Back and Forth

A Conversation with Nate Mendel of the Foo Fighters

The Foo Fighters have played to massive crowds, won Grammys, received platinum albums and have even turned down an opportunity to have a song featured on “Glee.” So why record their latest album, Wasting Light, in a garage? “When you’ve been a band for this long, you start to form certain habits and you need to fall out of those habits,” bassist Nate Mendel said, calling from Seattle. “One thing you can control is a change of environment, so that’s what we did.” That change of environment was Dave Grohl’s garage, and the Foo frontman had a vision for the album before they started recording. He and drummer Taylor Hawkins had demoed 15 songs right after the band returned from their tour supporting 2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace, which gave the band a starting point. “It’s just sort of what we do, you know? Get done touring for a record, start making a new one.” Mendel said. “Even though we decided to take some time off, we had these songs that had been demoed.” The band had built their own studio in the San Fernando Valley a few years ago, which acts as a rehearsal and recording space as well as Foo HQ. But when it was time to record the album, they wanted a change of scenery. “We’d done two records there and we’ll probably record there again,” he said. “But we also wanted to enjoy the variety of going somewhere else.” Wasting Light was also recorded on tape — something that was once common but has become less and less prevalent due to ever-evolving digital technology and its ability to quickly cover goofs and errors. Fans can literally get a piece of the action. The first edition of the album comes with a snippet of the actual tape used in the recording. “I think it was Dave’s idea, actually,” Mendel said when asked about the pieces of tape. “I remember thinking ‘OK, that’s a good idea — let’s put a piece of tape in every record’ and then asking the engineers how long the tapes were. So I’m like ‘if we have x amount of inches and x amount of tapes,’” he said as his voice trailed off. “Turned out there were just enough!” Despite the fact that Grohl and his fellow Foos are often lauded for crafting memorable songs — and one-off catchy singles like “The One” support that theory — Grohl puts a lot of thought into creating albums as opposed to a random collection of songs. “It’s really important for Dave to have the album sequenced in a certain way,” Mendel said. “He wants [the album] to feel like a set list. You want to keep interest and build and release on a certain schedule over the course of the album’s 40 or 50 minutes. So that’s how it works: You start off with something kind of explosive, then you want something that requires some more attention in the middle, and then a song at the end that will take you out of the experience in a good way. There’s a lot of time and effort put into getting the sequence right. Sometimes a song will be written just to fill a gap in the sequence.” Wasting Light was released at the same time as “Back and Forth,” a documentary that chronicled the band’s history up to that point. “I’m happy with the way it turned out,” Mendel said of the film. “The director, James Moll, did an excellent job of figuring out how to make things interesting. “A lot of stuff’s happened to our band, but it’s not a story that has a lot of fireworks. So he decided to focus on the people in the band and our relationships. It’s not really about career highlights or what the first sound guy for the band thinks. It was really just us talking.” The only really uncomfortable moment for the band was when they sat down to watch it together for the first time. “We were interviewed individually, and James turned out to be a pretty good interviewer. He was able to get people to talk about really intimate things we don’t usually talk about. So when we all sat down to watch it, we were watching our bandmates talk about things in a way we’d never discussed before. But we got through it and it was worthwhile.” The Foo Fighters w/ Motorhead and Biffy Clyro perform at the Mid-America Center, One Arena Way in Council Bluffs, Monday, May 23 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $58.50 and can be purchased through ticketmaster.com or midamericacenter.com.

posted at 09:49 pm
on Monday, May 16th, 2011

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