Chris Shiflett is absolutely well-known as guitarrist of the Foo Fighters. That the 42-year old has also a hidden preference to Country, Rockabilly and Americana should be notably since the debut album of Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants from 2010. On August, 2nd, 2013 their second album „All Hat And No Cattle“ (click here to read our review) was released, in which Chris Shiflett not only plays the guitar but also does all of the vocals.
Thomas Kröll, chief editor of Musicheadquarter, had a date with Chris Shiflett by Skype on a very early morning in Los Angeles. Of course they talked about The Dead Peasants and the new album but also about cassettes and old records, breakfast habits and missing hints by Dave Grohl (German Version available here).
Hi Chris. First of all thank you for your time. Where are you at the moment?
Chris Shiflett: I’m here at home in Los Angeles. I just woke up a little while ago.
Oh yes, I think it’s very early in Los Angeles. About 8:30am, right?
Chris Shiflett: Right, but we have three little boys so we are always up at this time.
So you had breakfast already.
Chris Shiflett: Yes, a little bit. A little coffee and a little breakfast. Wait, here you can see my breakfast (shows an empty bowl).
That looks good. Let’s talk about The Dead Peasants. This is your second project after Jackson United. Who are the members of the band and how did you come together?
Chris Shiflett: Well, you know I made a Dead Peasants record in 2010. At this time I didn’t have a band. When I got that record done and put it out I wanted to do some shows. So I called some old friends and we got together and did a little bit of touring for that record. Right about the time I put that record out I started working with Foo Fighters again. The next couple of years were busy and I wasn’t able to do that Dead Peasants stuff. When we started coming together to do that Honky Tonk thing I just called all the same guys. Some of them are my really good old friends and some of them were newer friends. We started to make this record and then our drummer decided to quit the band. I asked my buddy Mitch (Marine, edited by author) who is a great drummer if he knew anybody. And he actually said: Oh, I’ll do it. I didn’t expect that. He is a busy guy. He did the record with us, which is great. He hasn’t doing many of the live shows. For that we have Milo Tedesco who is playing with us now. That’s pretty much the band. My buddy Marty Rifkin plays Pedal Steel with us. The band is sort of a mixture of guys I grew up playing music with as my buddy Luke (Tierney on guitar, edited by author), my buddy Jeff (Gross on bass, edited by author) and then some newer friends. We have a couple of real country guys in it that teaches us how to do it.
The record will be released in germany on August 2nd, which is next friday. It’s called „All Hat And No Cattle”. Is there a message behind the title?
Chris Shiflett: I don’t remember where I heard that phrase. I just liked it. It means like your a kind of full of shit (laughs). All Hat and no Cattle. It’s like you’re a poser. I liked that phrase and I wrote it down to use that for something. When we decided to do this record it’s mostly coversongs. So it seems to make sense. It’s tongue-in-cheek, you know.
I had the opportunity to listen to the album yet. Normally this Americana influenced stuff is not my special sort of music but these ten songs really make a lot of fun. Which criteria did you establish before choosing these ten songs except „A Woman Like You” that you wrote yourself?
Chris Shiflett: I had the idea of becoming a honky tonk cover band for a while. I grew up playing country music and I’m a fan of country music for a long time. So I thought it would be fun for us playing that kind of country, I personally enjoy. Which is that 1950s, 1960s era. So we learned about thirty or forty songs. We started to do a lot of shows with it. And when it came time to record them, the criteria were basically what songs are the most fun to play live. We wind up writing that song „A Woman Like You” and I felt that it fits with the spirit of the other songs. I wanted at least one song on it that I wrote.
As you said nine of the songs are cover songs. On your first record with The Dead Peasants from 2010 there was only one cover song of nine in total. The other way around. What can we expect next?
Chris Shiflett: We are definitively doing a record of originals. I’m not sure when we’re gonna get to that. I’ve got a bunch of new songs but we just started working on the new Foo Fighters record. So I’m not sure when we get the next Dead Peasants record out. Hopefully it won’t be three years again. Maybe a year, I wanna keep it up and running. We’ll see.
I’ve read that you recorded „All Hat And No Cattle” live and all together in one room. This kind of working became very rare nowadays. A lot of bands use overdubs and stuff like that. Do you especially like this sort of recording and if so, why?
Chris Shiflett: I definitively liked it for that record. My initial thought was to record a live album in a club somewhere. But it seemed to be too difficult to do that.
Why is that?
Chris Shiflett: From the technical side of things, you gonna have a lot of set up and then you have only one shot to do it. If it wasn’t good you’re fucked (laughs). We of course don’t have any kind of budget and this kind of stuff is expensive. But I have the Foo Fighters studio (Studio 606 in Los Angeles, edited by author). When the Foo Fighters aren’t working, all of us go in and record with our other bands. We got this big beautiful room there. So I decided let’s basically make a live album here. I never made a record like that. I made some demo recordings and stuff like that. But it’s a different energy. We didn’t nitpick everything as much. We tended to keep it looser and not sitting there playing a solo track: Oh did I play that perfect? It was more about the overall vibe of it. That was great. I wanna do that again. It was pretty cool. We did a bunch of shows with these songs. Usually when you make a record you go into the studio, you learn the songs and you record them. But you never play them live first to see what they mean. Songs of all they change when you play them live. It was good that we got to do that before we recorded.
Isn’t that kind of working also a sign for a strong belief between you and the other band members?
