With a new album ready to land, Foo Fighters have announced their return to Australia for a major arena tour next January. The album, Concrete and Gold, is the band’s ninth, and it’s an especially prodigious affair. This is true of both the record’s sonic makeup and the contributing personnel.
Foo Fighters are now officially a six-piece with the addition of keyboardist Rami Jaffee. But although Jaffee’s entrance has altered the look of the band’s press photos, bassist Nate Mendel says it didn’t change the dynamic during the making of Concrete and Gold.
“The last few albums, Rami’s been in the studio with us. Having keyboards has been something that went from being a novelty in 2005 to become less a novelty and more a part of our sound over the years.
“We recorded this album, Rami was there the whole time. We actually wrote the record in a studio that he’s a part owner of. And it was at the end of that process where Rami just said, ‘Hey is it cool if I be in the photos’, and there wasn’t any good answer besides, ‘Yeah sure.’ ”
Foo Fighters famously share publishing equally – all members are credited as songwriters on every album they contribute to. But there’s still an implicit understanding that frontman Dave Grohl runs the show, with the rest of the group acting accordingly to give the songs what they need.
“We do share publishing equally, but it’s weighted towards our key songwriter, which is Dave,” says Mendel. “So in the same way that he does the bulk of the songwriting he’s also owner of the bulk of the copyright of the songs.
“It’s the way it’s worked really since day one, when we were just figuring out what the band was. The entire first record [1995’s Foo Fighters] was recorded by Dave and we went out and toured on that record for a year and a half and then made a record together. That set the tone for the band, that the songs were going to generally come from him.
“We’ve tinkered with that formula over the years, but we’re always trying to stay on focus with what Dave’s looking for with the songs.”
So the press’s habitual spotlighting of Grohl isn’t unfounded – he is, after all, the kernel of the band’s personable and charismatic identity. However, this could occasionally cause the rest of the group to feel like their contributions aren’t given enough attention.
“As a player in a band, you do contribute and take a lot of pride in what you do and try hard and work to be good at your craft and contribute to the whole,” Mendel says. “But you have to always keep an eye out for what makes an artistic project tick. It’s that strange x-factor, the bit of pixie dust that turns a bunch of chords into something that will make a field full of people jump up and down. That’s almost an intangible thing.
“As much as I can give myself credit for being a decent musician, I understand that it’s a rare person that’s got the ability to marshal that pixie dust in the right way. So I don’t feel like I need any more credit than I’m given for what happens in the band, because I really do respect Dave’s talents.”
Concrete and Gold marks the first time Foo Fighters have worked with a specialist pop producer. Greg Kurstin, who’s best known for producing and co-writing records for pop A-listers like Sia, Adele and Lily Allen, played a critical role in giving the album it’s wide breadth of sound.
“It’s pretty transparent, the motivation behind [working with Kurstin],” says Mendel. “Despite the fact that he’s a very accomplished musician and we could obviously use that and learn from him that way, why not throw a rock band in a room with somebody whose last project was Sia?”
Although Foo Fighters had hitherto chosen to work with rock big wigs like Gil Norton, Adam Kasper and Butch Vig in the studio, the Kurstin collaboration isn’t exactly off-script. In terms of popularity, they already reside in the pop sphere. But despite this, Kurstin didn’t try to steer them towards a contemporary pop sound.
“Rather than trying to reign in and make more complicated what we do, he actually was willing to twist it and make it dirtier and weirder, which I never would have guessed,” Mendel says. “I would’ve assumed somebody with this jazz background would be meticulous in the studio with a rock band. Not at all the case - he was 100 percent willing to fly by the seat of his pants, have things be loose and weird and dirty.”
Indeed, if rock fans felt any misgivings about Kurstin producing the Foo Fighters, the sabre-toothed ferocity of lead single ‘Run’ would surely have put them to rest. However, there are certain arrangement and production details that were specifically enabled by Kurstin’s knowhow.
“The one area where his pop chops really came was the harmonies,” Mendel says. “If you listen to our last three records and then this one, the thing that sets this one apart is the complex, layered, Beach Boys-type harmonies.
"It’s amazing to watch him structure a set of harmonies. People from a rock background, self-taught musicians, you work everything out with just your ear. [Kurstin] was able to work it out with his brain without actually hearing it. So Dave might sing a four or five part harmony section and just do one line at a time and then Greg would hum the second line for Dave to sing and then he would do that one four times, and on and on and on until you’ve got 16 tracks of vocals. He had this math equation in his head that turned into a beautiful melody.”
Concrete and Gold is released on Friday September 15 via Roswell Records/Sony Music Australia. Foo Fighters will touring Australia in January and February 2018 via Frontier Touring.