Total Guitar - - FEATURE -

“We had a lot of time for this record.” Pat Smear tells us. That’s a rare state­ment in the world of Foo Fighters, where long tours and am­bi­tious con­cepts have been a huge part of the band’s out­put over the last decade: the half-elec­tric, half-acous­tic dou­ble on InYour

Honour, the all-ana­logue, make-it-in-a-garage ethos of Wast­ingLight or si­mul­ta­ne­ously cre­at­ing a TV se­ries and al­bum with Son­icHigh­ways. For al­bum num­ber nine, the band have taken a step back to­wards the tra­di­tional, sim­ply book­ing one of the great­est stu­dios in the world (LA’s EastWest) and qui­etly knuck­ling down be­hind the scenes.

There may be no grand con­cept, but if Con­creteAndGold has a theme it’s one of fur­ther evo­lu­tion for a band who have never re­ally sat still. With Adele (among many oth­ers) pro­ducer Greg Kurstin man­ning the desk, we get a col­lec­tion of tunes with Foo Fighters’ fa­mil­iar gui­tar sounds, but also laced with stacked vo­cal har­monies and greater sonic ex­per­i­men­ta­tion all-round (the band is now of­fi­cially a six-piece, three-gui­tar and keys line-up).

In a rare gui­tar mag in­ter­view, Pat Smear and Chris Shi­flett shed light on what it takes to play gui­tar in one of the big­gest bands on the planet.

How does the writ­ing process go for a Foo Fighters al­bum?

Chris Shi­flett: “Well, we usu­ally do kind of a sim­i­lar thing where Dave has a bunch of song ideas and he’ll usu­ally demo them first, just him­self. Then he sends us all the songs, and we’ll all get to­gether and jam on them. That’s what we did this time, we started work­ing on do­ing demos and stuff, I think last fall. It was right after I got home from do­ing my solo record, ac­tu­ally. I re­mem­ber be­ing re­ally happy that I’d gone and done that when I did! Had I waited an­other cou­ple of months it wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble. Orig­i­nally, we thought we were go­ing to have a longer break, but then Dave had a bunch of tunes and wanted to jump into it. So we loosely started re­hears­ing a lot through the fall and do­ing lots of demos, and the songs just kind of took shape over time. That’s usu­ally the method of this band, we just demo and demo and demo and do them over and over and tweak them along the way. So, by the time we ac­tu­ally started record­ing, which was right be­fore Christ­mas we did the first week of record­ing. I don’t know how many rough ideas there were, but there was a lot of them. We never ac­tu­ally record all the ideas for the record. But then we worked on it into the spring. The nor­mal way that we do that is to do one song at a time. That’s prob­a­bly been the big­gest change over the years. Back in the old days, the first few records I did with this band we’d record all the drums, then all the bass, and all the gui­tars and do it that way. But for

Wast­ingLight there was a change where we just started do­ing one song at a time, which is a nice way to work if you have the lux­ury of do­ing it that way, be­cause I think you have a bet­ter per­spec­tive on your record as you go.”

How do you find your space in a three-gui­tar band?

Pat: “It is dif­fi­cult to find a spot with three gui­tarists. Some­times it’s just a mat­ter of, ‘Well, I’ll just play that part be­cause it should be more present’. Even if I’m dou­bling a part, I try to play it some­where else, like, ‘If you’re play­ing it there, I’m gonna play it here.’ It’s al­ways been like that in this band, since the first al­bum we did to­gether. I’d watch Dave’s hands and think, ‘I’m not gonna play that part like that be­cause he’s al­ready got that cov­ered.’”

Chris: “I feel like when Pat first started play­ing with us again, there was a lot more dis­cus­sion about where ev­ery­body needed to sit in the track, but I think we just do it nat­u­rally now. I think like that any­way – if I know that Dave’s play­ing the chords one way, I’ll try to find an in­ver­sion that’s not just the ex­act same thing. Maybe it’s a lit­tle melody line or what­ever, I try not to du­pli­cate what ev­ery­body else is do­ing too much. I mean some­times you want ev­ery­body chug­ging away on pow­er­chords and just do­ing that thing, but a lot of the time we don’t.”

Do your parts change live?

