Interview: Chris Shiflett – From Foo Fighters to Honky Tonk Hero

It has been a busy twelve months for Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett. He brought a blue-collar rock ‘n’ roll party to the legendary Scala in London last year, a trip that sold out in no time. His solo album, Lost At Sea, was released in October, and now he is back in the UK for more shows. “The last year has been pretty nuts,” Chris told MetalTalk’s Paul Monkhouse. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like it.”

The road to solo success and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction with Foo Fighters began at home at age eleven. “I always credit my older brothers with setting me on that path,” Chris Shiflett says. “By the time I was born, they both had great records, and we would just listen to music all the time. My brother Mike played the guitar, and then eventually, my brother Scott started playing bass. I picked up the guitar around eleven.”

Chris Shiflett - Scala, London - 28 March 2023
Chris Shiflett – Scala, London – 28 March 2023. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

Asked if he would be a soccer (football) star, Chris quickly identifies the Wiki-False point. “That’s what the internet says,” he smiles, “but that is not true. I wish that was true. If I could have been a footballer, I would have done that. I don’t know where that rumour originated, but there’s no truth to it at all. I only played at a low level when I was a kid. I’m 52 now, and I’m about to turn 53, so I think I might have missed my window. I don’t expect Arsenal to call me anytime soon.”

Chris Shiflett jumped on the Arsenal bandwagon when he started playing with Foo Fighters. “It is funny because I am an Arsenal supporter pretty randomly,” he says. “I picked Arsenal because I read Johnny Rotten’s book. That was the only connection to it.

“The first time that I went to the UK on tour [with No Use For A Name], we had an off night. We bought cheap seat tickets to a Tottenham game. I didn’t know anything about it back then. I didn’t know the rivalry between Tottenham and Arsenal. I was totally clueless. So, my first football game ever was at White Hart Lane, which I think is kind of funny now.

“When I joined Foo’s, one of the guys that worked at our label, my friend Richard Connell, took me to several games at Highbury over the years. We would be there if it would coincide with a game and an off day. I was lucky I got to go to a few games there and then I have been to some games at the Emirates over the years.

“I know that just having this conversation is gonna upset 90% of the people that ever listen to this interview. So, yeah, I apologise.”

Chris has no plans to apply the Ryan Reynolds/Wrexham effect to Arsenal. “I think that might be out of my budget,” he says, “but if we can come to terms…”

Chris Shiflett - Scala, London - 28 March 2023
Chris Shiflett – Scala, London – 28 March 2023. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

Chris Shiflett was in his first band at age 14. “A ninth-grade talent show, and we did two Kiss songs. That was it, man. I was hooked.” That adrenaline, that sort of adoration? “Yeah, the hairspray. I mean, this is the ’80s man. My hair was this big,” he says, waving his arms.

As a Kiss fan, it must have been odd, all those years later, playing with Paul Stanley and the guitar of Detroit Rock City. “Oh, man,” he smiles. “Are you kidding? It’s an interesting thing because Dave’s kids went to school with Paul’s kids or something like that. They were parents at the same school, and we played a couple of school fundraisers with him. Then he came and played at Dave’s birthday party at the farm. It’s just great to interact with any of those guys anytime, but to be on stage and play Do You Love Me and Detroit Rock City was like, yeah.”

If someone had told his 14-year-old self that this was his future, Chris says he would have laughed in their face. “But of course, I wanted it,” he says. “That was the dream. I don’t think, when you’re a kid, you really expect it ever to come true.”

Chris Shiflett - Scala, London - 28 March 2023
Chris Shiflett – Scala, London – 28 March 2023. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

Venturing out into the world of bands, Chris Shiflett was initially drawn towards punk. “When I first started playing in bands, we were trying to be like glam rock and rock ‘n’ roll bands. That was the mid-’80s. By the time I was an adult and moved out of my mom’s house to LA, when I was 18, music was changing. Music’s always evolving and always changing.

“I got to LA and things were very different than they had been just a few years before. My own taste evolved over time. I played around LA for about five years and nothing much ever happened. Then I moved to San Francisco and got a job at Fat Wreck Chords and that led to me joining No Use For A Name. Then it was just kind of off to the races.”

If the style Chris played at Scala last year and prior to that is very sort of honky tonk country-orientated, was that something his folks influenced? “It’s hard to trace,” he says. “We didn’t grow up listening to country music, but there’s so much residue of country music in a lot of the stuff that was around, like the Eagles.

“Certainly, The Stones had some of that seeped in here and there. I got into Uncle Tupelo and all that kind of stuff and Steve Earle and then just kept peeling back the onion. Eventually, I found Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. The whole old country Americana thing has evolved so much over the years. I listen to everything but I do listen to a lot of country music.”

