Shiflett learns "Hard Lessons"Print article

By Brian Baker, July 2019

Until recently, Chris Shiflett took a somewhat obsessive/compulsive approach to his music career. For the past two decades, Shiflett has been the primary guitar foil for Dave Grohl in Foo Fighters; early in his tenure, Shiflett was so self-deprecatingly unsure of his value that he was convinced Grohl would fire him after original guitarist Pat Smear expressed his interest in returning to the band. Obviously, that never came to pass.

Just after becoming a member of Foo Fighters, Shiflett began pursuing other band opportunities to fill his admittedly small amount of free time outside of the recording/touring boundaries of his day job. In fact, he was taking so many busman's holidays, his time away could hardly be considered time away; during his 20-year stint with the Foos, Shiflett has done stints with Me First and the Gimmee Gimmees, the Real McCoys (well, for three gigs) and Viva Death, while also fronting solo outfits like Jackson United and Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants.

In 2013, Shiflett recorded a set of interesting covers with an original or two in the mix and released his first true solo album, "West Coast Town," under his name alone and worked gigs with a succession of hastily assembled backing bands into his hectic schedule.

Six years later, Shiflett, 48, has returned with his all-original sophomore solo set, "Hard Lessons," with the bulk of the material being conceived during the Foo Fighters' 2018 tour. While Shiflett recognizes the connective tissue of his band work and solo projects, he also understands the differences that delineate them.

Chris Shiflett -

"Most of those records were basically solo records where I was sort of leading the charge, but I never wanted to call them by my name," says Shiflett. "I always wanted to have bands and try to keep them together, and it's just not very possible given my schedule and certain realities of what we do. It's just a small time thing I try to fit in the cracks of my already extremely busy schedule. I finally just figured that every time I do one of these things, I'm putting together a new group to go out and play, so I'm just going to drop any pretense of this being a real functioning band and put my name on it, and it'll be what it is. There's a freedom in that, and it's great, but I'm a band guy. I've always been a band guy."

Both "West Coast Town" and "Hard Lessons" were recorded in Nashville, produced by Dave Cobb and performed by Cobb's reliably brilliant cadre of session musicians. Although they share certain stylistic similarities the first album sounds like Gram Parsons influenced by the Rolling Stones and the new album sounds like the Stones influenced by Parsons they manage to maintain separate identities.

"They differ mostly to me in two ways," says Shiflett. "The guitar tones we went with on the new one are crunchier and more rock and roll than the last one. There's plenty of that on 'West Coast Town,' it's more so on this one. Less twang, more grit. The other main difference is that I wrote most of the songs in the months leading up to making the album, and with 'West Coast Town,' I hadn't made a record of originals in quite awhile and so some of those ideas had been kicking around for a few years. The new one was all pretty fresh."

Cobb's work behind the console and in the studio on "West Coast Town" came about by way of Shiflett's podcast, "Walking the Floor." Shiflett contacted Cobb to ask if he'd be amenable to being interviewed for an episode and he agreed, so Shiflett headed to Nashville to record several subjects, including Cobb.

"As soon as I left his studio, I was like, 'I have to make a record with that guy,'" says Shiflett with a laugh. "I called him a couple of weeks later and, luckily for me, he had a hole in his schedule and was like, 'Yeah, let's do it!' I couldn't believe it because he makes a lot of records, and he's obviously a very in-demand producer, but he agreed to do it, and it was amazing. When I called him to do the second one, I think I was more surprised; 'Oh, shit, he's going to do it again! He didn't get sick of me the first time.'"

The fact that most of the songs on "Hard Lessons" were written or partially conceived in the chaotic milieu of last year's touring cycle for Foo Fighters may have also played a part in the material's sonic profile and lyrical perspective.

Once Shiflett completed his touring duties with the Foos, he went on a couple of Nashville writing safaris with friends Aaron Raitiere (who contributed "Welcome to Your First Heartache" and "Marfa on My Mind"), Kendell Marvel (who co-wrote "Weak Heart") and Brian Whelan (who co-wrote "I Thought You'd Never Leave"); Raitiere and Shiflett collaborated with singer/songwriter Elizabeth Cook on the duet "The One You Come Home To."

"Lyrically, to me, it all has kind of a lonely feeling," says Shiflett. "I don't know if anybody else would get that out of it, but to me, when I'm singing these songs, I think about being far away from home and missing my wife and kids. I co-wrote about half of the record with my friend Aaron, who I've written a bunch of songs with in recent years, and Kendell, and, of course, the duet with Elizabeth Cook, me and her and Aaron wrote that one together. That was all in the first part of last year, and then we started tracking the record last March or April. It was all bang bang bang, pretty quick."

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