Rock’s hap­pi­est demigod schools us all in the his­tory of Amer­i­can popular mu­sic.

Blunt - - News - By Emily Swan­son.

The re­lease of 2011’ s Wast­ing Light marked a lot of changes for the Foo Fight­ers. For a band a decade- and- a- half into their ca­reer, the al­bum saw them wel­come for­mer gui­tarist Pat Smear back to the fold and bol­ster their sound into a triple- axe at­tack on the senses. Un­der the coun­sel of famed pro­ducer Butch Vig – who worked along­side front­man Dave Grohl back in ‘ 91 on a quiet lit­tle re­lease known as Nev­er­mind – the Foo Fight­ers churned out 11 songs live to two- inch tape in Grohl’s garage. It al­lowed the sheer in­ten­sity of the band’s live sound to take cen­tre stage and crit­ics hailed it as their most co­he­sive re­lease in years. Most of all though, it was a record from one of rock’s big­gest acts that left fans won­der­ing how the Foos would go about one- up­ping them­selves on al­bum num­ber eight. For those of you at home that guessed, “Maybe they’ll do an eight- part HBO se­ries that co­in­cides with the record­ing of eight new songs in iconic stu­dios across Amer­ica”, that was far too ac­cu­rate and you’ve given us the wil­lies ( that said, we’ll gladly take your sug­ges­tions for lotto num­bers).

Sonic High­ways – both the ti­tle of the al­bum and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing TV se­ries – shapes up as Grohl’s “love let­ter to the his­tory of Amer­i­can mu­sic”. This is the Nicest Guy in Rock pay­ing homage to the faces and places that helped sculpt the mu­si­cal land­scape of the United States through­out the 20th cen­tury and beyond.

As they stare down the bar­rel of a lengthy pro­mo­tional jaunt – in­clud­ing a week- long res­i­dency on the Late Show With David Let­ter­man ahead of Sonic High­ways’ premiere – Foos shred­ders Pat Smear and Chris Shi­flett re­flect on the jour­ney that was. First stop: the Windy City.

“That’s ‘ Some­thing From Noth­ing’,” Smear tells us of the pound­ing Chicago track, the first on Sonic High­ways and the ba­sis for the show’s first episode. Although the gui­tarist has slipped into a well- de­fined groove as the Fifth Foo,


he tells us of the un­cer­tainty an en­deav­our like Sonic High­ways brings about. “That was when we were like, ‘ Okay, we’re not re­ally sure what we’re do­ing here, let’s show up in Chicago in the win­ter – and it’s fuck­ing cold I might add – and give it a try’ and we did it. We spoke to [ our pro­ducer] Butch and he said, ‘ I think you’ve got it!’ and we said, ‘ Okay! We can do this! So… do we do it again?’ and he goes, ‘ I- I… I guess’,” Smear says, laugh­ing as he re­calls the trep­i­da­tion in Vig’s voice.

“You never know when you’re mak­ing some­thing if you’re in a kind of bub­ble and you’ve lost sight of good and bad,” Shi­flett con­cedes.

“Now to be fair, Chicago was Steve Al­bini’s stu­dio [ Elec­tri­cal Audio] and it’s a fuck­ing great stu­dio,” con­tin­ues Smear. “Some of the places we recorded at weren’t even stu­dios. Some weren’t stu­dios any­more, some had never been stu­dios, some were stu­dios in peo­ple’s liv­ing rooms… It was all a dif­fer­ent prob­lem for Butch and James Brown, our en­gi­neer, but for us, it was all the same: just show up and get it on.”

Fol­low­ing icy begin­nings in Chicago comes “The Feast And The Famine” straight out of Wash­ing­ton D. C., yet another driv­ing up­tempo rock’n’roll banger, this time pack­ing the punch of early Foos favourite “Mon­key Wrench”. It’s as you take in the third track – the Nashville- born “Con­gre­ga­tion” – that you truly re­alise how di­rectly each city has in­spired Sonic High­ways and just how seam­lessly the eight tracks flow from one to another.

“To se­quence a se­ries around the se­quence of an al­bum and make them both work is a pain in the fuck­ing arse – and we did it,” Grohl of­fers in one of the se­ries’ teasers.

From Nashville, the Foo Fight­ers jour­neyed south­west to Austin, Texas – where “What Did I Do?/ God As My Wit­ness” would come about in the old Austin City Lim­its sound stage – and across to the deserts of Joshua Tree,

Cal­i­for­nia to Dave Catch­ing’s Ran­cho De La Luna stu­dio for “Out­side”. From there, it was one last stop in the South – the leg­endary Preser­va­tion Hall, a jazz in­sti­tu­tion in the heart of New Or­leans’ French Quar­ter – be­fore head­ing north to Seat­tle to pen the som­bre “Sub­ter­ranean” at Robert Lang Stu­dios (“The same stu­dio where Nir­vana did their last songs and where Dave did the first Foo Fight­ers al­bum,” Smear says). Fi­nally, things were wrapped up in New York, New York – the city so nice they freakin’ named it twice – for the al­bum’s lengthy, or­ches­tral closer, “I Am A River”.

