As a band fronted by one of rock’s biggest polymaths, it’s no surprise that Foo Fighters are doing things a bit differently on their eighth album, ‘Sonic Highways’, which will be released on November 10.
Instead of just hitting a single studio and getting stuck in, Dave Grohl and co travelled to eight cities in the US, including Nashville, New Orleans, LA, New York, Chicago and Seattle, honing in on the story of a local studio and then recording a song there alongside local legends such as the Eagles’ Joe Walsh, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen and New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
The stunt will be made into a documentary series, to be released before the album, in which each episode ends with a finished song. The result is a rare, intimate and entertaining insight into the making of the record.
“It was Dave’s idea,” Foo Fighters bassist Nate Mendel tells NME. “I think there’s a pretty clear line of inspiration from the Sound City documentary he made last year. It’s time to start to think about ways to make an album more interesting than just a grouping of songs. That’s really important to our band and probably for anybody who is serious about producing music now. You’ve got to be creative.”
You visited eight studios to make new album
‘Sonic Highways’. Which were your favourites?
Nate: “The most perspective-altering experience for everyone was New Orleans. It’s not really a rock’n’roll city at all. People just do not give a shit about rock music there. So instead of trying to create that out of thin air, we went and recorded at this Preservation Hall Jazz Band venue right in the heart of the French Quarter. It was a total education playing with this huge collective of jazz musicians who are part of a larger culture that’s unique to that town. Being there even just for a week really brought the city to life [for me] in a way that I’d never seen before.”
You recorded a track in each city. Did the
songs take on the character of each location?
“That was the idea. We wrote the bulk of the songs back in Los Angeles, so it was more a matter of experiencing each place,
learning about the studio and then bringing in guest musicians. In Seattle we had Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie; in the desert outside Los Angeles it was Joe Walsh from the Eagles for a classic southern California feel – and, sure enough, suddenly our song has layers of ‘Hotel California’ in it. That’s where the local character came from.”
What was the weirdest studio you went to?
“Chicago was cool because Steve Albini runs his Electrical Audio studio like an autobody workshop. They dress in overalls. He very much looks at it as a craft. He’s detailed about how it was constructed, and really gets into the science of sound. It’s like, to him, the music that’s put out in the end is secondary to the scientifc experiment of how sound operates within a physical structure.”
Did any musicians take you out on the town?
“Ben Jafe, who runs the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, took us all over New Orleans. The coolest thing was on a Sunday morning, we
were drinking beer and watching a parade.”
How does ‘Sonic Highways’ difer from your previous albums?
“They’re fairly straightforward Foo Fighters songs and almost every one of them takes a left turn and goes of on some psychic
odyssey with the guest musician in the middle. Sometimes there’s an awkward transition back into the song. You catch on with a few of them, where we go ‘oh fuck!’ and we’re back into the final chorus. There are a few elements that are looser than traditional Foo Fighters moments.”
How did the diferent studios and cities inspire Dave Grohl’s lyrics?
“Dave took a creative leap on this one and decided to incorporate into his lyrics things that actually happened in the cities, and
conversations he had with the various musicians. So ‘I Am A River’ was inspired by the fact that under one of the studios we
found there was an actual physical river. ‘Something From Nothing’ was inspired by Buddy Guy’s story of moving up from the South, not a button to his name, moving to Chicago as a young blues guy, meeting Muddy Waters right of the bat, being the young buck in town and making his way in the blues scene there and becoming a legend after walking into town without shit. The song ‘Congregation’ was a play on how a lot of the folks in the Nashville country music scene came together in church, in a sort of gospel environment, to learn their craft.”
Any plans to tour the album?
“We’re planning on doing a pretty unique and cool idea for our 20th anniversary. It’s something that’ll be fucking cool – plus all of the usual things like festivals.”