Interview: Chris Shiflett

The individual Foo Fighters have been keeping themselves quite busy since going on a break back in 2008, and even if some projects are not as high profile as others, there’s still been plenty of music flowing out of the Foo camp. Case and point, guitarist Chris Shiflett. Over the last couple of years, he’s reunited with his infamous cover band Me First and The Gimme Gimmes, kept up with Jackson United, and, more recently, completed his first official solo album, Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants. All of this in the two years since the Foo Fighters finished their last tour; so yes, busy is a good word to describe the man.

What started out as a cover band between friends has turned into a mostly collaborative effort for Shiflett with himself as the key writer, ditching the covers to write the kind of music he grew up with. It’s a slight departure from his past bands, paying tribute to his favorite classic country and rockabilly legends. Over Shiflett’s career his playing has been built on the play it big, play it loud principle that doesn’t skimp on being clean and sharp. It’s just how he’s done things since his early days with punk bands, and because of that there’s a glowing enthusiasm on all his records, no matter what the moniker. With The Dead Peasants his writing and playing have come full circle taking what he’s done and applying it to a style that got him into music in the first place.

Now on tour behind the self-titled debut, I had the chance to talk with Shiflett before he headed out to continue on the road. As what will be his last solo foray before he goes full steam into Foo Fighter mode, it’s obviously an exciting but hectic time for the guitarist.

P.S. Foo fans be excited, be very excited.

How did The Dead Peasant come together?

Well it all started a couple of years ago. The Initial version of this thing was a group of guys I got together to play this festival out here in southern California called the Hootenanny. It’s an entirely different group of people now, but at the time I got together with some friends and learned mostly a bunch of cover songs. Old country songs, and we took some punk rock songs and countried them up and some of my Jackson United songs and worked them out for that format as well, and that just got me started on this thing. We played a couple other shows, and after a while I was like, I don’t just want to play a bunch of covers. I was writing songs, so I started writing songs that would work in that style of music, and it just kind of got me going. It’s something I’ve been a fan of for a long time, but it’s something I’ve never had a chance to play so it’s been a lot of fun.

What is it about country and rockabilly that really draws you?

It’s hard to define. It’s that thing with music, you know? Certain things touch you in different ways and move you in different ways. I’ve been obsessed with much my entire life. My earliest memories are of my brother’s records, and that all we wanted to do, listen to music and play music. We never got into sports or really give a fuck about going to school. My earliest memories are of rock ‘n’ roll bands, and that’s just always been what I’ve been into. I can’t really explain why that is, or what draws me to one sound, it’s just something, a passion.

Now this is a record that features your name front and center, so is it a band like Jackson United, or is it a solo record?

You know it’s funny because when I started the Jackson United thing I was in a similar situation where I didn’t have a band. I wanted Jackson United to be a band ultimately, but I didn’t have a band. I got my brother and my friend Pete [Parada] to come play on some recordings with me. I tried to make it into a band, but it was impossible because my schedule is so jackals with the Foo Fighters and stuff. We’re gone a lot, we work a lot, we’re busy a lot, so it’s really hard to keep a group of guys together and call it a band. So when I had Jackson United we had a lot of people come through there, so when I started this thing, making this record, I purposely put my name on it you know, Chris Shifflett & The Dead Peasants because I figured it was more of a solo thing.

Again, I didn’t have a band together and I’m not naive enough to think I can really even keep a band together. I’m about to jump into years of working with Foo’s again. We’ve been on this hiatus for a long time, but we’re about to make a new record and 2011 and 2012 are going to be very, very busy touring and I’m going to be focused on that. So I’m sure by the time I get back around to The Dead Peasants again everyone will probably be doing different things. It will probably, maybe, hopefully some of the same guys will come back and I’ll be able to round them up again, but it’s just not that kind of thing. It’s me and who ever I can corral into playing some music with me at any given time, and it’s fine though, it’s totally fine, I like it that way. There’s no expectation of it being a band.

Is that how your other past projects have gotten started, you getting a hold of friends and it going from there?

Pretty much. I could have called those Jackson United records Chris Shiflett and the whatever. It’s the same idea, just me in the studio getting different people to play on different things. The same idea I guess.

The Dead Peasants are on tour now, so out of all the people that helped you out in the studio, who’s on the road with you? Who makes up the touring band?

It’s just my keyboardist Derek [Silverman]. He played all the keyboards on the record and he’s been out doing all the shows with us, but he’s the only one. I had my friend Luke [Tierney] playing with me for a while, but he had to go score a movie so he’s not coming out for us on this next run. It’s going to be a friend, Jeff [Gross] on bass, a buddy of mine Eric [Skodis] on drums. We’ve got a great pedal steel player named Marty Rifkin, and then Derek on keys, and me on the guitar and vocals.

You mention the pedal steel, and there’s a lot of that on the record. Had you written for something like that before? How was it to write a country record?

Well I don’t really think of this as a straight up country record. It’s certainly influenced, and maybe a couple of songs you could look at them as being pretty country flavored. I think of it more as an influence on the record, I don’t think it really sticks in one specific genre or another too much. It was great though, it was fun trying to write for an instrument you don’t actually play. I would hear peddle steel lines that I wanted to be in there. What Greg [Leisz] would actually do, I would try to explain it to him and he would take it to a place that I couldn’t even imagine because it’s not something I could play. That’s kind of what you want in a music collaboration. Realizing what your trying to do but taking it somewhere that you need to take it.

Which songs really stand out for you on the record?

All of them really. We actually recorded about 15 songs and then boiled them down to the best nine, so I had to cut out a few that I really wanted to put on the record. Everything on there is something I felt was the strongest nine songs out of the 15 that we recorded. I think “Get Along” is probably my favorite song. Something about it just came together right. “Bandage” and “Death March” I like a lot. “Baby Let it Out” I like, we labored over that to figure out how to do it, and I feel like we got it to a place that I’m really happy with. Every song serves the record in a different way.

Do you think you’d ever release the other tracks from the session, or even come back to The Dead Peasants, or is it just Foo Fighters after this?

I hope so you know, I’ll definitely make another Dead Peasants record. In a year or two when I have some more time off from Foo’s. We’re going to be busy for a while, but it’s something I want to get back to at some point.

Now everyone from Foo has been keeping busy in the time off. Do you think it’s important for a band, once they get to that level, to take the time to do side projects?

Oh yeah, without a doubt. Everybody in Foo’s doing something outside of Foo Fighters. It definitely serves to keep everyone happy, I think it’s good for any musician to play with a lot of different people. It serves the band well for sure. It’s inspiring, it keeps you motivated, and it keeps you working on your craft.

The break is basically over and The Foo Fighters are back in the studio, so what’s been going on?

We’ve been learning stuff, learning songs, getting some demos together, and the recording is going to start for real in September.

How’s it been getting back in the studio?

Everybody’s ready to go you know. I think a couple of years ago when we decided to take some time off everybody was pretty burnt, and people aren’t burnt now. Everybody misses it, and is ready to get working again.

So what’s it sounding like in its early stages?

It’s hard to say now because it’s pretty early in the process, but I think it’s going to be a pretty up record, you know, it’s going to be pretty rockin’.


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