Music for a chaotic world and haunted houses: a chat with the Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters Takeover

The Foo Fighters have reached a crest, a new height in their awe-inspiring career. On their new album, the band look across the vast horizon and continue upwards.

Very few bands out there have seen a career as remarkable as the Foo Fighters. In a time when rock had lost its messiah and the genre was declared lost without him, Dave Grohl would quietly reignite the spark.

From pain grew one of history’s most restorative bands, a group whose music would ignite stadiums and soundtrack lives. 26 years since Dave Grohl quietly turned his suffering into a renaissance, the Foo Fighters are always at hand when rock needs an added sprinkle of bravado. And here they are again, right on time to unleash their most ambitious project yet.

We caught up with lead guitarist Chris Shiflett to hear more.

foo fighters interview medicine at midnight

HAPPY: Tell me a little bit about this haunted house that you guys were recording in?

CHRIS: [Laughs] Yeah, so Dave had rented this house out in Encino (CA) in the summer of 2019 because he wanted to just throw together a demo studio, so he could rough out some ideas. He did that and then he just liked the way the room sounded, so decided to just bring up all the gear and set up a makeshift studio in this funky old house. You know, it’s not like… it’s in Encino, so it’s a nice part of town. But it is funny how the house is in a bit of disrepair and almost looks like it’s sliding off the hill or being reclaimed by overgrown plants. It’s got that kind of thing. 

HAPPY: And there was some weird shit going on inside as well? I heard your demos would get randomly deleted from your computer.

CHRIS: [Laughs] I don’t know how much that’s all just in your head when you’re walking back to the car late at night, you know. And the lighting’s not so good and you’re like creeping along, like fuck it’s spooky out here. Sometimes your mind plays tricks on you.

HAPPY: Yeah totally. Was that the weirdest recording experience you guys have ever had?

CHRIS: Not really because we’ve done stuff like that before. It’s a different house but you know, we made a record in Dave’s house once and we recorded songs for Sonic Highways all over the place and that was a trip. This was nice, it was laid back. For me, I’d just drive over the hill everyday and it was just like you were just driving into a neighbourhood and sitting around the kitchen table everyday with everybody. Whoever was working would be working and then the rest of us would be sitting around eating cookies and drinking coffee and talking shit. It was pretty chill. 

HAPPY: Yeah, nice. I was reading a Reddit AMA that you did sometime last year, where you were telling the story of your first recording session in Dave’s basement. Have you had a chance to listen to those demos, or are they hidden away somewhere?

CHRIS: [Laughs] God, I don’t know where those ever wound up because I feel like we recorded a bunch of songs. I don’t know if any of those songs ever even became anything. Yeah, that was a funny time. That was not too long after I joined the band, so it was really pretty soon after the third record came out. I hadn’t played on that record, so this was the first time I was ever kind of recording with Foo’s. I remember a couple of times we went down to Dave’s house and we all just kind of shacked up in Virginia at his place and just recorded all these bits of songs. I don’t think any of that stuff ever got finished and I have no idea where it is. I mean, there’s probably a reel-to-reel tape of some of that stuff in our studio somewhere. Somebody better dig that up for the box set.

HAPPY: That’d be great. I know that Dave said Medicine at Midnight is to you what Let’s Dance was to Bowie. What was the mission statement behind this new album?

CHRIS: I think that was really kind of it. I remember him referencing that specifically and then, once we got in there, we just started doing what we do and the record took shape. I mean, he definitely had that in his head as like the north star of the record. Just to try to do something that had some of those grooves and was a little more like groove-based. 

HAPPY: Totally, what I loved about the album is that these songs are just begging to be played in front of a massive crowd and it just happens to come at a time when you obviously can’t have massive crowds and perform. Was that an intention going into making the record, to make these really big, beautiful anthems?

CHRIS: I think that’s sort of always the intention. You always want to make a record that’s fun to go out and play live and a lot of this stuff on this record I could see us playing any of these songs. But yeah, I mean you asked before the interview what it was like to put the record out, now that is the single strangest element of the whole thing. Is to not have the feedback from the gigs because that’s really how you know how people are engaging with your new stuff. You can just see it, instantly there’s no question of whether or not people are grooving on it. They either do or they don’t at a gig. We’ll get back out there at some point. 

foo fighters interview medicine at midnight

HAPPY: Do you guys have another plan to gauge audience engagement, like livestreams or anything?

CHRIS: We’ve done a bit of that so far and I’m sure we’ll do some more. I think it’s going to be a minute still before touring comes back. That’s the weirdest thing, or one of the weirdest things, about putting out a record right now is it just turns your band into content creators. That’s all we do right now. We film ourselves playing our songs and send it to, you know… this one’s going to Japan and this one’s going to Italy and this one goes to the Kimmel Show. And recording little liners and we’re all doing promo, but we’re all doing it. Normally, we all do promo together. You’re in a room with at least a couple of the other guys in the band. But now, we’re doing it like this, so it’s weird but it’s fine. Everybody just kind of adjusts. 

HAPPY: Have you guys really had a chance to meet up since the start of lockdown?

CHRIS: Yeah, initially we didn’t for months. It was just shut down and you know how it was at the beginning of this whole thing. You didn’t know what was going on. You’re just kind of huddled at home, fucking hoarding toilet paper or whatever. But then around the end of summer/early fall, we started doing some rehearsals and figuring out how we were going to put the record out. We’ve been pretty active, you know. We are like the most COVID-tested people on the planet. We just get tested everyday and then go to rehearsal or go to film something. There’s a lot. We’ve been pretty active for the last six months or something. It’s been a busy period, even though it’s all just at home. 

