Chris Shiflett on New Solo LP, 20 Years of Being a Foo Fighter and More
The American vocalist-guitarist’s forthcoming record ‘Hard Lessons’ releases next month
When you play in one of the biggest rock bands in the world, it could be a struggle to find time to do anything else in between recording sessions and gruelling tour schedules. Somehow American rockers Foo Fighters’ guitarist Chris Shiflett is able to juggle his “day job” and also churn out his own music. The musician is currently readying for the release of his second solo record, Hard Lessons, slated to be out on June 14th via East Beach Records and Tapes/Thirty Tigers. Over the phone from his home in Los Angeles, Shiflett says, “It’s just a lot of parts to a record (and) release and I’m just kind of in the home stretch.”
The Grammy Award-winning guitarist tells Rolling Stone India about the difference of making a solo record as opposed to a Foo Fighters album, performing in India, Arsenal and more. Excerpts:
From what I’ve heard, Hard Lessons is a lot more rock and roll as opposed to West Coast Town  which was more country-leaning. What’s the sonic imprint on the new album?
It kind of started with this very specific amp that [Grammy-winning] Dave Cobb, who produced the record, suggested that I use. He just had it in mind to buy a Marshall JCM800. He was like, ‘You should play that cranked up on the whole record, you know. Kind of play your version of country music but like loud and with big rock and roll guitars.’ So the first day I got into the studio, we looked for one on Craigslist and found one and sent a runner over to pick it up. We brought it back to the studio and turned it on, plugged it in and it was, like, perfect. So we just wound up using that on pretty much the whole record. It kind of set the tone for the record.
You’ve put out three singles so far, the chest-beating stomper “This Ol’ World,” the honky-tonk driven “Welcome to Your First Heartache” and the bar-band bombast “Liar’s Word.” What are the lyrical inspirations behind these songs?
“This Ol’ World” is pretty much, kind of my take on the world. I never wanted it to be like a finger pointing song, I wanted people with different worldviews to recognize a little bit of themselves in it, that’s kind of what I was trying to do.
With “Welcome to Your First Heartache” I kind of was lyrically inspired by my oldest son going through his first like teenage romance and I was just reflecting on that. As a parent, you sort of look back and think about your own experiences in that regard and it’s from a father to a son kind of a song.
“Liar’s Word,” it’s funny when I wrote that, that wasn’t even really the hook line of the song. It had a whole other half of the chorus. And when I got in the studio, that’s one of the things that Dave Cobb does so well, he sort of trims the fat of your songs and I remember him going, ‘Get rid of those lines and that’s your hook, that chorus of the song.’ I love that part of making records. You always go into the studio with a bunch of ideas and they always change over the course of making a record and collaborating with other people it always sort of evolves into some other thing.
Hard Lessons features some sweet Telecaster twang with overdriven guitars and overall honest songwriting. What more can folks expect from the album?
I think of it as a mix of all my favorite stuff. It’s part [British rockers] Rolling Stones as it is, [American punk band] Social Distortion as it is, [late American country singer] Merle Haggard. Just all those things kind of mixed up together.
You spoke about Dave Cobb earlier, what’s it like going back to him for another record?
I love working with him, he’s so great in the studio, he really moves fast, he likes to hear your song in the room right then and there and just start hacking away at it and throw together an arrangement real fast. You work it out with the rhythm section real fast and after a couple times going through it, you start getting takes after maybe just three or four passes at it and you got it. It’s great because it’s really in-the-moment creating and not overly laboring. I’ve never made records the way that Dave makes records, he’s just an inspiring guy to work with.
West Coast Town came out the same year the Foo Fighters put out Concrete and Gold, how do you find the time to work on your solo material in between Foos stuff?
I don’t have the time (laughs). That’s the hard part. By the time West Coast Town came out we were almost done making Concrete and Gold, towards the end of those recording sessions. It is difficult to carve out time. That’s really the reason I made this one in the middle of touring for the last Foo Fighters record. When we had a couple weeks off, I’d pop out to Nashville, work on my record a little bit and did it over the course of a couple of sessions because I wanted to be able to put it out and actually go hit the road and play some shows. You know there’s the songwriting side of things, there’s the recording side of things and then there’s going out and playing the songs live and that’s an important part of it as well.
What’s the difference between making a Chris Shiflett record and a Foo Fighters record?
