For his fourth pure solo album, Hard Lessons — premiering exclusively below — Chris Shiflett didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken from 2017’s West Coast Town. He (and producer Dave Cobb) just made it a little bit louder and faster and rocked a bit more.
“I had so much fun working with Cobb and all his folks out there in Nashville, I just wanted to go do it again — sooner rather than later,” the Foo Fighters guitarist tells Billboard. And Shiflett threw himself into a particular kind of fire by making the 10-track set while the Foos were in the midst of touring, which he acknowledges “was challenging. But we pulled it off. We did it over the course of a couple sessions in Nashville. When I would have a couple weeks off tour I would just bop out there and work on it, and that way we were able to get it out now, in this sort of light year of not a whole lot of Foo Fighters touring.”
Shiflett also figures that being in concert mode contributed to Hard Lessons‘ more upbeat overall tone, and more pronounced rock flavor. Though just a half-hour long, the set covers a lot of ground, from heavy-hitting modern rock (“Welcome To Your First Heartache” and the politically tinged “This Old World”) and gritty Americana (“The Hardest Lessons”) to swinging power pop (“Leaving Again”) and twangy shuffles such as “I Thought You’d Never Leave,” “Marfa On My Mind,” “Leaving Again” and “The One You Go Home To,” a classically arranged duet with Elizabeth Cook. “I was writing a lot while I was traveling,” Shiflett notes, “so I think that has to creep in there somewhere.” But he also credits Cobb with the album’s direction, including the suggestion to use a hot Marshall JCM 800 amplifier throughout the project.
“He always pushes me to be more rock n’ roll — and understandably so, ’cause that’s where I come from,” Shiflett says. “In the past, for the stuff I do on the side, I like to explore something twangier. But we really didn’t go that way on this one. There are a lot of my influences here. There’s as much Replacements in there as George Jones.”
With the Foos on a limited schedule, Shiflett is hoping to add more live dates to the handful he currently has lined up for July. He plans to return to Americana Fest in September and is booked for Dierks Bentley’s Seven Peaks Music Festival in Colorado and the Austin City Limits Festival in October. “I’ve been able to get out and hit the road a bunch because (Foo Fighters) aren’t doing much,” Shiflett says. “I’ve made solo records for a long time, but the touring side of it is always a challenge because that’s so time consuming and that’s where I have the least spare time.”
The Foos are off to Europe for a tour starting June 18 in Pula, Italy, with other dates spaced out across June, August and the early fall. Shiflett says the group has “nothing yet” with regards to plans for new music, and he adds that his own shows tend to be fairly free of shouting for any of the band’s songs. “Every now and again somebody will just be a smart ass,” Shiflett says, “but I don’t think anybody ever expects me to play ‘Everlong’ or something at one of my shows. I hope not, at least, ’cause they’ll certainly be disappointed.”
The Hard Lessons track list:
This Old World
The Hardest Lessons
Welcome to Your First Heartache
The One You Go Home To (with Elizabeth Cook)
I Thought You’d Never Leave
Marfa on My Mind
The Hardest Lessons (Reprise)