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Foo Fighters Dave Grohl, Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear Talk New Album, 'Concrete and Gold'

Foo Fighters Dave Grohl, Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear Talk New Album, 'Concrete and Gold' (from left) The Foo Fighters' three-ax attack: Chris Shiflett, Dave Grohl and Pat Smear

Initially, the band reconvened at keyboardist Jaffee’s studio to work on music, but it wasn’t until they paired up with producer Greg Kurstin and entered East-West Studios in Hollywood that Concrete and Gold really took shape. The Foos have worked with a variety of producers over the years, including Gil Norton (Pixies, Echo and the Bunnymen) and Butch Vig, whose relationship with Grohl extends back to Nirvana’s Nevermind.

But they’ve never worked with someone like Kurstin, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who, in addition to forming one half of the indiepop duo The Bird and the Bee, has crafted studio productions for the likes of Adele and Sia, among others.

It was an unlikely pairing, to be sure—a fact that wasn’t lost on Grohl’s bandmates. “One day, Dave said, ‘Hey, I invited Greg down to come see what we do,’ ” Smear recalls. As for whether Smear was familiar with Kurstin’s résumé? “Yeah, Dave probably mentioned it before he came down,” he says, then laughs. “Which was confusing.”

But, Smear continues, “then Greg came to the studio and I realized, Oh, you’re like us! You were some punk rock kid who played in weirdo bands, and somewhere along the line you happened to do that thing that now everyone knows you for. So Greg may have veered off into other directions like jazz and pop and stuff, but I got it. And we immediately got along.”

For Grohl, there was intentionality in pursuing Kurstin, who has a particular talent for crafting lush—and often left-of-center—harmonies, melodies and instrumental arrangements. “I think we all knew from the way Dave was talking even in the early stages that, sonically, musically, he wanted to do something different this time,” Shiflett says.

“I don’t know if it was super clear what that ultimately was going to mean, but certainly a very big part of that would be his decision to bring in Greg Kurstin. Because we had a guy in the studio producing us who brought something very different from what is normally a Foo Fighters record. And I think that, through Greg, Dave was able to realize things…there are things on this record that Dave has talked about wanting to do for a long time. We just never did ’em. But Greg was able to facilitate some of that stuff.”

Explains Grohl, “Greg and I, we’d hung out for years, but I didn’t imagine that he would ever make a Foo Fighters record. At the same time, I always imagined, what if he did? I knew that he would be able to stretch us in those directions—melodically and sonically, and also in terms of production and composition—farther than we’ve ever gone. Because he’s a fucking genius. And I do not say that lightly. I’ve met a lot of brilliant musicians, and Greg Kurstin, without a doubt, is the most brilliant musician I’ve ever met in my entire life. And I knew that we were about to make an album that was gonna push out in a direction we’ve always wanted to go, but never fully explored.”

The result is an album that, at its core, at least, still sounds like a Foo Fighters album, chock full of explosive, smack-you-in-the-face riffs, whisper-to-a-scream dynamic shifts, massive, stadium-shaking choruses and insanely catchy hooks and melodies. From the shapeshifting first single, “Run,” to the lurching, punkish “La Dee Da,” the anthemic “The Line” (Shiflett: “that’s the sound that made me fall in love with this band”) to the Beatles-esque acoustic fingerpicker “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour),” Concrete and Gold boasts some of the Foos' strongest work together.

But there is also a depth of sound and instrumentation previously unheard from the band. Whether it’s the bloated distorto-bass that powers “La Dee Da,” the swirling miasma of background vocals that lifts the chorus of the otherwise cock-rocking “Make It Right,” or the lush, practically monolithic wall of sound that fortifies the title track (“the heaviest and most beautiful thing we’ve ever written,” says Grohl), virtually every song on Concrete and Gold offers up a twist on the characteristic Foo Fighters sound, and often in a way that requires repeated listens to fully absorb.

Grohl with his custom Gibson Trini Lopez guitar, also known as the DG-335 (photo: Jen Rosenstein)

“A lot of the harmony stuff, the countermelodies, a lot of that was Greg and Dave working that out. And Taylor, too,” Shiflett says. “And Greg was really instrumental in things like the orchestrated layers of vocals. We’ve never had, like, three- and four-part harmonies on our records before. So he definitely brought something new.”

Perhaps the finest example of the sonic fruits of the collaboration between Kurstin and the band is a song called “The Sky Is a Neighborhood,” arguably Concrete and Gold’s centerpiece. Built on a spare, almost bluesy framework, the track is centered around Grohl’s anguished vocal, which is then fortified with all manner of instrumental ear candy to create a kaleidoscopic sonic picture. Says Shiflett, “There’s super-arranged strings, keyboards, all these harmonies and different guitar things going on.” Adds Grohl, “There’s no way we would’ve done that song without Greg.”

Interestingly, for all its production, “The Sky Is a Neighborhood,” Grohl says, actually came together pretty quickly, and somewhat at the last minute. “It was the last song we recorded. We had finished the record and we had two weeks off before we were supposed to mix. I went down to Hawaii, and I came back and I said to everybody, ‘I think I’ve got one more in me.’ Because I always feel like I have one more in me. You know, ‘Everlong’ was that one more song. ‘The Pretender’ was that one more song. So I wrote that song and I came back and we recorded it really quickly. And, I mean, the bare bones of the song are really simple. Taylor and I recorded the drums and guitar live in maybe two takes. And then we just started piling stuff onto it.”

“It was sort of a free-for-all because it was so fast,” Smear adds. “Like, ‘Come up with something, we’re recording. Go do it!’ ”

Grohl continues, “After listening to it, I said to Greg, ‘I feel like this bridge could have some sort of string section.’ And Greg said, ‘Okay, give me 15 minutes. I’ll write something up.’ And so I walked out of the room. I came back and he goes, ‘Check this out…’ He hit play, and he had done a keyboard string section demo. And I laughed so fucking hard because it was what I’ve always wanted to do. It was perfect.”


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