While most fans’ experiences with Chris Shiflett involve the guitarist rocking out with the Foo Fighters or getting his punk on with bands like No Use For A Name or Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, he’s now revealing a different side through his Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants solo effort, exploring his long-time appreciation of Americana and alt country. The band’s self-titled debut was released today, and those of you in LA can catch Shiflett performing at Hotel Café either tomorrow or next Wednesday as he continues his summer tour with the Dead Peasants before heading back into the studio with the Foos this fall.
LA Music Blog recently talked to Chris Shiflett about what fans can expect from the Hotel Café shows, his late introduction to songwriting, and his plans for the rest of 2010.
Photo by: Brantley Gutierrez
So when did the concept of doing this solo project originally come to mind?
Well, I had a band for a little while called Jackson United that I made a couple records with over the years, so I was already doing stuff. You could have called that a solo project I guess too, but I didn’t. Then a couple of years ago a friend of mine asked me to put something together to go play down at the Hootenanny ’cause the guy that puts that thing together is an old friend of mine from way back.
I’ve been a fan of old country and alt country and rockabilly and just all that twangy, Americana-sounding stuff through the years, but I’ve never been in a situation where I really played it. It’s different to listen to it than to actually try your hand at it. I’ve spent my whole musical life playing in rock and roll bands and punk rock bands and heavy metal bands and stuff like that, so it’s a different approach.
We went and did the Hootenanny a couple years ago, and I just played a bunch of cover songs and reworked some of my own songs to fit that vibe, and it was just fun. I just really enjoyed it. Like I said, I’ve been a fan of that sound and that style of music for a long time, so once we did the Hootenanny, we got a couple other shows here and there, and it was just fun.
We did a couple other shows here and there, and then, you know how it is, you just get sick of playing cover songs. I’m always writing songs here and there, and it just put me in that mindset. The songs I’ve started writing fit what we were doing, and we went and made some demos out of our studio here in the valley. After I did that, next thing to do is you gotta go make a record. It’s just a slow, natural process. It definitely was not something that we were stressing out about.
How long did it take to write and record the album overall?
All in all, I probably worked on those songs here and there for like a year or so leading up to it, and really maybe the last six months were when I was doing most of it. I tend to be kind of a lazy songwriter. I come up with bits of songs and record ’em, and then go back after the fact and listen to things. If something still sounds good after I haven’t listened to it for a few months, then maybe I’ll expand on it. That took a little while, and then we recorded it over the course of a couple of months. I put nine songs on the record, but we actually recorded about 15, so a couple of the other ones might make their way out there one way or another.
Did the process of writing this album differ from your work with the Foos or your general writing process?
As far as the writing process, it wasn’t any different. I always write the same. I mean, my writing process has changed a bit through the years. I came to songwriting later than a lot of my friends because when I was a kid first playing in bands, I really wasn’t confident enough to go out and try my songs. I just was insecure about it, and it wasn’t until later on when I was in No Use For a Name that I first even started trying to write. I never wrote anything that we did in No Use For a Name, but I remember towards the end of me being in that band, I played some of my song ideas for Tony, and we talked about working on some of ’em, but we never did.
Then I left and joined the Foo Fighters, and Dave [Grohl] writes all the stuff in the Foo Fighters. I don’t write Foo Fighters songs, so it’s a whole different process than that. After I had been in Foos for a little while, I was getting more and more into trying to write songs, and that’s when I started doing that Jackson United thing. I went and recorded a bunch of songs and made a record. and a couple of years later I made another record and then made this record. It really wasn’t until my mid- to late-20s that I even started trying to write songs.
Who or what would you say are your influences for this album?
It’s hard to break that down exactly. Obviously this thing leans toward that Americana sound, so there’s a lot of pedal steel and a lot of acoustic guitar and piano and organ and mandolin. I listen to anybody from Son Volt to Hank Williams to Flying Burrito Brothers. Any and all of it. Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, whatever. It’s all an influence, but so are a lot of other things, like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen.
If you look at my iPod, it’s all over the place. I don’t just stick to listening to one kind of music, and I don’t know too many musicians that have a one-track mind when it comes to music. Most people I know that play music like to listen to a lot of different things, and I certainly do. I think it all gets in there one way or another.
Can you tell us a little bit about who the guys are that you play with in the Dead Peasants?
For the touring that we’re doing, I’ve got this guy Derek [Silverman] that played keyboards on the record. He’s touring with me, as are a bunch of people that didn’t play on the record. My friend Luke [Tierney] is playing bass, who’s a really good old friend of mine. My friend Eric [Skodis] who’s playing drums is also another old friend of mine. This guy Marty Rifkin is coming out to play pedal steel for some of these upcoming shows, and that’s who’s doing it now. The album was a bunch of different people. I just brought in different people to do different things.
