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When you hear that the guitarist for one of the most successful alternative-rock bands of our current generation has a solo CD coming out, there's probably a very stereotypical (and loud) picture that pops into your head. But instead, the album from Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett dips deep into the Americana waters made familiar by bands such as the Old 97's and the Jayhawks. (In fact, the first single, "Get Along," sounds a bit like Tom Petty stopped by to jam with the 'Hawks.) The sound is gloriously uncompressed; pedal steel, mandolin, violin and plenty of organ is sprinkled throughout. With a full-band performance on deck at the Old Rock House, Shiflett took some time to fill us in about his new release.
B-Sides: I think that fans of some of your other bands (Foo Fighters, No Use for a Name) will be surprised with what they hear on this new album. How did this project come about?
Chris Shiflett: It's hard to pinpoint one specific thing or another, but the catalyst for this whole thing started a couple of years ago when I went and played a one-off gig at this festival out here in Southern California called the Hootenanny. It's kind of a mishmash of different things — there's punk rock bands, and Mike Ness always winds up playing at it one way or another, whether [it's] with Social D[istortion] or something. Then they'll get some old country dudes and some alt-country, rockabilly, punk-a-billy — all influenced by Americana-sounding-type stuff. So I wound up doing a one-off gig for that and just got some friends together. We mostly did some cover songs, some old country songs and some of my own songs that we sort of rearranged to fit that format better, and it was really fun. Obviously it was a totally different sound than anything I'd ever played before, although my whole life I've always listened to all kinds of different music. Through the years, various forms of country and country-influenced music have been something that I've loved for a long time. It felt like a pretty natural thing to do.
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I know that the music has been in process for a couple of years, but it seems like the actual recording process went pretty fast.
We had made some demos in the late summer of 2009, and I was just busy writing, honing in on finishing songs. For me, when I get into that headspace, once I really start finishing song ideas and committing to things, then that's when I start to write a bunch more. It gets you in that songwriting mode, so I was doing that through the summer and fall. We started recording in December, and I think we recorded for a couple of weeks in December and a couple of weeks in January.
We recorded about fifteen songs, and it was a different process than the way I normally make records. Normally, you have a band, and you learn a bunch of songs and go into the studio. For this, I had all these song ideas, but I didn't have a band, just me and my friend Lou. We laid down all of the basics, he played drums on it, and we worked out the arrangements. And then we just started calling different people to come in and do different things, so it wasn't like I had an actual lineup set in stone before I went in. I think it really worked out well.
We got all of these amazing players, such as Greg Leisz [Wilco, Lucinda Williams], Davey Faragher [Elvis Costello], Paul Bushnell [Faith Hill, Tim McGraw] and Eddie Perez [the Mavericks]. All of these really great guys. When you have that caliber of player, you don't have to explain too much. You give them the basic skeleton and explain what you want out of the song, and then they do their own thing with it. It just worked — I was really happy with the results.
Because the record is a short one, what can fans coming out to the show expect to hear?
We've learned eight of the nine songs, so we do most of the record. Then we do a couple of songs that we recorded that didn't make the record. And then we do a couple of covers — we've been doing "I'm Gonna to Break Every Heart I Can" by Merle Haggard, and we've been doing "Long Black Limousine," which a lot of people did back in the day, but my favorite version is the Wynn Stewart version. Our version is actually completely different than that — we just do a slow honky-tonk version of it. As we move along, I imagine we'll keep working out some covers — I wouldn't mind getting down to "Sin City" by the [Flying] Burrito Brothers.