Foo Fighters’ tenth studio album, Medicine At Midnight, will be available on February 5, 2021. It follows 2017’s Concrete and Gold and is set to arrive ten months after the band were forced to cancel their 25th anniversary tour. Band leader Dave Grohl announced the completion of the album in February 2020, but the release was delayed on account of the uncertainty surrounding the global pandemic.
But with a new President-elect in the US, the Fooies decided there’s no use sitting on it any longer. The album announcement coincided with a performance on Saturday Night Live – the band’s ninth appearance on the show – where they premiered the lead single ‘Shame Shame’. It’s a tense, groove-heavy rock song with a pressure-relieving chorus. It includes a typically anthemic chorus from Grohl, but carries none of the aggression of previous album teasers such as ‘The Pretender’ and ‘Best of You’.
Medicine At Midnight again features production from Greg Kurstin, who’s known for his work with Sia, Adele and Lily Allen as well as Paul McCartney, Beck and Liam Gallagher. Music Feeds spoke to bass player Nate Mendel and guitarist Chris Shiflett about ‘Shame Shame’, the upcoming album and what 2020 has felt like from the point of view of a Foo Fighter.
Music Feeds: You’re up to album ten. How much certainty there is at the end of an album cycle that another Foo Fighters record will follow?
Nate Mendel: Early on [in the band’s existence] we were just making it up as we went and a record might come, a record might not. And then about ten years in we kind of decided that we had a good band and we liked doing what we were doing, so let’s keep doing it. So it’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when, really.
Chris Shiflett: There isn’t a whole lot of discussion about what the plan is, what we’re going to be doing three months from now. When Dave feels inspired, we go make a record.
MF: How soon after Concrete and Gold did you start thinking about album ten?
NM: We got done touring for the last record and pretty immediately Dave started talking about what this record could look like and what the theme of it and the idea should be.
CS: You can always get a sense from him when he’s thinking about making a new record. He starts sending everybody texts, you know, “Check out these demos.”
MF: How clear was the vision for Medicine At Midnight when Dave started showing you the initial ideas?
NM: He and I were in Hawaii. We happened to be vacationing at the same place and we were sitting in a pool and he said, “I want this to be our Let’s Dance.” Like, short, simple, everything totally accessible and kind of a bit poppier than what had come before it. And I was like, “Fuck yes. That sounds awesome.”
CS: I knew that Greg Kurstin was going to be producing it again and Dave had talked about some stylistic reference points. And to be honest I didn’t really hear a lot of that in the initial demos, but the songs did kind of go that way when we got in there and recorded. The songs are all rhythmic based, a lot of grooves on them.
MF: The Let’s Dance influence comes across in ‘Shame Shame’, which is very groove driven and features relatively lean production for a Foo Fighters song. What was your reaction when you first started working on this song?
NM: I loved it because it was something we’d never done before, which is a drum loop. Our producer’s Greg Kurstin and he comes from that world where you don’t really play a full drum track through a song. It’s like, drums are created either through acoustic drum loops or they’re just programmed. So to do that for us is kind of a stretch. And then you’ve got Dave doing something with his fingers in the background, this kind of off rhythm over the top of it. So that’s cool.
MF: Is ‘Shame Shame’ a good indication of the character and feel of the record as a whole?
CS: ‘Shame Shame’ is an interesting choice for the first single because it’s not a really guitar-heavy song. There isn’t a lot on the track compared to a lot of the other songs. There’s normally 100 guitar tracks on a Foo Fighters song, but this one is a little more stripped back. But there’s a lot more on the rest of the record that’s crunchy rock’n’roll guitars and that sort of thing.
MF: You first worked with Greg Kurstin on Concrete and Gold. Some Foos fans might’ve freaked out about that partnership given his history with the likes of Sia and Adele, but Concrete and Gold didn’t sound anything like contemporary top 40. What did he bring to the process this time around?
CS: Basically we had tasked him to make us an Adele record and the motherfucker fucked it all up. No, you know, working with Greg is great. He’s such a great musician and he’s got such a great sense of arrangements and finding the part that slots into the song.
NM: If there’s somewhere the band wants to go in terms of broadening the sound, he’d know how to do it. With Concrete and Gold it was adding a certain depth of vocal harmonies that we’d never really gotten into before. If we’re going to do a record that’s more groove-oriented like this one, he’s going to be familiar with all types of keyboard and synthesisers, which isn’t really our forte and programming drums.
We figured out doing the last record he’s a great collaborator with the band. He’s game to let things roll in the Foo Fighters way, which is pretty loose and unstructured. It’s not like that movie Whiplash where it’s like, “Play it again!”
MF: Have you ever worked with a producer who has taken a more disciplinary approach?
NM: We had one producer and I remember Pat [Smear] was getting frustrated. This was really early on and he came out of the control room after playing a guitar part and he was like, “Well, I figured out how to make him happy. I just played it as boring as I possibly could and he was like ‘Yes that’s it.’” So we didn’t pursue that route any further.
MF: This year marked the 25th anniversary of your first album. There’s still a lot of anticipation for each new Foo Fighters album, which is more than you can say for the majority of artists on their tenth album. Do you ever compare your achievements to those of the rock greats?
CS: I don’t think about that shit at all and hopefully I never will, because I think you could get really carried away with yourself if you did. We’re so lucky to have had a long career. It’s such a rarity in this business. This is the 25th anniversary of the band and this summer was my 21st year being in the band and it’s amazing. But you can’t start thinking of yourself as like, “Well, we’re kind of on par with Tom Petty.” Music just doesn’t work that way.
MF: Have you, either individually or as a band, done much soul searching this year in terms of what your immediate and long-term future will look like given the damage inflicted on the global live music industry this year?
NM: The first few months of the pandemic, we’d just done a record, we’d done another big film project and so it didn’t feel that awkward to take a break and not see each other for a while. Now that we’ve got a date to release the record, we’re getting together to rehearse and find some ways to do some performances online. But obviously the record’s going to come out in February and we’re not going to be able go out and tour on it, so in pretty short order we’re going to have to figure out what being a band looks like for us in the middle of all these lockdowns.
CS: Everybody still hopes that in some capacity touring will come back online next summer, but if that’s really going to happen, I don’t know. But even if it’s playing outdoors to reduced capacities in the beginning, I think it’s going to be great to just get back out in front of people and play loud. We miss it.
‘Medicine At Midnight’ is out Friday, 5th February 2021.