Pat: “It does hap­pen, yeah. That hap­pens a lot where Dave might be like, ‘On the next part I re­ally want to run around, or run out to the crowd, or go crazy, and this part’s hard so some­body else take it!’ If the part is too hard, Shifty gets em!

Some­times we all just swap parts. It’s an odd thing and I’m not re­ally sure how it hap­pens but some­times we swap when we’re learn­ing the songs for live. Which I love. I think it pretty much falls on what Dave doesn’t want to play. Then some­times there are four gui­tar riffs, and with only three gui­tarists in the band, we’ll have to pick the three that are most im­por­tant and things get swapped.”

How does play­ing in a three-gui­tar line-up shape your gear?

Chris: “It’s in­ter­est­ing. At the be­gin­ning, when we first started re­hears­ing for this record Dave said, ‘Let’s not play on our usual gear, bring some­thing dif­fer­ent.’ So ev­ery­body was play­ing not the nor­mal amps, not the nor­mal gui­tars. The gui­tar I played most on this record was ac­tu­ally the gui­tar I played most on my solo record too. I have this old ’68 non-re­verse Gib­son Fire­bird that’s got P90s in it. And that to me is just a nice com­ple­ment, I just love the P90 sound. There isn’t a lot of room for sin­gle coil stuff in Foo Fighters, it just tends not to work out. So usu­ally I’m bounc­ing be­tween gui­tars with hum­buck­ers, and gui­tars with P90s.”

Pat: “I thought: ‘Okay, I’m not gonna show up with my Hagstroms and my SGs, what am I go­ing to bring?’ I have a cou­ple of Les Pauls that I never play – they’re too heavy, the stupid switch is in a bad place for me and I just never play them. So I brought a cou­ple of Les Pauls down with me and I was like, ‘Wow! holy shit, th­ese things are great!’ I’m just dis­cov­er­ing the Les Paul, it’s a crazy thing, and I’ve kind of mostly been play­ing Les Pauls on this tour so far.”

P90s are of­ten over­looked…

Chris: “To­tally. They’ve just got such a dis­tinct growl to them with their sound. I’m ac­tu­ally work­ing with Fender on an ex­tremely lim­ited run of my sig­na­ture

“that’s the method of this band, we just demo and demo...”

model with P90s in it. I don’t know when that’s go­ing to come out, prob­a­bly some­time in the next year. I’ve been play­ing that non-re­verse so much, and also there’s this SG. I don’t re­ally know whose it is, prob­a­bly Dave’s, but it’s an old one, prob­a­bly early 60s. It’s been in the stu­dio for years with a bro­ken head­stock and Dave’s gui­tar tech Ali got it re­paired and brought it to a re­hearsal one day. I was like, ‘Whose the fuck is that?! It’s mine now!’ So I’ve been play­ing that a bunch too.”

Pat, You have an un­usual Les Paul Cus­tom in the Run video…

“Yeah, that’s a weird gui­tar. That’s a one-off cus­tom or­der from 1972 – be­cause, back in those days they’d do that for you, you could just come up with some wacky thing – and they’d be like, ‘Sure, we’ll make it for you!’ But the guy who sold it to me said that he’s heard

rumours that they might have made two, so there might be an­other one out in the world, he’s not sure. It’s re­ally weird, it’s got two jacks – one’s for the neck pickup, one’s for the bridge pickup which is strange – so you kind of need two amps... or what­ever, I don’t know! What I do is when I want to use the neck pickup, I un­plug it and plug it into the other jack for that song. There’s no routes in the back ei­ther, it’s just gor­geous and the top is one piece, which I’m not used to see­ing on Les Pauls. It’s just all beau­ti­ful wood and abalone, just all the high-end shit from 1972, I guess, and it’s all maple, which is also weird. The neck, the top, the back, it’s all maple and it’s not heavy, it’s one of my light­est ones. It’s prob­a­bly my favourite gui­tar right now, it’s got re­ally low, flat skinny frets, like they’re al­most not even there. It’s pretty cool.”

Did you swap your amps for dif­fer­ent ones too?

