Chris Shiflett is best known as the guitar player for the Foo Fighters—but he’s been spending an increasing amount of time writing and performing country music.
His solo country project, Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants, will be playing at Pappy and Harriet’s on Thursday, March 30. During a recent phone interview, Shiflett talked about the recording of his third country album, West Coast Town, slated for release on April 14.
“I made it last summer out in Nashville,” Shiflett said. “I went out there and worked with a producer named Dave Cobb. He’s been a producer for things I’ve been a big fan of, like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and a lot of other stuff. It was a pretty different experience for me. The way Dave Cobb operates is a bit different than how I’ve made records in the past. It’s a good effect.”
Shiflett explained his newfound interest in country music.
“It was just like anything else. It was a slow progression,” he said. “You like one thing, and it sort of leads you down the rabbit hole. I think once you start playing with people who are into playing the same thing you’re into, you start getting turned on to music you might have missed. I just wasn’t around or even really paying attention to it.”
While his solo country records are unlikely to bring him significant mainstream success, Shiflett said he enjoys making them.
“All I hope with each record that I do is that it gets more out there and gets me established a little more,” he said. “I don’t kid myself that this is a mainstream record that’s going to be getting airplay in mainstream outlets. We’ll see what happens. All I want to do is just keeping making records.
“I guess my dream was always to play music one way or another. But when I was a little kid, I never imagined myself being Eddie Van Halen, or even Buck Owens. Things change as you get older. In a way, I feel like I’m starting over with this record. I feel like this was an important record for me to make, given the last one was mostly cover tunes, and it had been awhile since I made an album of originals. I felt like I had to make a statement with this record, and I really dug deep and wrote the best songs I’ve ever written and made the best record I’ve ever made, as far as my solo stuff.”
Did Shiflett listen to country music at all while he was growing up?
“Not at all,” he said. “I had older brothers, and I pretty much listened to their records. We were just little hard-rock kids—‘70s and ‘80s classic rock was more along the lines of what was going on in my house when I was growing up.”
I asked Shiflett about his favorite country record. “That’s a tough one. There are just so many … probably something by Merle Haggard or Buck Owens. I really like that West Coast honky-tonk stuff going on during the mid-to-late ’60s.”
His most recent solo album, All Hat and No Cattle in 2013, included a cover of Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”
“That’s an interesting song. I remember being fascinated by that song, because that song is like the ultimate in songwriting to me: It is literally just two chords. It literally never changes. There’s no chorus, and it’s not even that hook-y, really,” Shiflett said. “There’s just something about that song that gets people moving. When you play that song live, it always gets the dance floor moving. They just start grooving on the floor. That’s a really difficult thing to achieve, and you really have to hand it to Waylon Jennings and whomever he was playing with at the time. If you really listen to that song, it’s simplistic in arrangement. … It goes back and forth and tells that great story. You can’t miss that groove. I love playing that song live, because you can stretch it on forever. Everybody gets a solo. Bass solo! Drum solo! Everybody gets a solo!”
I asked him if he’s felt like the Foo Fighters have ever incorporated any sort of country into their sound. After all, the band recorded a song with Zac Brown on its most recent record, Sonic Highways, and has seemingly included some country elements here and there.
“I think if you were to ask Dave (Grohl) that question, he’d say no,” Shiflett said. “But the thing about country music and rock ’n’ roll is that they’re pretty closely related, style-wise, especially in modern country music. I don’t think those genres have a whole bunch of space between them, personally. But I don’t think the guys in the Foo Fighters listen to a lot of country. Maybe it’s seeped in there somehow, but I don’t know how overt that would be.”
I mentioned the country-sounding song “Keep It Clean” that the band performed on a flatbed truck in Kansas City, Mo., in 2011 outside of a concert venue. The intended audience: Westboro Baptist Church members who were protesting their show.
“Ah, yeah. I guess you got it there,” he said, laughing. “No denying it on that one.”
Shiflett is no stranger to Pappy and Harriet’s, having played there in the past, and he said he’s excited about his upcoming show there.
“I just love Pappy and Harriet’s. I always tell people it’s one of my favorite venues in the whole wide world,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad show there. It’s always great, and always make us feel welcome. They always take care of us. Whether it’s playing our own shows or playing at the Campout with Camper Van Beethoven, it’s always a good time out there. There’s something about that room and that location that makes sense with this kind of music.”
Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants will perform with Brian Whelan at 8 p.m., Thursday, March 30, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $10 to $12. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.