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Music Journeys: Chris Shiflett

Aug 30, 2019

Credit Chris Shiflett

As a longtime member of the band Foo Fighters, guitarist Chris Shiflett has seen his share of large venues. But the 48-year-old also enjoys the intimacy of a small bar. That's part of the reason Shiflett writes, records, and performs his own music. Hard Lessons, his second solo release, came out this summer. 

His only Ohio date on the tour schedule comes Saturday September 7 in Cincinnati at Top Cats. In this edition of Music Journeys, Shiflett explains the inspiration behind his new songs, reflects on his time with the Foo Fighters, and responds to the Fast Five. Thanks for listening.   

This Ol’ World plays...

Chris Shiflett is more than alright these days. He's been a member of the Foo Fighters for 20 years. He's also found time to release new music and perform some solo shows. Shiflett credits his love of music to his siblings.   

"My oldest brother, Mike, had great records by the time I was born," Shiflett recalled. "He had lots of Beatles records, Stones records, Elvis records, and all those sorts of things. We just always had music going in the house, and most of it was thanks to my brother - both my brothers really. When I got older, I remember a friend of mine called us music jocks. We weren't into sports. We were into rock and roll."

Shiflett grew up in California and began playing guitar at the age of 11. 

"I really did that only because my brothers did," Shiflett admitted. "I didn't really care that much until sometime in the 8th grade when a couple friends and I played live together in my friend's garage. That got me revved up. They moved to L.A. in the middle of that school year. I went to visit them that following summer. There was a really thriving music scene in southern California back then. There was just a lot of rock and roll around, a lot of bands, and flyers about bands. That was the jump off point for me where I went - that's what I want to do. I want to be one of those guys."

The Answer Is Still No plays...

Shiflett would eventually get his chance. After stints in a few punk rock bands including No Use For A Name, his big break came in the late 90's when Foo Fighters needed another guitar player. Part of the band's 2011 Back and Forth documentary chronicled Shiflett's audition.  

It's also noted in the documentary that Shiflett sang along with the rest of the band during his session, and it stood out to the guys because up to that point everyone else auditioning just played the guitar. I asked Shiflett about his recollection.

"It must have been horrible, because I was a terrible singer," Shiflett said referring to his voice in the audition. "I'm not even a good singer now, but I was really bad back then. If that helped win me the audition, my mic must have not been on."   

I respectfully disagreed with that assessment after listening to Hard Lessons, Shiflett's second solo project, which reunited him with Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb. 

The Hardest Lessons plays…

“It was really Dave Cobb that pushed me to embrace my rock and roll guitar roots," Shiflett said. “That's my comfort zone and where I come out of musically the most. Because of that, this record is more reflective of the full range of all the different types of music I listen to. I just love music. I love good songs and tried to get the best batch of songs together to make this record. I'm really happy with how it all turned out."

Welcome To Your First Heartache plays…

"Most of my songs are really personal," Shiflett said. "Some of them are fiction. Welcome To Your First Heartache is pretty straight forward. It's not quite the real story as it worked out. But at the time I wrote it, my oldest son had a girlfriend for the first time. I have three boys. It was a funny, new experience for our family. And it's about being a dad and trying to give your son some dating advice that they really don't want and also projecting an outcome that turned out not to be true at all. But that one definitely hits me in the gut."    

There's also a duet featuring Elizabeth Cook called The One You Go Home To. 

"I had interviewed Elizabeth Cook for my podcast called Walking the Floor," Shiflett said. "I'm just a fan. I love her music and her voice. I asked her if she would come sing a duet with me, and she said yeah. So we got together with my friend Aaron, who I wrote a few of the songs on the record with. I had a very loose verse and chorus to start from. I thing we threw most of that away and rewrote the whole thing. We kind of tried to make an old-school, late 60s era, honky tonk duet type tune that's a little more rough around the edges and a little more now." 

The One You Go Home To plays... 

Shiflett admits he's still trying to figure out how to be a front man but he learns a little bit more with each performance and tries to stay away from critics. 

I Thought You'd Never Leave plays...

"It's funny, I shouldn't read reviews of my own records but you can't help it sometimes," Shiflett said. "There were some nice ones. But the negatives that popped up would be that I referenced a pick-up truck in a song. But I drive a pick-up truck. I was just writing and trying to be honest, but I guess I was being cliché. It doesn't bother me, and I understand how it works. If you put out records and do a show, you have to be prepared to have people write negative things about you. The good reviews are overblown and silly, so if you take that you have to take the bad review. I don't mind a bad review if they don't like the record. That's fine. But when they start assuming things and getting the details wrong, that's the only time I ever take issue with it. But at the end of the day, you gotta figure the vast majority of the world is not going to like your music no matter what, even if you're successful."

Times Like These plays…

Foo Fighters has been incredibly successful at making music and touring. When thinking about his two decades with the band, Shiflett still doesn't take it for granted.  

"I reflect on it all the time, how amazing various aspects of it are," Shiflett said referring to his time with Foo Fighters. "I don't ever really allow myself to feel content or comfortable or think that it's going to last forever. I always feel like a job at Starbucks is just around the corner. I feel really lucky that I get to do things at all these different levels. Foo Fighters is a mind blowing experience, all the crazy stuff we've gotten to do over the years, and the popularity of the band has been incredible. It's hard to point to just one thing. The longevity of it would probably be it. We've gotten to do so many crazy things - backing up Mick Jagger, playing Wembley Stadium, winning Grammy Awards, and all those things are amazing. But on the whole, it's the fact that we're still a band, we're still going, we still have fun, and people still like it. But I also get a big kick out of going to a bar and selling out a bar. The little victories are still exciting. As a musician you have to figure out ways of keeping yourself inspired. I do that just from playing or writing songs or making records. All the different things you do help keep you sharp and keep you inspired. They all go into your inspiration pot. That's how it works for me."