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Chris Shiflett interview

The Foo Fighters’ lead guitarist opens up about his new solo material.

Chris Shiflett
Credit: Brantley Gutierrez

Chris Shiflett released his latest solo record West Coast Town earlier this year.

It has picked up widespread critical acclaim and is starting to make the best album lists for the first half of 2017. Best known on this side of the pond as the lead guitarist for Foo Fighters, Shiflett recently came to the UK to play two solo shows in support of the album.

I caught up with Shiflett hours before he took to the stage at The Water Rats for his second and final solo gig of the jaunt. We discussed West Coast Town, his expectations when it comes to his solo music and his relationship with social media.

How has the UK been treating you so far?

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I landed yesterday in the late afternoon, which is fantastic because I pretty much just had time to run to my hotel, take a quick shower go to the gig, play the gig, hang out for a minute, see some friends and then pass out (laughs). I didn’t have any time to worry about anything.

There were lots of comments on Twitter about your show at The 100 Club this week. People are really raving about you.

It’s so cool. It was a great crowd last night and it was really fun.

You’re playing at The Water Rats tonight. What can fans expect from a solo Chris Shiflett show?

Just me and an acoustic guitar! I’m going to be playing mostly just songs from my new record with a couple of covers thrown in here and there. It’s the most stripped-down version of my record that I could possibly do because it’s just me. I would love to get back over here later in the year and bring the band and do the full blown version of it. I couldn’t do that for this show.

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Was there a concept behind your latest album West Coast Town?

Not exactly but I did have a couple of ideas of what I wanted to do. First off I wanted to I wanted it to be a really up feeling record I wanted it to be like a Saturday Night record not Sunday morning record. That was probably my main objective. Lyrically I just wanted it to be more of a storytelling approach than you vague, poetic type lyrics. I really tried to drill down when I was writing and think ‘what’s the point of this song?’ I wanted each song to stand on its own having a conclusion or a point, some reason for its existence you know.

I completely agree that the album is feel-good and uptempo. Did you write lots of songs for the record or was the process quite.

I went to Nashville with 13 songs that I felt were ready and there was a few beyond that that weren’t done. There was actually quite a bit that I didn’t finish. I knew I was going to record 10 songs. I want to go out there with a surplus because I figure if we recorded one and it sucked, we’d just ditch it and try something else, which we didn’t wind up doing. We only recorded those 10 songs. I had a few more left over. When I got back to L.A. I realised I needed to record at least one more because I needed a bonus track for the label so I should’ve done 11 when I was in Nashville. I wasn’t even thinking about that so I actually recorded two more songs in L.A. One of them is a bonus track so I’ve still got one sitting there in the can.

You are perhaps best known as part of the Foo Fighters. Does that add a lot of pressure when you’re releasing your solo material?

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I don’t worry about that stuff too much. I feel like other people worry about that more. I’m lucky to be in this gigantic band and it’s amazing but I’ve always done stuff on the side so I have no illusions about the success that the Foo Fighters have rubbing off on my solo stuff. It just doesn’t especially when you’re working in a different sound. Of course you get a lot of people who are hardcore Foo Fighters’ fans that are going to come in the door. Sometimes you can tell that they’re like, ‘what the fuck are you doing? Why are you playing a Buck Owens song right now?’ Sometimes they just enjoy it. I don’t feel that pressure but it is funny because other people will say things to me like, ‘I don’t know why no one showed up tonight. Everybody should have been here!’ I don’t expect anybody to show up. It’s fine. My expectations are very small. If I get 50 people at the gig I’m like, ‘yeah that was a good gig’. It is funny that from the outside looking in, I think people expect it to be something else.

Sometimes in the industry there is a real problem that people seem to have with musicians doing different types of music than what they’re primarily known for…

That’s an industry perspective. I’ve been really grateful that I haven’t gotten a ton of that because you do get that thing of like, ‘oh it’s the guy from the big band and he put a cowboy hat on so he’s trying to go country’. You get that sort of thing a little bit and I’ve been lucky that I haven’t gotten that too much. I think that’s a testament to this record that I just put out; it’s certainly for me, for my solo stuff, the best one that I’ve ever done. I feel pretty strongly that it is and the reaction has been pretty good across the board.

Do you think it’s because the album and the sound that you created on this record is more authentic? It’s not like you went to Nashville and just hired in all of the hit-makers…

I did go to Nashville but the people that I and Dave Cobb hired are not the mainstream Nashville country. I know a lot of people that are musicians who work in the world of mainstream country music. Every single one of them knows more about country music than I’ll ever know, and can play the most classic beautiful stuff. It’s just that that’s not the world that they work in. It’s an interesting thing because obviously mainstream country nowadays bears little relation to like mainstream country from 1978 or 1956 or whatever.

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All those motherfuckers that work in that world, they could out honky tonk any of us. You have to respect those dudes, they are serious players.

How have you found Country radio’s reaction to your music?

They couldn’t care less. I knew going into it I didn’t make a country record, I made a rock’n’roll record is influenced by country music. If you want to call that alt-country or Americana, I think it more lands in that world. I had no illusions and we made no effort to promote it to mainstream country radio. First off I’m too old and I just don’t play that kind of music.

It would be no different than if I made a pop record and tried to get on pop radio, competing with 20 year old people doing some genre that I know nothing. That’s just never ever going to happen.

It’s cool that nowadays you have Sirius XM that has a dedicated outlaw country or country station and they’ve been really supportive and. There’s all these little outlets now that like your music and can get it out there. It isn’t as reliant on (radio) as it once.

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How powerful a tool have you found social media to be?

I’ve certainly become more engaged in trying to keep up with my own social media and for what I’m doing it’s great. I’m of two minds about the whole thing. On one hand I’m old enough that I remember a time, not that long ago, when we didn’t have all this shit. In my opinion life was better back then. I make that point to my kids all the time and they do not believe me, but it was. This stuff is an annoying distraction but it is something that you have to use.

It’s the most effective way for me to get my music out there because it’s not going to get picked up in mainstream publications for the most part, and it’s not going to get played through mainstream outlets. I’m not going to get on a big huge tour so the most direct pipeline to people that have any interest in what I’m doing is through my Twitter account and my Instagram and my Facebook and all that and my podcast. Those things are the most effective way for me to let people know I’ve got a new record.

I agree with you that social media is a distraction. You can get a lot of awful things on there…

Yeah absolutely. If you think about it, we’re living in this information superhighway time or whatever. I have no way of proving this but I guarantee you if you could actually measure what people are watching or using it for it’s like 98.7% porn, the rest of it funny dog videos on YouTube. Then there’s some little teeny finite number of people actually looking up the Gettysburg Address or something like that.

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As much as it’s supposed to be make all our lives better, I just look at it and I think it’s so weird. I see my own kids, that have all this great stuff and a beautiful neighbourhood to go run around, and they would prefer to sit on their fucking phones in their bedroom with the door closed. That can’t be good for humanity. It’s not just them, it’s every kid. I don’t get it. I don’t get it at all. I like doing shit. I don’t like watching other people do shit.

You mentioned that you may return with a band to tour the UK later this year. What other plans do you have?

I hope so. You know I did a bunch of touring in the States and I really want to get back over here with my band. If we can make that happen it would be fantastic. I don’t have any plans right now. I’m just waiting to see what my schedule is going to be like for the rest of the year and then try to go from there. I’d love to do an actual proper tour. You know get all over, not just London but I do love London.

Chris Shiflett’s album West Coast Town is available now. Watch the music video for the title track below:

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