It's Foo Fighters' record release week! To mark Monday's release of Sonic Highways, we continue our series of online Foo Fighters interviews, this time with guitarist Chris Shiflett.
Featuring eight songs recorded in eight different cities across America, Sonic Highways is accompanied by a documentary series (currently screening in Australia on Go!) investigating the musical history of each city in which the band recorded, directed by frontman Dave Grohl.
Here, Shiflett runs us through the ins and outs of the recording and what it was like seeing the Sonic Highways show for the first time...
Can you walk us through the typical recording schedule in each city?
The basic recording process was the same as the last record [2011's Wasting Light]. We would go in, spend about a week on each song, get a drum track, Dave would throw some guitars on there, me and Pat [Smear, guitar] would put our guitars on there, Nate [Mendel] would put some bass on there, keyboards, some overdubs and then Dave would throw the vocal. It's a great way to make a record. If you have the time and the budget to record one song at a time it's really the best way. Because normally what we would do in the past is record all the drums and that would take a while, and then Dave would do all his guitars and that would take a while, then we'd throw some bass, so for me it would be a month into recording before I really did anything. When you do a song at a time you just stay in that song, each one becomes a little more unique.
With Dave wearing so many hats during this project, did the roles for the rest of you have to change to accommodate that?
You've got to keep in mind we did a lot of pre-production, more than we ever did in the past. We demoed these songs over and over and over and really hammered out everybody's parts, so musically we knew exactly what we were doing when we got in there. But it was an interesting thing cos Dave was running around a lot. This was the least amount of time he was in the studio making a Foo Fighters record ever. Which is a little strange, but he was still there a lot. Normally he's there, literally from start to finish of the whole thing, and it wasn't really like that this time around.
Did that give you more freedom to try things?
You always throw a few things at the wall and see what sticks. We were pretty solid on what the parts were before we went in. None of us knew what the vocal was, and so you kind of wind up keeping it simple cos you don't want to clash with the vocal. Once the vocal would be on, there wasn't a whole lot of time to go back and add a bunch of stuff. Which I think is great, it kept it in the moment. I think in the past our records have suffered from overthinking.
Which city affected you the most?
I think the city that we got to know, where we probably made the most friends, was New Orleans. We were recording at the Preservation Hall, and the guy who runs it was there every day, and so were a lot of the guys from the band, and then they played on the track. We actually went to the drummer's grandma's house and played music over there. I think that's the place that left the biggest mark on everybody and where we got to know some of the local musicians the most.
Do you think this would have been a different album if it was just recorded in Dave's garage, like Wasting Light was?
It would have been lyrically different, cos he wrote the lyrics around the interviews he did in all the different places. Musically it's hard to say. We didn't go and record a jazz song in New Orleans or a country song in Nashville, so I don't think that sort of musical influence seeps in a whole lot. But the experience has got to get in there somewhere.
How difficult was it to separate the TV show from the recording?
To be honest I really didn't quite have a full sense of what the TV show was even going to be, until I saw the first rough cut. I think we were in Seattle when the first rough cut came together. You're aware that there's a camera crew there, but it didn't affect the recording process at all.
What did you think when you saw the show?
I was really blown away. I was moved, I think it's amazing. The way that Dave weaves together all the different people's stories, and ties that into what we're doing, it was great.
Do things like that make you look at Dave in a different light?
I have a lot of respect for the fact that Dave's a guy who consistently comes up with big crazy ideas and then figures out a way to get them done.
For you, what's the best thing about the album?
Clearly my guitar playing. [Laughs] No, it's a good rock & roll album, it sounds like a band having fun.
Topics: Foo Fighters