INTERVIEW: Chris Shiflett

Published in The Music (NSW, QLD) on, Apr 2017

Chris Shiflett Has Worked Out The Bugs For His New Album, ‘West Coast Town’

Perfecting a new songwriting style landed punk rocker-turned-country star Chris Shiflett in some hot water. The Foo Fighters guitarist tells Daniel Cribb a couple of stories about his new album.

Having just crossed the Portland state line in preparation for a headline tour, Chris Shiflett’s itching to showcase material from his third solo record, West Coast Town.

Although he released All Hats And No Cattle in 2013 – a collection of honky-tonk covers – it’s not been since his self-titled debut with backing band The Dead Peasants seven years ago that the Foo Fighters guitarist has dished up an LP of originals. “I don’t know if this matters to anyone else on earth, but it mattered to me – it was important to me that I made a record that I was really proud of,” Shiflett begins. “Listening to your own music, for me, is a little like listening to your voice on an answering machine.

“You always have these little things that bug you. And this one, I just really wanted to make a record that I didn’t feel like that about any of it. And I think I came a lot closer than I have in the past.”

Having grown up with punk music and getting his start in that scene before joining Foo Fighters and eventually developing a love for country (he now hosts country podcast Walking The Floor), Shiflett’s able to draw on a diverse range of songwriting techniques, but there was always one aspect of the craft that had escaped him until West Coast Town.

“Country tends to be specific and tells stories, and I had never really been comfortable writing like that,” he admits. “It took me a few years to get in a space where I felt comfortable doing that – this batch of songs, it was important to me that they were less vague rock’n’roll lyrics and more specific storytelling.”

It was a successful creative exercise that also got him in a little bit of hot water. “Right before I left home for this trip, I finally got the actual CDs. I took one out and unwrapped it and was looking at the artwork… I left it on my desk at home,” Shiflett explains.

“I get a text from my wife today and she says, ‘Yeah, I was just reading the lyric book, couldn’t help but notice these songs are all about us getting in fights and then a bunch of songs that clearly aren’t about me.’” he laughs. “And then she says, ‘Room 102?’ So that is the trouble you get in writing songs that deal with specific stories.”

It’s the art of framing a situation in a certain light so it can be interpreted in a number different way – a friendship that blew up 20 years ago can become a break-up song. The album’s title track, West Coast Town, has a wide range of possible influences; if you’re familiar with Shiflett’s work with SoCal punks No Use For A Name and Me First & The Gimme Gimmes, that’d be your first port of call for interpreting the song’s lyrics. “Of course I love punk rock and I love rock’n’roll, but I’m also a 45-year-old man and think a little bit different; I’m a dad now, I have a 13-year-old son… your outlook changes. I love the music, but I have no desire to live the lifestyle I lived when I was 25 now,” he tells.

That’s not to say you won’t see Shiflett playing in punk bands again – he even jammed with Rise Against during Foo Fighters’ 2015 Aussie tour. Gushing over time off in Byron Bay and Perth during the same trip, Shiflett says he’d love to tour West Coast Town around Australia in the near future – not as soon as some might have hoped, though, with the guitarist shutting down Foos tour rumours that had been circulating online. “I actually got asked by a journalist down in Australia a couple of weeks ago what our plans were, if we have any plans to tour Australia,” he says. “What I said was, ‘I don’t know anything, you’ll probably know before me.’ And what they printed was, ‘Foo Fighters Guitar Player Confirms Australian Tour.’ It was crazy – they literally printed the exact opposite of what I said, which was pretty funny.”