Videos by American Songwriter
Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants is the self-titled debut album from the long-time Foo Fighters’ lead guitarist. The album, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, is a collection of country and roots-rock songs from the Southern California native. When Skip Matheny caught up with Chris on the phone, he was preparing for a U.S. tour in support of his band’s LP, as well as beginning pre-production for the latest Foo Fighter’s album.
When did you start writing the songs that ended up on the Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants record?
The way it sort of all came together was in 2008 — A friend of mine who does this festival out here in California called the hootenanny asked me if I wanted to put something together to play [at the festival]. The Hootenanny is kind of a punk rock, rockabilly, alt country, country — it’s that orange county thing – sort of a mish-mash of styles. I thought it’d be cool to put something together for it because old country is a type of music I’ve loved for a long time, but at that point I’d never played it. So I went through my record collection and figured out a bunch of songs that would be fun to cover — stuff like George Jones song, and Willie Nelson. Then I took some of my songs from a band I used to have called Jackson United, that was kind of a rock and roll thing, but I worked them out so they would sound good on acoustic. I had a guy playing pedal steel with me, and just wanted to “bring it down” or “country up” the songs for lack of a better phrase. That was the first time I’d ever done that and it was fun. So we played that show and a few others here and there. And it was kind of at the of the Foo Fighters touring cycle for the last record, so I was still doing some Foo Fighters touring at the time and kind of working on this.
Were you already thinking of making an album at that time?
No I didn’t really have it in mind to make an album then, or at least not in the short term. I certainly wouldn’t go in and make a record of cover songs. But little by little I started coming up with some new ideas. The more I did it, the more I was in that headspace, and when I was writing from that point forward, I was just writing stuff that worked with that type of instrumentation. Then the Foo Fighters tour ended and I probably spent about a year not really doing much, musically. My wife and I have three kids and I hadn’t had a break for a long time, so I wasn’t thinking too much about making records or playing shows. I just kind of wanted to hang out with my kids and my wife — And you know by now [Foo-Fighters] have been on a long break, it’s been 2 years or something — so maybe around a year ago I started diving into writing songs again.
What is your writing process like?
My process tends to be – recording little bits and pieces of chords and melodies I come up with, and I have a bunch of scraps of paper with lyrical ideas. Once it comes time to actually put something together I start to go through my archives of things I’ve collected for the past 6 months or a year. For this record. I was working on ideas and making home demos, for most of 2009 then we recorded this past December and January.
Being from Santa Barbara (California), what was your first exposure to country music or when did you start to connect with it? Was it any of the Bakersfield records?
I think my first exposure to it came through rock and roll. I was lucky I had older brothers and especially lucky that my Dad had good taste in music. When I was a little kid we had Elvis records, and Rolling Stones records and Beatles records, and all this good stuff in the house. And you know those old Elvis records, they aren’t exactly country records, but they’re not too far removed. It’s along the same sound. Even the Stones records, growing up I didn’t think of them as a country band, because they are not. But there is that Gram Parsons influence in the 70’s. So that would definitely be my first exposure to that sort-of-twangy thing.
Then I guess later when I was in high school and I got into bands like X or the Replacements – again they weren’t country bands but there was that influence on them — Really it was getting into rockabilly in high school and getting into the old sun records stuff, that led me to get into Hank Williams, and that led to Willie Nelson records, and then onto Waylon records. I always loved the sound of [country music], but I’ve also loved that there’s also kind of a connection there, between country and punk music — having the same kind of rebel attitude. It’s funny you know, I read this Hank Williams biography a while ago, and it’s that same thing, that same story, where he was just a really talented f*ck up. And the powers that be wanted him to fit in this nice marketable box, but he was just a f*ck up. And that’s the same thing I love about Keith Richards or Shane McGowan, or a lot of musicians. That kind of story just always appealed to me (laughs).
Yeah country music seems to get back part of its past every so often. It can make for some great records.
It’s all part of the same thing, you know? It’s that thing of music taking you somewhere that you don’t really know. I didn’t grow up in the south, and until I started touring I never had traveled, my family never traveled. So the fascination I had with English bands and New York Bands and country bands — it’s all the same sort of thing – that mystery of the unknown. It’s all wrapped up together.
Are you going to be touring the UK behind this record? I think Foo Fighters sold out two nights at Wembley Stadium the last time you toured over there.
I really hope we can, in the short term, we don’t have a lot of time this summer to tour this record. We are already starting pre-production on the next Foo Fighters record. But I will be doing several U.S. dates in July and August, but after that run we are going to be in the studio making the next Foo Fighters record, and that will probably take a few months. But I’m hoping maybe around Thanksgiving or somewhere around there I can get over to the UK for some shows. It’s always fun.
Jul 21 2010 Hotel Cafe Los Angeles, CA
Jul 31 2010 400 Bar Minneapolis, MN
Aug 1 2010 Schubas Tavern Chicago, Illinois
Aug 2 2010 Old Rock House St Louis, MO
Aug 3 2010 EXIT/IN Nashville, TN
Aug 5 2010 Grog Shop Cleveland, OH
Aug 6 2010 Club Cafe Pittsburgh, PA
Aug 7 2010 The Drake Toronto, Ontario, CANADA
Aug 8 2010 Belmont Montreal, Quebec, CANADA
Aug 9 2010 DC9 Washington, dc
Aug 11 2010 TT The Bear’s Cambridge, MA
Aug 13 2010 Northstar bar Philadelphia, PA
Aug 14 2010 Mercury Lounge New York City, NY