“We would go to the city for a week, then we’d go home for a week, and dur­ing the week we were home we’d al­ways meet once and work out last minute things or change ar­range­ments,” says Smear, de­scrib­ing the writ­ing process.

“If we started on a Mon­day or Tues­day, vo­cals would usu­ally be Satur­day, so Fri­day would be crunch time for Dave,” Shi­flett adds.

“Dave would grab tran­scripts of the in­ter­views, some blank pa­per and a pen, a bot­tle of wine and just go to his room and write the songs,” Smear con­tin­ues. “The songs were al­ways about the city we were in, so we had to be there for a week be­fore he could write them and then he had to do the vo­cals on Satur­day and fin­ish them be­cause we were gonna shoot the mu­sic video for each song on the Sun­day.”

“It’s a great way to make a record; just bang out each song in its en­tirety as you go.”

Sonic High­ways is one of rock’s hard­est- work­ing bands liv­ing up to their ti­tle. The in­ter­views Smear speaks of are the dozens that Grohl con­ducted while mak­ing the tele­vi­sion se­ries, an idea that stemmed from the suc­cess of his 2013 doc­u­men­tary on the famed record­ing stu­dio of the same name, Sound City. This mu­si­cal trav­el­ogue of sorts fea­tures ev­ery­one from Slash and Dolly Par­ton to Joan Jett and Buddy Guy – “Just hav­ing one of th­ese con­ver­sa­tions would’ve been worth all the trou­ble,” says Grohl in the se­ries’ trailer.

“It was a lot of ex­tra work for Dave ‘ cos he did the bulk of the in­ter­views, so while we were in the city fix­ing up gui­tar tracks, do­ing our thing, Dave was run­ning around in­ter­view­ing rock leg­ends and who­ever else about the city,” ex­plains Smear. “Other than the travel, it was re­ally just like mak­ing a record for the rest of us. He likes to give him­self ex­tra work.”

With such a huge project in the works for so long, it’s im­pres­sive that the band have re­mained as tight- lipped as they have over the past year. Keep­ing any­thing un­der wraps is a cour­tesy not of­ten af­forded many in the lime­light in 2014 and the Foos have been sure not to spoil their fans, rarely of­fer­ing up more than a morsel of new ma­te­rial for lis­ten­ers to sink their teeth into. Per­haps bassist Nate Men­del de­scribed the ter­rain best in our 2011 in­ter­view: “Oh fuck it, it’s such a Wild West in terms of try­ing to pro­mote and sell a record now.”

“We re­ally wanna play the new songs, it’s just that lit­tle bit of tor­ture in be­tween where we’re start­ing to play shows but we can’t play the new songs yet and when we go prac­tise, ‘ We just prac­tise the new songs, but we can’t play ‘ em’,” Smear says, his voice adopt­ing a gen­tly mock­ing tone that sug­gests the ar­range­ment wasn’t his idea. “It’s like, ‘ God! Just come out so we can start play­ing the new songs!’” he laughs.

“Nor­mally we’d be out do­ing se­cret shows and play­ing all our new songs and get­ting ‘ em ready, but we can’t do that ‘ cos of the TV show,” Shi­flett tells us. “It’s a strange feel­ing be­cause when it’s just us in our re­hearsal stu­dio, that’s all we’re do­ing right now, we’re just play­ing the new stuff. We’ve thrown in a cou­ple of snip­pets live, and when we did, like 99 per­cent of the peo­ple in the crowd had no idea what we were do­ing, then there were maybe three peo­ple who were like, ‘ Yeaahhh! I heard that on the in­ter­net! I know what that is!’”

As if all of this weren’t enough, the past month alone has seen the Foo Fight­ers hon­oured with their own com­mem­o­ra­tive day in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia ( Septem­ber 17th – if you’d care to mark it down) and with­out re­al­is­ing it, they’ve po­ten­tially spear­headed a live mu­sic trend by play­ing an en­tirely crowd- funded gig that saw 1,500 pun­ters pool to­gether $ 50,000 to see the band play their home­town for the first time since 1998. While “Dial- a- Foo” may be an in­trigu­ing taste of things to come, for Shi­flett the show harked back to the small- time days of old.

“That was a re­ally spe­cial, fun gig – it felt like a Foo Fight­ers gig from when I joined the band in the late ‘ 90s, like that’s what a reg­u­lar Foo Fight­ers gig would’ve been like,” he says of the Rich­mond show. “My wife heard on the ra­dio to­day that somebody in Birm­ing­ham has started another crowd- funded cam­paign to get us to come and play their town. I think it would be cool if this kicked off a trend.” He pauses: “You should start one in Aus­tralia and then we’ll come and do it when we’re down there.” We’ll have the beers wait­ing.


Sonic HigH­wayS iS out novem­ber 10 tHrougH Sony.

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