Interview: Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett Talks New Album, Lemmy & Punk Rock Memories

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NOTE: Chris Shiflett has said that he was joking about the Pearl Jam comment and that he didn’t say anything to Dave Grohl about the Rock Hall of Fame.

While Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett has been working on his own music for years with Dead Peasants, he is now releasing his very own solo album West Coast Town on April 14th. The album has a country sound with a nostalgic sound, and on many songs juxtaposes this sound with stories of rebellious punk rock youth. Alternative Nation had the pleasure to speak with Shiflett on Monday about his new album, Foo Fighters teasing two new songs, recording in Nashville, his dream punk rock supergroup, Dave Grohl’s throne, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Lemmy, and much more.

Your new album, West Coast Town, along with your Dead Peasants work, leans country in comparison to your work with Foo Fighters. Why do you think country music is still so commercially viable in the United States while rock music is pretty much dead outside of the iconic acts that are still around?

I have no idea, man. I don’t have any real reference points in the mainstream country music side of things. I don’t know!

You recorded your new album at RCA studio A in Nashville, which has really become an epicenter of the music industry. With Rock you got some of the best acts of the last decade like The Black Keys and Cage the Elephant and Jack White setting up shop in that area, and of course you have the country scene. What was your experience working on the record in Nashville, and did you get to take in any of the scene?

It was really great! It was an amazing studio and the crew that I was working with were fantastic, some really good players. Of course Dave Cobb is an incredible producer. The whole experience was great. I was there for the better part of a month. To be honest, I really didn’t do a whole lot outside of work on my record. I was 100% focused on that. I went out to see local music once or twice. I spent some time in Nashville before and I love it out there. It’s a town so steeped in country music of all kinds, and a lot of the indie rock stuff that’s happening right now. It’s always a pleasure being out there.

“Tonight’s Not Over” really interested me lyrically. It’s a song about punk Rock lifestyle. I know you came up playing punk in California. My half-sister Dawn claims to have known you back then.

Oh sure, I know Dawn!

The song is country-leaning sonically, but lyrically it really harkens back to punk Rock: drugs, cranking a NOFX record…

[Laughs] Right.

What are some of your favorite memories of that scene decades later, and what inspired you to write a song based on it?

That time in the sort of late 80’s/early to mid 90’s, for me, was two things happening: all that punk rock stuff was coming up… bands like Bad Religion, Pennywise, and NOFX were putting out stuff. That whole time period coincided with me being a teenager and coming into adulthood, moving out of my mom’s house to L.A…. I grew up in Santa Barbara, so those first several years of living on my own, I’d go back home almost every weekend. That’s what the song is really about, that experience being back home almost every weekend and having to be back at work on Monday at 8 am… having to struggle to leave, the night just gets later and later. You gotta take that long, lonely drive down the coast. Picking one specific memory is tough… everybody loves being 18 or 21, it’s such a great time in your life.

I was doing some research on you and I read that your mom was a probation officer! How did that jive with the whole punk rock lifestyle?

That’s funny, because my mom kind of fell into that job. She wasn’t a strict law enforcement type! When I tell people my mom was a probation officer, they just think she was some sort of hardass, but she was actually the complete opposite! I remember getting arrested when I was sixteen… they took me to my mom’s office! [laughs] I had to go see a probation officer a couple of times and it was just a family friend… when I turned 18, I dropped out of high school and wasn’t doing a whole lot. My mom one day just said, “You know what, you’re getting a job at the probation department!” Well, I did, and that was the first real job I ever had.

Up until that point I had some shitty jobs being a dishwasher, gardening, working at a coffee shop, those kind of jobs. Through the probation job I was able to save up a bit of money. I bought a new amp… this was 1989. I worked that whole year and saved up money, bought a new amp, and moved to L.A. in January. If it wasn’t for that gig at the probation department, I don’t think I would have been able to pull that off when I did! That kind of sent me on my way.

You were recently on tour and played with Social Distortion and Jay Jackson at the Showbox in Seattle. How was it playing at such an iconic venue in Foo Fighters’ hometown?

Yeah! It was really amazing! It was great. We found out after we booked our tour that Social D was going to be playing in some of the same markets around the same time. That was the one show where they were playing the same night. We were playing another gig that night at the Sunset Tavern. We just called up Shane, their manager, and asked if we could jump on there. They were totally cool about it! No question, absolutely, come jump on the gig. Jay Jackson Band let us use their gear. We were able to run over there… that day was crazy!

We drove up from Portland, loaded in at Sunset Tavern, raced over to Showbox, did a quick little soundcheck, did the gig, booked out the back door, and rushed over back to our own gig and played there later that night. It was great to see those guys. Obviously Social D is a huge influence on me. Unfortunately we couldn’t hang out and watch there gig, but it was cool to see Mike and Johnny and all those guys. The whole thing was just a pleasure.

