world over and its music video taking home your coveted Best Video award last issue, TotalGuitar met the guys in Munich, Germany, to find out how the marriage of superstardom and family has changed their perspective, if they rock as hard as they used to, and why Dave will never be truly comfortable behind a guitar...

We love your new album, 'Echoes, Silence, Patience And Grace'. It seems to follow on from the success of 2005's 'In Your Honour' with its acoustic moments. Have you grown comfortable with your mellower side now?
Dave Grohl: "I guess we have. When I listen to the new album I get the impression that our band is comfortable with all kinds of music. It's a bit strange, seeing how 10 years ago we would never have made an album like Echoes. We were too young for it. Back then we stomped on our distortion pedals and shouted, 'We wanna be a rock band!' But as you grow older you think about your own creativity. You start asking questions like, 'Maybe I should play that song differently?' And then you accept the delicate dynamic of an acoustic guitar or string quartet. We ruled this out in the past because of our punk rock background. There were unwritten rules, you know - it was totally uncool back then."

But now the rules have changed?
Grohl: "Sure, you keep learning as you grow older. As time passes you get over a few of your insecurities and feel more at home in your own skin. The same happens on a musical level. You more or less ignore the outside world and think to yourself, 'Yeah, that reflects who I am. That's what our music should sound like.' Maybe it's selfish, but you mostly record an album for yourself. You do whatever takes you to the next level; you need that musical challenge and growth. I think that's what's behind this album."
Chris Shiflett: "The split between electric tracks and acoustic tracks is close to half and half on this record. Most of our songs begin life on acoustic guitar and then turn into rock songs."
Grohl: "Yeah, I don't sit at home all day with a Marshall stack writing music! I usually have an acoustic guitar next to the couch that I use to come up with different ideas, melodies and patterns. If I feel like something's working, then I'll bring it into the practice space and we'll all work on it. Sometimes they get worked into big loud rock songs like Monkey Wrench or Everlong and sometimes they stay acoustic. For our new album, a few of them worked better within that quieter dynamic."

Now that you're releasing more acoustic material do you think you still rock as hard you used to?
Grohl: "We will never lose that side of ourselves but even on the new album's most hardcore songs like The Pretender, Let It Die and Erase Replace, we concentrate on the melodic element. That's always been the focus for us, even on our earlier albums, but our new album is much more dynamic. There are moments on it when I yell into the mic and then there are moments of mellower stuff.
  "I've always been fascinated by melody, but many equate 'mellow' with old age. Your music should reflect the phases you go through in life. Every teenager goes through a phase when they start rebelling because it's a time when you're becoming a man and feel as though the whole world belongs to you. You feel all this excessive energy but you're also pissed off about a lot of things, and you can usually find these things in the music you're listening to.
  "If you listen to the music we recorded 13 years ago, you can practically draw a map of the phases of our personal development up to present day. That's why I have the feeling we've gotten over our insecurities when I listen to this album, because it presents us in a way that we probably hid in the past."

Ballad Of The Beaconsfield Miners contains a skilful acoustic guitar duet. Who's playing guitar on that track?
Grohl: "That's me and Kaki King, a brilliant guitar virtuoso from the USA. I had an idea for a song about miners who were trapped in an Australian diamond mine, and when Kaki came to our studio one evening I had the feeling the piece was right for her. It's the first instrumental we've ever recorded on one of our albums."

Chris, what is your role in Foo Fighters when it comes to writing? Does Dave write all the parts and you execute them?
Shiflett: "That's a large part of it. When Dave writes he usually works out all the bits. Sometimes he'll say, 'Put a guitar line over that; and I'll work it out. On this album I played a couple of guitar leads, which I've never be given the chance to do in the past. That was fun for me because I grew up as a lead guitar player, but ultimately Dave's the songwriter and you have to respect what he wants from the song."

Dave, how do you manage to keep your chops up on both guitar and drums?
Grohl: "It's good for me to put down the guitar every once in a while because I find that when I come back to it after a month or so, I start from a new creative place, but if I don't get on a drum set every day it's inevitable that I'm gonna lose chops and get outta shape. Having played guitar for about 28 years, it's nice to come back to it [the guitar] with a fresh perspective. The guitar still feels like a Rubik's Cube to me; it's still something of a mystery and humbles me everyday. Going out behind a drum kit makes me feel pretty strong, but going out with a guitar makes me feel like a little schoolboy."

Which artists influenced you when writing Echoes?
Grohl: "We were influenced by a number of artists that we grew up listening to in the 1970s, like Neil Young and Wings. I've always admired Neil Young's guitar playing, and of course, I love his singing, his piano playing and his songwriting, but I've always thought he was a damn cool guitarist. When we were producing our new album we tried to make everything sound as natural as possible - just like on the albums we grew up listening to.
  "The album I listened to most when recording Echoes was Odyssey And Oracle by The Zombies. I wish we could record an album that was as brilliant as that. You know, something that has great melodic importance."

Other more weighty inspirations are at work too, like the theme of the beginning and end of life, especially on tracks like Come Alive...
Grohl: "Well, about a year ago my wife and I had a baby girl called Violet... she's 15 months old now. When you have a child it changes your entire outlook on the world. Suddenly you have this new perspective on mortality, love - a new perspective on everything."
Shiflett: "Having a child definitely changes your life. In fact, that's a big understatement. I have a third baby on the way now, and having kids changes your life in more ways than you can count. But they're all changes for the better!"
Grohl: "When Violet was born I suddenly had a picture of her as an adult standing by my deathbed. I was thinking, 'Who's going to be with me when I die? My daughter and maybe my grand-daughter?' I never used to think about these things. Most people think the world begins with their birth and ends with their death, but at some point your realise there's a much larger world out there that will continue existing long after you have made your exit. So I started to take in the big picture, and these realisations had an influence on the new album. There are songs about birth, death and life because my perception of these things has changed radically."

Finally, with your new album out and the band back on the touring and press circuit, it must be tough for you guys and your families?
Shiflett: "Yeah, well my mother would have preferred to stay at home instead of going to work as a probation officer each day, but what choice do you have? You need some sort of job in order to pay the bills."
Grohl: "Everything is different for us now and we have to deal with it. We have to find a balance and reconcile all these different interests. In the first five or six years of being together as a band we had no balance at all. We were always on the road and partying. But even with all the excitement from that, the feeling grew over the years that we were missing out on something. There were those moments when we wanted some of the stability in our lives that many of our friends had in their daily routines. The more we drifted, the more we looked for an anchor to give life more meaning.
"Now everything has changed in my life. It's longer focused just on the band - I have a family and I have to find a balance between those two interests. The situation is still new for me, and I don't know what things are going to be like one or five years down the line."

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