Chris Shiflett: You have to be rehearsed. You have to be comfortable. We couldn’t have done it two weeks after learning the songs. We had to do it six or eight months after learning the songs and doing them live. And then actually having Mitch come in. We recorded a whole version of this record with our old drummer last summer. At the end of recording all the basic tracks, me and the drummer had a phoning out and he quit. And I thought: Fuck, I have this whole record with this guy on it (laughs). Then I called my friend Mitch and he wanted to play with us. And we did one show and I said: That is so much fucking better than it was with our other drummer. This is the record we got to make. And it was great because he played a huge role in the production and in the dynamic. He’s a really seasoned country veteran. He helped us a lot. Here’s a bunch of guys that grew up listening to Rock’n’Roll doing their sort of version of Country. At least he was the guy that keeps the truth to the original thing and we could all come in on top of it (makes a funny noise that sounds like a puke and laughs). He really helped us a lot.
Sounds good. You were on tour with the Dead Peasants and I think you will be on tour this summer again, right?
Chris Shiflett: Yes we do a bunch of shows in stores this week and then we have a run of dates down the west coast next week.
Is there any chance to see you in Europe one time?
Chris Shiflett: Yeah, definitively. I’m talking to our booking agent over there for months to find us some shows. I would like to get there for some summer festivals. But it’s a tough thing because nobody knows who we are. Promoters don’t necessarily wanna pay because we don’t mean anything. And then it becomes very expensive. Every time I put up a new date on our facebook page all the replies are like: When do you come to Brazil? When do you come to Australia? It’s not up to me. I go all over Europe. I go everywhere. But this is our desire to do that and then there is the reality how the industry works. Hopefully we come to the point where we can do some shows in Europe. Maybe someone gives us a support slot on a tour. That would really be ideal. It’ll happen for sure. We have to wait for some open arms.
I can wait. By the way, your vocals on the record remind me a little bit of Johnny Cash.
Chris Shiflett: Oh, thank you (grins).
Why did you decide to sing or did nobody else want to do this job?
Chris Shiflett (laughs): It’s funny. I feel so much more comfortable with this style of music and especially with the vocals. When I hear the record I wish I could re-do all the vocals now because now I feel I could sing them better. There’s been a learning curve there because it’s so different than Rock. And I’m not like a great singer. With Country it’s all about the vocal. So I had to work a lot harder than I did in the past when I made some stuff with Jackson United. This was a little more like shouting. It’s fun but it’s definitively different.
And did Dave (Grohl, edited by author) give you any advice for the vocals?
Chris Shiflett: No he didn’t gave me any advice (laughs). He just said: Write a couple of songs and it’ll be great.
If you are an artist like you, a musician, your days are probably full of writing songs, recording songs and then beeing on tour to play them live. Do you still listen to music at home?
Chris Shiflett: That’s a funny question because I actually don’t listen to music at home much. I don’t have a stereo at home. Cause I listen to music on my iPhone or I listen in the car. I’m listening to most of music when I’m jogging and when I’m in my car. And in L.A. you’re in your car a lot. But I bought a little turntable for my kids a few months ago. I went to hear my old records and bought a bunch of old records at ebay. That has been a lot of fun. When I was a kid, listening to music was like an activity in itself. Just put on a record and sit there like this (starts to whistle and leans backwards). Lay on my bed and just listen to music. That was the thing that I did. Now listening to music is something in the background while you’re doing something else. I wish I had more time to just casually listen to it.
I remember these times with no CDs or iPods very well. We sat in front of the radio with our cassette recorder for hours and tried to tape the songs from the radio. And sometimes the presenter started talking before the song was finished. That was horrible.
Chris Shiflett: It drives you crazy. Nowadays records as a kind of art form are kind of dead. Nobody puts a record on at song one and lets it play till the end. I don’t do it, my kids don’t do it, nobody does it. But when I was a kid I had a walkman and cassettes. It’s like an iPod just eight times bigger (laughs). I was always in worry about running out of my batteries. I would never fast forward or rewind it. Never. So I just listened to it from start to finish, flip the thing over and go start to finish. That was the only way cause I was so terrified I was gonna run out the batteries. It’s abandoned that people don’t experience that now.
Last question: If you would have to live on a lonely island for the rest of your days…
You already know this question?
Chris Shiflett: Yes.
Okay then, which five records would you take with you?
Chris Shiflett: There are some of them. I would take the whole Beatles catalogue. I probably take „Beatles For Sale“ which I love. I would take „London Calling“ by The Clash. I would take… (considers) „Destroyer“ by Kiss and „24 Hour Revenge Therapy“ by Jawbreaker. And I would take Bad Religion’s „Suffer“. Hey, but there isn’t any country. So I would sneak Buck Owens boxset in my bag (laughs). But maybe you just write a shit ton of songs because you’ll be so bored.
Very good choice. That’s it.
Chris Shiflett: Alright. That was easy. And we didn’t have any skype problems (turns around to the terrace door and calls: Bye guys. Have a funny camp). They go in a summer camp today. And nobody says goodbye to me (laughs). My kids think I have the weirdest job in the world. Today they asked me: Why are you talking to somebody on your computer? I started interviewing a bunch of people and I cut off the interviews for some different podcasts. The art of the interview is hard. But I also used skype to do an interview with John Doe from X. He’s a huge, huge hero of mine and he lives in the north. My fucking computer dropped the call for three times ruined the whole interview. It just killed the flow.
So we are real lucky men. Thank you very much!
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