Chris Shiflett opens about his new solo album Hard Lessons and Foo Fighters summer plans...
Chris Shiflett is best known to us all as the lead guitarist with the Foo Fighters, but, when away from Dave Grohl’s stadium-filling juggernaut, he has always been busy with other things.
He’s put out two surf records under the name Jackson United, played against members of NOFX and Lagwagon in beloved punk rock covers outfit Me First And The Gimme Gimme Gimmes, dropped two rockabilly records with his band the Dead Peasants and played with his brother in side project Viva Death.
Amid all that, he still had a creative itch to scratch, a life-long love of country music. He began to scratch the itch on 2017’s West Coast Town, a windswept, dust in throat record he made with legendary country producer Dave Cobb. That wasn’t enough though. Now he’s back for more with new LP Hard Lessons, which arrives in hmv stores today.
As the album arrives, we spoke to Shiftlett about making the album, living and working in Nashville and his summer plans with the Foo Fighters…
You’ve been pretty busy with the Foo Fighters for the last couple of years, when have you found time to write an album?
“I ask myself that a lot! I wrote these songs while we were touring the last record. Touring is exhausting, but you do have a lot of downtime. You’re sitting in your hotel room, you’ve got some time backstage, you’re waiting for a plane and you do have time. I loved making West Coast Town and it was so inspiring. I loved Dave Cobb and all his crew and I wanted to get back and make another record as soon as I could. I just had to carve out the time.”
Were you always set on making another country record? You were a punk rocker when you were younger and then you’ve been with the Foo Fighters, it’s your solo career, you can do what you like…
“Yes and no. I write the songs that I write and that’s how it came out. It wouldn’t work any other way. You can’t consciously sit down and decide to write country songs. You write what you write and you build from there. You pick the players and the producers you want.”
You did the record in Nashville, what was it like to work there? Sat here in the UK it seems like this strange country music theme park…
“It totally is a country music theme park! Last time we played there we were opening for Blackberry Smoke and we played at the Ryman, which is this amazing venue right in the heart of the city, like tourist central. I hadn’t seen that side of things. I come to Nashville to work."
"I’m there for a few weeks and I’ve got my head in my record. We played the gig and we tried to drive back to the hotel, it was a five-minute drive and it took us an hour! There are so many people! It’s a big boom town.”
But still full of great musicians...
“What attracts me is exactly that. The unbelievable level of players you can find and find quickly. If you’re going to make music that has a little country in it, there’s no better place to do it.”
What is it about Dave Cobb that you like so much?
“Before I meet Dave, I would just keep seeing his name on records I liked. Whether that was Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton or Jason Isbell, there were just a tonne of them. I knew I was a fan of his work, but I had no idea how he did what he did. I got in there with him and I loved it.”
“He wants to keep things alive. He wants to be fresh and immediate. He doesn’t want to listen to your demo tape. You sit down with him in a room and his rhythm section are there. You play the song on acoustic guitar and half mumble some words and he’s off to the races. A minute later and he’s changing chords, re-working arrangements and tightening the song up. You start recording and before you know it you’ve got the final take. I love it. It’s such an exciting way to make a record.”
What kind of record is it lyrically? Is there a theme?
“What I hear is a lot of homesick longing and loneliness. All these songs were written when I was away from home on tour, I’m missing my wife and kids. There’s nothing that exactly spells that out, but that’s what I hear all over the record.”
Was the album always going to be called Hard Lessons?
“I had the song ‘The Hardest Lessons’, and, when the record was done, I was looking for the lyrics to pull something out. I wanted to sum the record up and I decided to abbreviate it. That song is so personal to me. It’s very autobiographical and it fits the record perfectly.”
You toured Europe earlier in the year, do you have plans to do more later this year?
“I want to do more. We have a few things lined up here and there, but I want to go out again. I’d like to do more support tours and we’re putting the feelers out there now. I’d love to come back to the UK later in the year. Hopefully, we can make that happen.”
But you’ve got a busy festival summer with Foo Fighters, you must be looking forward to that...
“For sure. We haven’t played Reading and Leeds since 2012 and I can’t wait to get back there. British crowds are always nuts!”
Do Foo Fighters have a plan beyond the summer? Are you talking about the next record?
“I don’t know. I’m not sure what the plan is yet. Any downtime I do get, I’ll be on the road with this record.”
Chris Shiflett’s new album Hard Lessons is out now in hmv stores.
Press photo by Brantley Guiterrez.