Chris: “I did! Right be­fore we started mak­ing the record I got one of those Hard­wired AC-15s from Vox, and that was my magic amp on this record. I played that a lot. But I’ve been play­ing Fried­man Brown Eyes for years and I love them. We had that in the stu­dio with me, but I don’t think I used it on much. I brought in a lit­tle 50-some­thing tweed Champ, and I have a re­ally bitchin’ tweed Vi­brolux too, and I played that a bunch. Then we had all th­ese lit­tle funky old com­bos, Tweed Deluxes and stuff like that.” Pat: “Maybe half of the stuff I did [on

Con­creteAndGold] I used an old 70s mix­ing board piped into some weird tran­sis­tor amp. I can’t even re­mem­ber what it was, it didn’t make any sense at all! It wasn’t even a gui­tar amp, it was like a PA plugged into a tran­sis­tor amp, just a re­ally cool-sound­ing thing. But it was some­thing that [our gui­tar techs] put to­gether. Ba­si­cally, I used that, it was like a portable PA, the sort of thing you might have found in a re­hearsal room in the 70s. I’d run an over­drive pedal when it needed it, but a lot of the time I’d over­drive it with the crazy mix­ing board.”

Chris, how do you use your AC -30? Straight cleans or semi-over­driven?

Chris: “I have it set to a pretty clean tone, it’s got a lit­tle drive. I think of it as kind of like a Tom Petty sound, maybe even a lit­tle less dis­torted than that. Then when I put a pedal in front of it, like the Klon, it’s fuck­ing great. It’s a weird setup that I have be­cause the Fried­man has a re­ally su­per-clean tone, then it’s got my dirt­i­est tone. So I use that one for when I need my re­ally sparkly clean with no gain in it at all, and I’ll kick it into the dirty chan­nel and it’s my heavy rock AC/DC tone. Then I’ll go to the AC-30 when I want clean with a lit­tle grit, and if I’m on the AC30 and I want it with the big grit I’ll stick the Klon in front of it.”

Pat, how did you de­velop such a ra­zor sharp, ag­gres­sive rhythm ap­proach?

“I don’t know where it comes from! It’s just the way I’ve al­ways played. I’m just a punk rock gui­tar player who hap­pens to be in a band that’s not nec­es­sar­ily a punk rock band all the time! I’ve only

“I’m a punk rock gui­tar player in a band that isn’t al­ways punk rock”

ever been in bands where I can be the punk rock gui­tar player in the band be­cause that’s all I want to do. I don’t even know if I could do any­thing else. I learned a long time ago with gui­tars and amps or any­thing else, what­ever band I’m in, I’m just go­ing to sound like me any­way, so I just stay true to that. Luck­ily, Dave likes hav­ing a punk rock gui­tar player in the band!”

You’ve played with some amaz­ing drum­mers, does that have a bear­ing on your play­ing?

Pat: “Well, I guess that an­swers where the ag­gres­sion comes from. I’m gonna say it must come from the drum­mers, be­cause in The Germs, Nir­vana and Foo Fighters it was all amaz­ing, ag­gres­sive drum­ming. Not all the time, but that’s the over­rid­ing thing.”

Greg’s back­ground is very much in the pop world, did you feel that com­ing through mak­ing the al­bum?

Pat: “That was where it came through, the vo­cal har­monies. That was pretty amaz­ing to watch. He’s def­i­nitely a guy who can vi­su­alise it be­cause he’d go into the big room on the piano with Dave with an idea for a vo­cal har­mony. He’d play this part on the piano and Dave would sing it per­fectly first time, al­ways good – just a weird, doesn’tmake-any-sense melody, then Greg would say, ‘Okay, here’s an­other line I want you to sing.’ It’d have noth­ing to do with the first one! It’d be dif­fer­ent notes, dif­fer­ent tim­ing and he’d keep do­ing this, he’d have five or six lay­ers and none of it made any sense. Then when you hear it played back it’s like, ‘Oh!’ His brain’s weird, he’s a funny guy. He’s crazy, man! He’s crazy with vo­cals, he’s crazy with ef­fects and sounds, he just has a lot of crazy ideas that worked re­ally well with us.