On your new album, you’ve got a bunch of great country artists playing alongside you and its got a real nostalgic sound. If you were to do a punk rock solo record, who would you want to play on it?

Ohhh man, that’s a tough one! I’d have to get my brother Scott on there… Fat Mike… I would call Brett Gurewitz from Bad Religion and ask if he’d do something on there! Of course I’d have to get Spike Slawson from the Gimme Gimmes… I don’t know, man, there’s so many people! It’d be tough. It’d be hard to choose. You could just go through all the punk years and pick anybody… Steve Jones, Mick Jones, Paul Simmons, Mike Ness… Jay Bentley, maybe. It’s just endless. There could be a supergroup on every track and still not exhaust the amount of people you’d wanna get on there!

All of the Foo Fighters members have solo projects except for Pat Smear, who hasn’t made a solo album in twenty five years… I think.

[Laughs] They still do Germs shows from time to time.

Have you played your solo record for any of your bandmates? If so, what do they think?

I have not! I don’t know what they think. I think they probably think I’m a weirdo because I love country music! I don’t know. I would have to quiz them on that.

Foo Fighters have recently teased two new songs live which fans have labelled “Keep Your Pretty Promise To Yourself” and “Run With Me”. What’s the story behind those songs, and what’s going on with the new album?

There’s no story that I can tell ya’ other than… when there’s something ready to be discussed, the powers that be will let everyone know!

What about those songs, are there complete versions that you guys played, and you just did a snippet?

We just magically launched into those songs because we are so intrinsically linked with each other.

[Laughs] I think something’s up but we’ll have to wait and see. [Chris laughs]  This weekend is going to be a big weekend for rock and roll.  What do you think about Pearl Jam going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the prospects of Foo Fighters going in someday?

Well, it’s funny… you know there was that whole debate or whatever about which members were going in, and which ones weren’t. I know that one the drummers [isn’t getting in], I don’t know if that was ever resolved. There was that whole thing, I’m sure you’ve heard about it. I said to Dave when all of that stuff was going on, “Look, I didn’t play on the first three fuckin’ Foo Fighters records, but you better get me into the fuckin’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame if that ever happens! I’m going in baby!”

Oh, you’ll definitely get in there. So are you excited at the prospect of Foo Fighters going in the next few years, or is it not a huge deal to you?

It’s something I honestly have never thought about at all, but I mean sure of course, that would be amazing. It’s like when you go to the Grammys. I didn’t grow up dreaming of winning Grammys, but we’ve won some over the years, and it’s great. It’s a super fun night, you put your nice suit on, it’s a big party. It’s like the one time in your life your parents go, “Wow, wait to go, you’re really doing something good!”

It’s just good, it sort of validates your crazy life choices to your family I think in the long run, those kind of events. I don’t know what the rules are for going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I don’t know how any of that shit works. I really don’t pay any attention to it, but if it ever happened, I would not complain.

Over the past year we’ve lost many rock legends, including some of my favorites, like David Bowie, Scott Weiland, Prince, and Lemmy. Do you have any memories of meeting or spending time with any of those guys?

Sure, we got to do a bunch of stuff with Lemmy over the years just from playing shows with [Motorhead]. Dave was pretty good friends with Lemmy. I have a great picture of me, Lemmy, and Lance Armstrong backstage that I think is pretty funny. There was a bunch of times we crossed paths over the years. Lemmy was always this very classic rock icon gentleman, and in every one of the experiences I’ve had with him, he was a sweet, nice man.
The Colour and the Shape’s twentieth anniversary is coming up, and while that record came out a few years before you joined the band, you’ve been playing those songs for years now. Are there any plans to celebrate the album’s anniversary?

Nothin’ that I’ve heard of, but I’m sure something will happen.

Do you have any songs off that record that you love to play live, or would like to play more?

That whole record’s fun to play, and I think we’ve played pretty much all of them! “My Poor Brain”, we used to play that when I joined the band. I always loved that tune. We haven’t played it in a long time. That one was always get to play.

That’s one of my favorites. “New Way Home” is probably my favorite Foos song.

Right on. That was a staple in the live set for a long time but we haven’t played it much in recent years.

What was your reaction when Dave fell off his stage and broke his stage, having to tour with the throne?

My reaction in the moment was fear! He fell off the stage literally right in front of me. I was scared to look over because it was a big stage and at first I just kind of stood there, waiting for him to pop back up. When he didn’t pop up, I got really scared and thought he’d be really hurt… he was really hurt, but it could have been worse! He’s a trooper, and it definitely changed the back half of the touring for that record. It became a thing people wanted to see because it was a one time thing. The throne took on a life of its own.

Did Axl Rose ever give it back?

[Laughs] I have no idea.

Someday it will be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’m sure of it.

One can only hope.

Upcoming Chris Shiflett Tour Dates:
April 6— New York, NY— Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2
April 9— Nashville, TN— The High Watt
April 10— Atlanta, GA— Eddie’s Attic