HAPPY: Yeah definitely. On that same Reddit thread that I mentioned a bit earlier, I saw that you said that “it can be kind of scary to put your music out there in the world, but if you’re going to do it you have to be ready for good and bad feedback.” Does it ever get easier releasing your music like with time, or do you just still feel the same nerves with every release?

CHRIS: I mean, it’s so funny because you can put something out and almost the only feedback you ever get for anything is positive. It’s like most people if they don’t like your band aren’t going to bother to find you on Twitter and tell you to fuck off. It’s almost the only thing you ever get back is positive and reaffirming. But it is funny how your mind works. Because there’ll be the one negative comment and that’s the one that sticks in your head. Like I said, if you’re going to put records out, you’ve got to be willing to accept the fact that you’re going to get bad reviews and people are going to not like it.

CHRIS: I think usually we’re pretty lucky to… obviously, we’re super fortunate that people dig our band and on the whole, it’s more positive than negative, generally. But yeah, I try not to put too much stock in reviews one way or another. It’s always nice when you read a review where you feel like they really listened to it and you can kind of tell. Because sometimes you read a review and you’re like, that doesn’t even sound like our record that they’re talking about, but whatever. Everybody’s got their own take on things.

HAPPY: Obviously you’re someone who understands the power of youth culture from seeing the outlet it’s provided you and your own music, to the effect that your music has had on younger generations. When you look at youth culture today, do you see these new trends in music and fashion as an extension of what you grew up with or do you see it as a completely different movement entirely?

CHRIS: I think everything feeds off the thing that came before it. I’m going to turn 50 this year so my days of youth culture are long behind me, but I do have three teenage boys and so pretty much all my exposure to youth culture comes through them nowadays, which I think it’s so fun. My kids are all really into music and somewhat different in their individual tastes. I just look at the way that they dress and how they carry themselves, you know. They’re all like 13, 14, and 17, so they’re at those ages when that stuff starts to matter; the shirt you have on, or the way you wear your hat, or whatever it is. I mean, my kids would probably tell you that they don’t take influence from the past but, of course, we all do. 

HAPPY: Absolutely, are they into music? Do they play any instruments or anything?

CHRIS: They don’t play but the type of music that I grew up with, that’s not the sort of thing that kids are into now. They all love music, but it’s not really guitar music, you know. I keep waiting for one of them to want to start figuring out how to make beats or something but they’re into other stuff. They found their own interests. 

foo fighters interview medicine at midnight

HAPPY: There’s always time though, you never know. 

CHRIS: That’s true. I can always teach them how to play an E chord, any day of the week. 

HAPPY: Exactly. You’ve been outspoken about the legacy left by the Trump Administration for a while now and it feels like the US is at this really crucial point in opening a new chapter. What role do you feel that music plays in times like these?

CHRIS: I think music can often be… I mean it’s the same role it plays just in your life in general. It’s the soundtrack to getting your heartbroken, it’s the soundtrack to falling in love, it’s the soundtrack to everything. I remember when my wife and I first started dating, she was away on a photoshoot thing and somebody that was working on it, it was this French guy said like, “sometimes, it is good to miss.” And I knew exactly what he meant. It’s like that blue feeling when you’re listening to a sad song and it’s reinforcing your misery, but it’s somehow soothing at the same time. I think music can do that when the world’s in chaos too. It’s always a ray of light for people or, at the very least, a diversion from people’s problems. Troubles.

HAPPY: Now that the album’s about to drop, I know you guys are hosting a radio show. What’s next on the cards for you?

CHRIS: I was actually putting the finishing touches on one of my radio show things earlier today, which was fun. Yeah, we got a lot of that stuff. There’s a whole lot of those types of things. What are we doing? Just more of the same I think. I’m really not sure. It’s funny, we’ve been so busy but I look at our schedule from week-to-week. We have a busy week this week, you’re doing some rehearsals. Doing… I don’t know if the thing that we’re doing is announced, it probably is. But if it’s not, I should probably not say it out loud. But we are doing a thing. Yeah, a thing that we have to rehearse for. So we’ll be rehearsing and stuff, just getting ready to get this record out. 

HAPPY: And the radio show’s going to be… is that a week-long thing. Did I read that right?

CHRIS: I think it’s like a couple of months. Are you talking about the SiriusXM thing?

HAPPY: Yeah.

CHRIS: Yeah no, I’m talking a little out of turn here because I’m not 100% positive but I think our channel goes on for a couple of months or something. I know everybody’s sort of put together their own hour-long radio show from within that. I did one that was a deep dive on glam rock, which was fun. Then I also did one where me and Pat (Smear) teamed up, and we interviewed the original Alice Cooper group. Which, if you aren’t familiar with, you should go out and listen to their breakthrough record Love It To Death immediately. That’s the record that we focused on. We interviewed them and did this whole very long, in-depth discussion with those guys about that whole time period for their band. It was amazing yeah, really fun.

HAPPY: Yeah wow. Did you interview Alice Cooper for your podcast recently or am I making that up?

CHRIS: No, I interviewed Tommy Lee recently. But God, I would love to. I would love to interview any of those guys. The original Alice Cooper band is one of my biggest influencers. And same for Pat, that’s why we did it together. 

HAPPY: That’s incredible. I’m so keen to tune in. Thanks so much for the chat Chris.

CHRIS: No worries. Take care. 


Grab your copy of Medicine at Midnight here

Photos by Danny Clinch