Chris Shiflett - Scala, London - 28 March 2023
Chris Shiflett – Scala, London – 28 March 2023. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

While “never go full cowboy” was the instruction from Mrs Chris Shiflett for the show at London’s Scala, maybe in the ’70s and the ’80s, certainly over here, country music was a little bit looked down on. But with the Americana and the appreciation over the years, people now see what great songwriters those guys were.

“And great musicians,” Chris says. “My wife said that she was really making fun of my hat. It is an interesting thing how people perceive country music. I’ve always found that people who come from more of a rock ‘n’ roll background tend to look down their nose at it and dismiss it.

“It is unfortunate because, like any genre, there are a lot of different styles and types of artists. Some of it is pop, and some of it has some of the greatest lyric writing ever in any kind of music. There’s just a ton of different styles and sounds that fall under that umbrella. I just view it like anything. Ultimately, I just don’t care, I guess. I just listen to what I like to listen to. I just listen to whatever I feel like listening to at any given time.”

At this point, Chris’ cat jumps into view. “I knew they were gonna get involved,” he laughs. “Every time I’m on one of these zooms, they gotta make themselves known.”

I say it was not until later that I appreciated Glen Campbell and Wichita Lineman and what a great guitarist he was. “Oh, yeah,” Chris smiles. “You think about some of those old Merle Haggard sessions that had Glen Campbell, James Burton, Roy Nichols, all these incredible players. That is interesting, too, what you said about being kind of around and not really paying attention.

“But I think back to things like the Barbara Mandrell Show and Hee Haw and stuff like that being on TV. It’s not stuff that I was into, exactly, but you just wound up watching it anyway because there were just fewer choices of things to watch. You didn’t have 8 million cable channels and the internet.

“Or somebody like Johnny Cash that just transcended genre and was always kind of there. Or Loretta Lynn. Coal Miner’s Daughter was a big movie when I was a kid. Those songs are stuff that you almost take for granted.”

I say my first country album was the soundtrack to the movie Convoy. “Truck driving country music is a fantastic subgenre of country music,” Chris says. “Especially in the ’70s, all those Red Simpson songs. I don’t know if you ever listen to any of that stuff, but it’s great.”

The first country music Chris ever bought was a Johnny Cash collection of his Sun recordings. “It was on cassette tape,” he says. “I think you need to have a few notches on your belt and some life experience to truly appreciate what Merle Haggard and some of these folks were singing about.”

All Hat And No Cattle - The Dead Peasants
All Hat And No Cattle – The Dead Peasants

All Hat And No Cattle, with The Dead Peasants, was released in 2013. An album of honky tonk covers and originals. What made Chris come to that point where he wanted to release an album like that? “I made that first Dead Peasants record,” he said, “and then went out and toured it a little bit. That was the first time I had made a record with a group of songs that were more acoustic-based and more twangy guitar tones.

“It was more telecaster through a deluxe type of sound. Going out and trying to do some shows, I realised I was not very comfortable performing in that dynamic. I was down in Austin one night watching my friend’s band, a classic country cover band called Heybale. I was having such a good time and enjoying it. It just hit me. I need to do my version of this.

“So I went back home and we just learned as many old country songs as we could and started playing around town. We took any gig we could get. There’s a little old country scene on the east side of LA. So we just started playing around, having fun with it and doing our take on that thing.

“We were having so much fun. I said we should get in the studio and record some of these, which we did, and that became that record. We just did that for a couple of years. It was mostly to get comfortable playing with a telecaster through a deluxe if I’m honest. That was the whole point. I’m glad to say that I eventually did. You can play without a wall of gain and volume.”

West Coast Town - Chris Shiflett
West Coast Town – Chris Shiflett

Fast-forward a few years to 2017, and Chris released West Coast Town. “That’s the first proper solo album,” he says, “but really, you could look at either one of The Dead Peasants Records that way. The Jackson United records were ultimately solo records. But I never wanted to call it my name. And then I realised, after trying to hold bands together for years, that it’s impossible when something is part-time to hold a band together. So I just gave up on that and just started putting my name on it.”

West Coast Town received a great reception. Was there a buzz for that? “Yeah,” Chris smiles. “That was the first record that I went to Nashville and made. I made that one and the one that came after [Hard Lessons], with Dave Cobb producing, which was incredible.

“I’ll never forget the first day we started recording West Coast Town. I was so nervous because Dave Cobb is this incredible producer. I couldn’t believe that he had agreed to produce my record to begin with. All the cats that played on it. I was in Nashville at studio A, and it was ‘go time’.

“I had my bunch of songs, and now we had to actually get moving on it. I remember the first song we recorded was Goodnight Little Rock. We ran through a few takes, and Dave was, ‘right, I think we got it’. I’ll never forget that feeling, going back into the control room and listening to it through the speakers. What it sounded like versus what it sounded like in my head and what my terrible demo sounded like. It just, boom. It just came alive. Pretty much from that point on, I stopped being nervous about it.”

