It premieres on HBO Friday (Oct. 17) and spans the country, with the guys making stops in Chicago, Austin, Nashville, Los Angeles, Seattle, New Orleans, Washington, D.C. and New York. It also marks lead singer Dave Grohl’s latest directorial effort, following up 2013’s Sound City.
Sonic Highways gives viewers an inside look at the making of the band’s next album, also titled Sonic Highways (out Nov. 10).
“I decided that I would challenge the band, not just in one environment, but eight different places,” Grohl told reporters earlier this week at a New York screening. “And not just tell the story of one studio, but tell the studio of eight studios.
“And then that sort of snowballed into the idea of talking about regional music; and how the environment influences the music from those places,” he said. “Then I came up with the idea of writing the lyrics on the very last day of the session by taking all of the transcripts of the interviews and picking out sentences and phrases and kind of cutting and pasting them into the outline of the song. So that the finale of the episode is a performance where you see all of the lyrics and you recognize them from all of the influences.”
Grohl sat down with the artists who make those cities’ music scenes great: Mike D of the Beastie Boys, Willie Nelson, Public Enemy‘s Chuck D, Dolly Parton, Queens of the Stone Age‘s Josh Homme, Coldplay‘s Chris Martin, Kiss‘ Paul Stanley, the Black Keys‘ Dan Auerbach, Pharrell Williams, Buddy Guy, Joan Jett, Carrie Underwood, Hea rt, Slash, James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem, among others.
Those conversations helped to shape the lyrics of the songs the band records throughout the series. Each episode features a brand-new track from the Foo Fighters.
“There’s not many artists right now, that are active right now, that actually take it upon themselves to help perpetuate the importance of American music and why this is important,” executive producer James A. Rota told Billboard. “It’s a very interesting story because you get to actually experience the songwriting process and kind of the message of the songs the same way the artist is.”
Oh, yeah, it also features the President himself, Barack Obama. “Dave has this weird way of coming up with these ideas,” Rota said. “He’s fun. That’s the nice thing about being such a good guy, people pick up the phone when you call.”
So, what’s it like to be interviewed by Grohl? Joan Jett explained, “Well, it felt very natural because we’ve know each other for a while and we’ve been on tour a little bit together, so it felt like a very natural thing to sit and chat about music and what was on his mind. So, I had a good time.”
Heart’s Nancy Wilson mirrored that sentiment. “It really was such a gift to be asked by Dave Grohl to do an interview about Seattle, our hometown. It’s like ‘Really? Absolutely. We’ll do it! I’ll cancel everything else.’ Because he’s one of those people as an artist, his enthusiasm is contagious and I think he’s got the Midas touch about things like music. He comes from a really honest place. He’s not posing.”