“He can play any in­stru­ment, and when­ever I was just sit­ting there in the room un­pre­pared, as usual and just stuck on some­thing, he’d al­ways have a great idea. We laughed a lot too, some­times his idea would be too crazy. ‘Re­ally Greg?!’ I had never heard any of his records be­fore we started, so I didn’t re­ally know where he was com­ing from. I’d never heard even an Adele song. Even his big pop hits are re­ally crazy sound­ing, whether it’s a weird drum sound or some ef­fect go­ing through it you’re like, ‘You can’t do that in a pop song, man!’ But I guess they can do that now!”

There’s a lot of tex­ture to the gui­tar sounds with mod­u­la­tion this time

Chris: “That’s all Greg, man, he’s like the flanger, phaser, Mem­ory Man king. Which was re­ally fun be­cause a lot of the time when you’d be track­ing a gui­tar part, he’d be sit­ting there ma­nip­u­lat­ing the ef­fects as you go. He’s great with all that stuff, he’s a tone ge­nius. He not only has all the bitchin’ gear, but he knows ev­ery nook and cranny on how to use it and make it do cool shit.”

Did Greg use the room at EastWest to ma­nip­u­late the sounds?

Chris: “Well, the se­cret weapon in EastWest is the [echo] cham­ber, and we used that all over ev­ery­thing. It’s on a lot of stuff. It’s prob­a­bly the best part of that stu­dio, I think. But we had the big room and it was just jammed with gear. Five or six drum­sets, all our amps and gui­tars all over the place and key­boards. Just ev­ery­thing you could imag­ine. So it’s a great sound­ing room, but the cham­ber there just makes ev­ery­thing sound re­ally sweet. You know, I never ac­tu­ally saw it!”

With this much pro­duc­tion, will you have to take a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to play the new stuff live?

Pat: “It’s like when there’s too many gui­tar parts, just pick the most im­por­tant ones, so Tay­lor will do the most im­por­tant har­monies. I re­mem­ber when I was a kid and I used to go and see Queen play live. It was like there was Queen the al­bum band, and then Queen the four dudes on stage play­ing the songs on stage, and it never lacked any­thing to me when it was just the four dudes play­ing the big songs. I don’t know if my brain was fill­ing in the things that weren’t there or not, but the en­ergy was al­ways there. They might change it by speed­ing it up or mak­ing it heav­ier or some­thing that would make me never miss what wasn’t there from the ac­tual al­bum.”

Chris: “Yeah, I thought about that a lot when we were record­ing like, ‘Fuck, how am I go­ing to recre­ate this live?’ I do have a gi­nor­mous ped­al­board th­ese days and it’s got a lot of stuff on it! I just try to get it in the ball­park for some of the songs. But I think there was a mind­set in the band be­fore we even started re­hears­ing to go out on tour that we wouldn’t try to recre­ate it ex­actly. Just try to do the rough ver­sion for live, be­cause there’s so much lay­ered vo­cal har­mony stuff go­ing on on this record too that it would have been chal­leng­ing. Or re­ally im­pos­si­ble to recre­ate! And with the gui­tar stuff too it’s tough be­cause the way our sets go live, it’s just ‘Bang, bang, bang’ there’s just no time for mak­ing ad­just­ments a lot of the time out­side of kick­ing into your clean tone or adding a de­lay or what­ever. So, to do that prop­erly for me, would re­quire a lot of gui­tar changes and a lot of switch­ing around my setup. I have an AC-30 and the Fried­man on stage. But to re­ally recre­ate what we did in the stu­dio, I’d prob­a­bly need maybe one or two amps. So we talked about it and de­cided, ‘Let’s just play this the way we play, and not try to make it sound just like the record.’

But I did add a cou­ple of good ped­als into my setup that I used on the record. I have one of those JHS Muf­fulet­tas with a cou­ple of Big Muff sounds on it, which is great, that’s lots of fun. I have a Moog cho­rus thing, and then the Ryan Adams VCR cho­rus pedal. Then also, there’s the sort of reis­sue of the Klon, the red one. And I think I used all those on the record, so I’ll try to recre­ate it as best I can. The rough and ready ver­sion!

“the way our live sets go there’s just not time for mak­ing ad­just­ments”

Pat Smear’s one-of-a-kind dual out­put Les Paul Cus­tom

Chris Shi­flett loves the P90s in his non-re­verse Fire­bird

Foo Fighters still rock­ing hard on their ninth al­bum, Con­creteAndGold

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