Dave Cobb is a nine-time Grammy Award-winning American record producer. “He knows what he’s doing,” Chris says. “He’s made a ton of great records.”

Hard Lessons - Chris Shiflett
Hard Lessons – Chris Shiflett

Hard Lessons, released a couple of years later, built on West Coast Town. “I was trying to apply some of the things that I had learned on West Coast Town,” Chris says. “The main one was to go in a little less prepared. Dave does like hearing the song and jumping into it. I remember when I made West Coast, and he said, oh, ‘Don’t make any demos. ‘

“I was like, huh? I always make demos. So, I made demos anyway. For the next one, I didn’t, not as much. I made loose ones, just me and an acoustic guitar, to make sure I had a song. But I didn’t sit there and think what would the bass do and what would the drum do. I let it be more loose and in the moment.”

Last year, Lost At Sea found Chris Shiflett working with Jaren Johnston from Cadillac Three. “There’s definitely some similarities,” Chris says, “like that Nashville thing of being in the room with everybody. We’re all recording at the same time and getting takes. That is really fun and different from how most of the records I’ve made over the years have been done.

“It’s really immediate and very fast the way that people work out there. We’re all playing together and working it out. By the time you get it to where you want it to be and have a few passes at it, you’ve got all these options and all these takes by everybody playing on it that is so great.

“Nathan Keeterle, on a couple of passes, is playing slide and then on a couple of other ones, he’s doing some weird vibey delay. So you have all these sounds and colours. It’s great. There’s probably overlap between how we did it with Jaren and how I did it with Cobb.

“But the main difference would probably be that we would record all the basic songs, all the basic tracks. I went out and recorded three different times over the course of 2021 with Jaren and the whole crew. We would record all the basic tracks one day and then come back, and I’d sing all the main vocals the next day. So you would have the meat of it.

“Then I would take what we did back home with me, and I would tinker with it, add guitars, change things, and re-sing stuff. Then Jaren would also take what we had done back home to his studio, tinker with it, and add stuff. I would send him what I did, and he would add that in there, and then eventually, we’d get it where we wanted it to be.

“That was probably the biggest difference. We just worked on it, chipping away at it over time without any real schedule and not in any kind of rush. There was no deadline. We just recorded until we had ten songs that we liked, basically.”

Chris Shiflett - Lost At Sea album cover
Chris Shiflett – Lost At Sea out 20 October 2023

Lost At Sea had a party vibe where you’re in a bar drinking with your buddies. But it also had a widescreen vista view as well. I love a lot of the tracks. Dead And Gone, for example, was like Hank Williams Jr. seen through the lens of The Clash.

“I will take that,” Chris Shiflett smiles. “It’s the best compliment anybody’s ever given me and hits the nail on the head influence-wise.”

I say both my son and I love Overboard because to me, that has Tom Petty tones. “You are exactly my target demographic for that song,” Chris smiles. “Middle-aged married men.” The little bit of reggae Chris throws into Damage Control is interesting, if off the wall.

“It’s funny you say The Clash,” Chris says, “because that [Dead And Gone] is the only old song on the record. That was what I was vibing off, late-stage Clash, when I wrote it.

“I was having a conversation with Jaren after we had recorded some stuff and we were talking about what kind of songs we felt we needed to do. He referenced The Clash and how it would be cool to have something that was kind of Clashy. I said, ‘Oh, wait a minute, I think I have something that might just fit that’.

“But you go in there, and then next thing, Charlie Worsham plays banjo on it. Then it’s become totally not what you expected. In my head, I hear something of a combat rock or something like that. But you don’t go in there and say that to anybody. Everybody just starts dealing with what they think, and then it becomes totally different.”

Black Top White Lines was written with Jaren and John Osborne from Brothers Osborne. “Jaren had that riff,” Chris Shiflett says, “so we just had to come up with some words essentially;

“That song is such a beast to play live. It’s crazy because you’re singing, and you’re playing that [demonstrates complex riff]. I texted Jaren a little while ago, saying I’m sitting here right now trying to learn how to sing and play the song at the same time. I’m cursing your name.”

Chris Shiflett is currently on tour across the UK. Tickets are available from here.

Chris Shiflett - Scala, London - 28 March 2023
Chris Shiflett – Scala, London – 28 March 2023. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

march

20mar7:00 pmChris Shiflett - Lost At Sea | DublinAcademy

21mar7:00 pmChris Shiflett - Lost At Sea | BelfastLimelight 2

23mar7:00 pmChris Shiflett - Lost At Sea | GlasgowQMU

24mar7:00 pmChris Shiflett - Lost At Sea | ManchesterAcademy 2

25mar7:00 pmChris Shiflett - Lost At Sea | ManchesterAcademy 2

27mar7:00 pmChris Shiflett - Lost At Sea | LondonElectric Ballroom

Chris Shiflett - Lost At Sea - UK Tour 2024
Chris Shiflett – Lost At Sea – UK Tour 2024

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