In late 2015, after a long world tour, the Foo Fighters announced the band was taking a bit of a break.
For Foo Fighters’ lead guitarist Chris Shiflett, that hiatus gave him a chance to again explore his alt-country side.
Since 2011, Shiflett – with his band the Dead Peasants – has released two albums of alt-country music, an eponymous debut and 2013’s follow up, “All Hat and No Cattle.” This time, Shiflett used the Foos’ break to go solo: His latest album, “West Coast Town” is due out in April.
After “All Hat,” which was an album of mostly covers, Shiflett said had a few song ideas kicking around. Going into “West Coast Town,” he knew he wanted to make an album unlike any he’d done before, and he wanted to make it with different people. “The stars all kind aligned,” he said in a recent interview.
For his podcast, “Walking the Floor,” Shiflett had interviewed producer Dave Cobb, whose credits include Chris Stapleton’s Grammy-winning “Traveller,” and Sturgill Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.” “I’ve been a fan for awhile, and I love the records that he makes, but I didn’t know him at all, until I went and interviewed him. After that I really got my heart set on working with him.”
Their schedules meshed. The time in RCA Studio A in Nashville booked, Shiflett got busy.
“That’s when I really went to work finishing up ideas, and as I was finishing up ideas more and more came, so I wrote and wrote and wrote before I went out there (Nashville),” he said. “I wanted to make a Saturday night kind of record. I love alt-country and Americana, but a lot of that is minor key and kind of down and mellow and sad.”
His first two albums went down that path, mostly because it seemed like a natural place to start, he said. For “West Coast,” he found inspiration in the style of country music he loves, stuff by Buck Owens and others, performers who are “tackling adult content, but with a shuffle and a bounce.”
He wanted to get people’s blood pumping. “I know that those are the songs that are the most fun to play live,” he said.
The result is a record that harkens back to the Bakersfield sound popularized in the 1950s by performers like Owens, Merle Haggard and Jean Shepherd. As a Southern California guy who cut his teeth in punk bands like No Use for a Name and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, those influences also shine through in Shiflett’s music. Think Social Distortion meets Dwight Yoakam for a set with Cracker, and you’d not be too far off.
The album comes out on April 14, and he opened his tour Tuesday night in Portland. He and his band will visit Spokane as part of West Coast swing before heading east to New York and Nashville for a show at the High Watt room of the Mercy Lounge on April 9.
He admits doing a string of shows before an album comes out “absolutely worries me. You’re going out and playing all these songs people don’t know, which is tricky. But with my schedule, it’s just they way things worked out.”
To help familiarize listeners ahead of time, the title track “West Coast Town” hit YouTube and the streaming services a month ago; “Sticks and Stones” followed suit a couple weeks later. “We’ll work out a few cover songs, so it won’t be a complete mystery to people,” he said.
Over the holidays, he opened a few dates for X, and “We played my whole album from start to finish, and it was great. I was totally nervous about it, but the shows were so fun.”
With the Foo Fighters gearing up again for a series of big festival dates this summer – Glastonbury in the U.K., Bottlerock in California, Secret Solstice in Iceland, Mad Cool Festival in Madrid, Spain, Roskilde in Belgium – soon Shiflett will be slinging that band’s massive hits before large crowds. A tour of small rooms across the American West might seem like a departure for a Grammy-winning rocker. For Shiflett, however, it’s not an unfamiliar scenario.
“I’ve always done it. I’ve always had little side things. Even Foo Fighters, we just went to play in a little club in the middle of the English countryside,” Shiflett said. “It’s not something I ever got away from.”
“From age 14 to 30, those were the places I played and lived. It’s not foreign to me. It is a lot more nerve-wracking to be the guy center stage, leading the charge, and you’re in a little club and its half full, and you’re playing a set list of songs people don’t know. It’s very daunting. It’s a very different experience than playing a stadium with 80,000 people singing along to every word. But that is the thrill of it, too. I love that energy.”
Will it be tough to resist the urge to say, get the crowd into it with a cover of a Foo Fighters’ hit? Shiflett laughs. “That definitely won’t happen,” he said. “There won’t be any honky tonk version of ‘Everlong.’ ”
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