The main difference for me is just my role in it is very different. It’s different to be the singer and songwriter and guy even coming in with the song ideas. You know that’s a very different thing when somebody else is writing the songs and sort of coming up with the big vision and you’re in there trying to figure out how to play to that vision, how to help come up with a guitar part that fits in somewhere – it’s a different role.
You’re coming up on 20 years with the Foo Fighters, what’s one moment over the last two decades that stands out for you?
There’s so many. I think back to just right at the beginning when I got the phone call from Dave [Grohl, vocalist-guitarist] and Taylor [Hawkins, drummer] and they told me that I got the gig that was a pretty exciting moment, real life changing moment. A lot of the other stuff, it’s like it’s happening in real time. It’s amazing, there are moments like Wembley, like Madison Square Garden or winning a Grammy, there are those moments that can be kind of overwhelming. You realize when it’s happening like, ‘Wow this is pretty cool – this is special.’ A lot of the other stuff, it becomes your life and it just becomes your normal. When you look back on it you’re like, ‘Fuck man, we have covered so much ground. We have done so much crazy shit.’ I don’t think you’re necessarily aware of it all the time. You’re aware of it when you look back.
You’ve spoken to some pretty interesting people on your podcast Walking The Floor, like Sheryl Crow, Bob Mould and Steve Earle. What’s it like to interview these folks?
I really like it, it’s been something I’ve sort of learned on the job. I’ve never really interviewed anybody until I’ve gotten to do my podcast. I also quickly figured out not to talk over their answers (laughs). I’ve got to talk to so many people that are big influences of mine and without doing my podcast, a lot of these folks I would never have the opportunity to be in a room with.
Outside music I know you’re a massive Arsenal fan, what do you think are their chances in the Europa League final on May 30th?
I mean I think that this game is really like… I don’t have a strong feeling because Arsenal over the course of the last season at times have looked so good and there’s been a lot of times where we should have won games against lesser teams. I think if we would’ve won one game, it would’ve put us in the fourth spot. I think if you look back at the season you go like, ‘Jeez why the fuck didn’t we beat Brighton?’ Like some of these games that we should have won and didn’t. I think we all got a little overly optimistic with that great run that we put together at the start of the season. It was feeling very good and then it’s been nervous.
I don’t know, I think right now Chelsea are in better form so I’m cautiously optimistic – it’s our last chance to get in the Champions League next year so, fingers crossed. Arsenal’s form has been so up and down so how do you make a guess at this point?
Has there ever been a time when the Foo Fighters have discussed an India tour?
It has come up, if I remember a few years ago there was some talk of us going to India and I don’t know whatever happened with that. So I don’t know. Matter of fact it’s kind of crazy, I think this is the first interview I’ve ever done with an Indian journalist – I don’t think I’ve ever done an interview with anyone from an Indian publication before.
I’ve been touring for a long time and one of my favorite things on tour is when we go places we’ve never been before. There’s places we always go – we always tour America, we always tour a lot of Europe and we go to Japan and we go to Australia – those are some places that we tend to go back to a lot. In recent years, we’ve started going to South America, we’ve done a few trips down there and so that’s like kind of added into the places that we normally go so if an Indian tour ever comes up sign me up I’d love it. One of my favorite bands [Finnish rock outfit] Hanoi Rocks, I remember seeing pictures and reading about how they went [to India] in the early Eighties and the shows sounded insane, it sounded really wild.
With Hard Lessons coming out in the second week of June, what do you have lined up?
Right now I’ve got a couple weeks of Foo Fighters dates in June, got some solo gigs on the West Coast in July, some Foo Fighters dates in August and then I’ve got a couple festival things lined up for me for my solo thing in the fall. We’re trying to route some dates to and from those things and kind of keep our feelers out and see what comes out. There’s a lot of places I want to get to that I haven’t done yet, so fingers crossed.
Once everything is wrapped up, can we expect a new Foo Fighters record?
Nothing to announce yet, but you’ll be the first to know (laughs).
The full track listing for Chris Shiflett’s Hard Lessons:
1. “Liar’s Word”
2. “This Ol’ World”
3. “Welcome to Your First Heartache”
4. “The Hardest Lessons”
5. “The One You Go Home To” (feat. Elizabeth Cook)
6. “Fool’s Gold”
7. “I Thought You’d Never Leave”
8. “Weak Heart”
9. “Marfa on My Mind”
10. “Leaving Again”