You also have one of our favorite local singer-songwriters on backing vocals with you on this album. What made you choose Audra Mae as a vocalist to use for this album?
Her manager is an old friend of mind. The guys that put out her records are two of my best friends in the world, so they had told me about her a while before I started making my record. I think I had her EP that she put out, and I just loved her voice. I didn’t know her, I hadn’t even really met her yet at that point. After she came in and sang on my record, we actually did a couple shows together, which was a lot of fun. She’s great. Audra’s an incredible singer. Her voice, especially seeing her play live, is wonderful. Her voice just fills up the whole room. It’s amazing, so it was cool. I just called my friend who’s her manager and asked if he’d ask her if she would come in and sing a little bit on my record. There’s a couple songs that I felt could use the sound of a woman’s voice on ’em. I sent her the songs, and she came in and had some great ideas and different things to do. It just really worked.
You usually use either Gibson or Gretsch guitars. Has that changed to account for the different styles that you play or is it more just a change of amps and pedals?
It’s really all of the above. As far as amps go, there’s no Marshalls or Mesa Boogies or any of those type of loud rock amps on this. It’s all either a Fender Deluxe Reverb, or it’s a Fender Super Reverb or a Champ or an AC30. We have a nice old AC30 that we did a lot of it on. A lot of the songs it’s the AC30 or one of the Fenders. For most of the guitar stuff, I play Telecasters but also some Strats and a couple Gibsons and definitely some Gretschs too, but mostly Telecasters. I’ve been getting into my Fenders over the last couple years. I was never a Fender guy before.
Photo by: Jack Butler
I know that most of the time you’re on stage with the Foos, if you’re using an electric, it’s either one of your Gibsons or Gretsch, and then you have the acoustic Martin. I didn’t know if that was something that you stuck with for this album or if you went a different direction, so that’s really cool to hear.
I definitely went a different direction. I feel like honestly that that was one of the most fun parts for me as a player, and I really feel like it changed my playing. You gotta play different for this kind of thing, and with that kind of sound and that kind of gear, it just changes you.
Is this a one-off solo project or can we expect more in the future?
I hope it’s not a one-off solo project. I’d definitely love to do this again. I’ve already got a bunch of other song ideas. We’re gonna have a busy next couple years with Foos, but when that starts to wind down, I would definitely love to do this again.
You also have two more shows at the Hotel Cafe, one on the 14th and one on the 21st. What can people expect when they see you live at such an intimate venue?
The first show we did the other night was the first time I’ve ever been there, and I loved it. We had a great time. That’s a great little club. It sounded great, and everybody that worked there was cool. It was just a really pleasant experience. We didn’t play that long the other night ’cause we’re still kind of learning the set and getting it together, so for these next couple of shows, I think we’ll try to stretch the set out a little bit and play a little longer.
What else do you have planned for the rest of 2010?
It’s booking up fast, let me tell you. We just started doing pre-production and getting songs together for the next Foo Fighters record, so we’re gonna be doing a bit of that through the summer, rehearsing and doing some demos and stuff. Then we’re gonna make a new Foo Fighters record in the fall.
This summer I’m doing a couple of tours with my Dead Peasants thing. We’re gonna get out to the Midwest and the east coast and up into Canada a little bit. That’ll be about all I can do touring-wise until maybe around the holidays. We’ll be able to squeeze in some more Dead Peasants stuff then hopefully. Then next year it’ll just be working on the Foo Fighters record, getting that out and touring and doing that whole thing.
Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants Tour Dates:
JUL. 13 – Santa Barbara, CA – Velvet Jones
JUL. 14 – Los Angeles, CA – Hotel Café
JUL. 21 – Los Angeles, CA – Hotel Café
JUL. 31 – Minneapolis, MN – 400 Bar
AUG. 1 – Chicago, IL – Schubas
AUG. 2 – St. Louis, MO – Old Rock House
AUG. 3 – Nashville, TN – Exit/In
AUG. 6 – Pittsburgh, PA – Club Café
AUG. 7 – Toronto, ON – The Underground
AUG. 8 – Montreal, QC – TBA
AUG. 9 – Washington, DC – DC9
AUG. 11 – Boston, MA – TT The Bears
AUG. 13 – Philadelphia, PA – Northstar Bar
AUG. 14 – New York, NY – Mercury Lounge
For more info on Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants, check out: