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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

In addition to stepping outside of their comfort zone with Kurstin, the band also changed things up when it came to gear.

“The way Greg records, we knew there was this opportunity to branch out and get some different sounds,” Grohl says. “So one of the ideas before we even went in to make the record was that we’d use equipment that we don’t normally use. There were a few times where I used my number one [Gibson] Trini [Lopez] and Fender Tone-Master amps, but typically for the more jangly stuff we would lean toward a vintage Gibson or Tele. And we were literally grabbing old P.A. systems and keyboard amps and things that were just on the verge of exploding and piling them up. We were throwing stuff together to try to find the coolest sounds we could.”

“Dave said, ‘Just don’t bring your normal gear. Bring something different,’ ” Shiflett recalls.

“So everybody showed up with their wacky stuff that they don’t normally play. And that was kind of the spirit of the record. For me, I normally do a lot of Les Paul through a Friedman. I don’t think I played that at all. It was all guitars with P-90s, little combo amps, shit like that. I got a hand-wired Vox AC15 right when we were doing the demos, and that was kind of the magic amp for me throughout this thing. I had my little Fifties tweed [Fender] Champ. I had a bitchin’ tweed Vibrolux, and I’m sure there was a Deluxe Reverb, maybe a Super Reverb. Then I have a ’68 non-reverse [Gibson] Firebird that I played probably on most of the record. That was kind of my go-to guitar. I also played my signature [Fender Tele Deluxe] model when I needed something with a little more crunch, and I had a couple Teles and a 12-string Rickenbacker that I put on some stuff as well.”

Adds Smear, “I brought in some Les Pauls and other big, cumbersome weird guitars. And I fell in love. Like, ‘I get it! These are great guitars!’ And then for my amp I was using this weird combo that Dave’s guitar tech came up with, which was basically an old Seventies vocal mixing board that you might have in your rehearsal place, and that we ran into an old transistor bass head. And that became my sound for most of the record, along with some other things, like an Orange, which I had never used before.”

Effects-wise, Shiflett says that “There’s a lot of warbly things like phasers and flangers, an [Electro-Harmonix] Memory Man, that kind of stuff. And there’s some fuzz—I think I used that Jack White pedal, the Bumble Buzz, and there’s a [JHS Pedals] Muffuletta on ‘The Sky Is a Neighborhood.’ ” Smear also reports that Kurstin often took the reins when it came to manipulating guitar sounds. “Greg loves effects,” he says. “And sometimes while you were tracking he’d be playing an effect. Just turning knobs and things.” Smear laughs. “And I’m watching him like, ‘Oh, he’s playing, too!’ ”

Outside of Kurstin and the band members, Concrete and Gold also features a slew of guest musicians, from Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman, who, after meeting Grohl in the EastWest parking lot, laid down a ridiculously massive stack of backing vocals on the chorus of the title track, to Kills frontwoman Alison Mosshart to jazz saxophonist Dave Koz. Pop icon Justin Timberlake makes an appearance as well, though even his star power is eclipsed by another guest, Paul McCartney, who contributed, of all things, a rock-solid drum track to the Taylor Hawkins–sung “Sunday Rain.”

“I think it was Dave’s idea to have him play drums,” Shiflett says of McCartney. “And he’s solid. You know, it’s a very different approach to Taylor or Dave. Those guys are very modern, and Paul’s got that old school thing, where he’s not killing the drums. It’s a very different, loosey-goosey kind of feel. And the coolest thing about it was that afterward he just wanted to hang out. It turned into an hour of just kind of noodling around with Paul McCartney. Which blew my mind.”

“He’s exactly how you’d hope he’d be,” Smear adds of McCartney. “He just loves music and loves to play. He came in, never even heard the song before, didn’t know it at all. He did, like, two takes. And then we just jammed. So that was a good day.”

Overall, Grohl says, “With this record, we just had time. We had space.” Due to the fact that the general public believed the Foo Fighters to be on a hiatus, he continues, “We didn’t tell anybody that we were even making a record. So we had no deadline, you know? We had no pressure. And because of that there was a lot more freedom to try different things.” At this point, of course, that has all changed. “Once we go in and we make the record, it’s like starting up a fucking steamroller,” Grohl says. “Once it starts, it doesn’t stop.”

And it all started pretty quickly once the sessions for Concrete and Gold wrapped. Following the recording, the band almost immediately began rolling out new songs onstage. Says Smear with a laugh, “We actually started rehearsing for the tour, and all we did was play the new songs. And on like the second-to-last day someone said, ‘Hey, we should probably go over the old songs, too!’ ”

As for whether they believe there’s been a big change in sound and feel from those old songs to the new ones?

“I wouldn’t say [the shift] is, like, gigantic,” Shiflett says. “It’s more like a natural progression. And probably a lot of that is just, like, as the years go by, everybody gets more comfortable doing their thing. I also know Dave always likes to change it up and keep things moving and do things a little different from record to record. It doesn’t hurt to have that spirit in there.”

“At the very least, I know that we couldn’t have made this record 20 years ago,” Grohl says.

“There’s a freedom in this band now that feels like a weight lifted off our backs, because we know exactly who we are. I remember when we came back from this last break and did our first show, at the BottleRock Festival [in Napa Valley, California], everybody was a little nervous because we weren’t in the mindset of going out and bringing the party to 40,000 people. Right before we went out, we were standing on the side of the stage with our instruments strapped on. And I looked at everybody and I was like, “Hey!” They looked at me and I said, ‘We’re the Foo Fighters, goddammit!’ And then we just laughed. Because you know, to us, we know exactly what that means.”

Grohl continues. “So I just feel like there’s a bit more of a relaxed confidence that comes with age. I mean, I never thought that I’d be doing this past 30 years old. And that was a long fucking time ago! But when I walk backstage now and see the fresh faces of all the new bands, and I’m the guy with fucking grey hair in my beard, I feel kinda proud. Proud that we’re still here. And I also don’t think that we could have made an album like Concrete and Gold without a little bit of grey hair thrown in there, you know what I mean? Because each album is like a rung on a ladder. And you just keep climbing.”

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