More than two decades since Dave Grohl formed the band as a one-man project, Foo Fighters are still generating an enviable amount of hype in the lead up to the release of their ninth studio album Concrete and Gold. There’s a certain aura about the band that goes some way to explaining why they’ve got some of the most loyal fans on the face of the planet, and a testament to that is the palpable excitement that roused the nation following the announcement of their 2018 Australian tour.
Foo Fighters didn’t get to where they are today by resting on their previous success. While staying true to their sound more closely than several of their contemporaries over time, their new album sees a drum cameo from Sir Paul McCartney, and the band recently announced that Justin Timberlake sings on it too. They’ve also announced that they’re putting on a music festival of their own called Cal Jam which, typically, has sparked excitement Down Under that they could bring something of this nature to us in the future.
Music Feeds had a yarn with Foos bassist Nate Mendal about the forthcoming album, their recently announced return to Australia, and that brand new music festival.
Music Feeds: First things first. An Australian tour’s just been announced for next year with Weezer. Why the dual headline tour with another massive band rather than just tour by yourselves?
Nate Mendal: It’s funny because we did this tour with Weezer in the states about twelve years ago and it was fun and it worked. I think the two bands are really complimentary so we thought “why not do it again?” That was the feeling, let’s make it a big party and bring Weezer along.
MF: There’s a different Aussie band supporting you in each city. What was the thinking behind that decision?
NM: I think it’s a cool idea. Getting local bands in each city saves another band travelling and it allows these bands to really set the vibe in their home town to kick off the show to their home fans.
MF: Concrete And Gold is out very soon, but apart from the songs you’ve already released you debuted a few tracks to audiences live around Europe recently. Were you happy with how the crowds reacted to the brand new material?
NM: Yeah, well people react to new songs every way the same time and that’s why we don’t usually play them. If it were up to us the first twelve songs we would play would be all from the new record because we’re super excited about it, but it would also be the worst show that we’ve ever played. Partly people have an ear out and don’t know the words, so they react a certain way. It’s not participatory, which is the most fun reaction. So you have to gird yourself for that because you’re super excited to play a song and then the crowd deflates. You just have to keep your chin up and realise it’s probably better to wait until the record comes out to play all those songs live.
MF: Presumably all those tracks were completely finished when you played them live. Did you find with any of them that you wanted to change them after performing them on stage?
NM: Honestly it happens fairly rarely. It usually happens in rehearsal; someone might play something a bit different or we’ll jam out a little part and realise the right way to do something. But you put enough thought and care into crafting these songs that there’s not usually a lot of second-guessing that’s left to be done. That sounds like a terrible answer but it’s true. You wish it could be the other way, like “Oh, this spontaneous thing happened when we played live,” or the crowd reacted this way so now we know the way to do it. But that’s just how we operate; we try to get it right the first time.
MF: We now know that both Paul McCartney and Justin Timberlake feature on the album. What was it like recording with these guys?
NM: We’d actually done something in the studio with McCartney before and a couple of the guys had played with him on the Sound City project. He’s quite close with Dave actually so he’s been around a bit, but for me, that was my first time actually being in a room with him and jamming. It was pretty fantastic. He’s a mentor, obviously as a Beatle and a bass player, but also in the way he carries himself in the world, I think is so fantastic. He just loves to play music and he wants to have fun with it, and he wants to collaborate and not make a big deal out of it – more so than anyone I’ve ever met. He came in to play and Dave got ready to show him chord changes, and he just said: “nah let’s just get out there and do it.” We [only] did two takes of the song and before we did the first take he had never heard the song. It wasn’t a thing where he was like “Oh my time is so valuable I’m only going to give you guys ten minutes,” because after we finished tracking the song we jammed for an hour on stuff we weren’t going to use. It’s just the way he works and likes to do it, keeping it fast and fresh and fun. It’s a pretty impressive way to operate.
I wasn’t at the studio when JT came in, and from what I heard it was late at night and Dave was doing vocals. He ran into Timberlake and they were listening to what each other was working on at the time and Justin just asked: “Hey can I sing on a song?” and Dave said, “Yeah let’s do it.” So he did some vocals on a song called ‘Make It Right.’
MF: The video clip for the single ‘Run’ came out a couple of months back. That looked like just the most fun ever to shoot. What was it like getting in all old person makeup and getting that whole thing shot?
NM: I don’t think I would do it again because it’s four hours of makeup and then you’ve got an hour of putting a mask on and having the mask created. It was the most claustrophobic thing of my life and I wish someone had told me it was going to be like that beforehand. They wrap your face in this rubbery material and the only thing that’s exposed is your nose, it’s like a sensory deprivation tank. Your nose is the only connection to the outside world. So you can just imagine that it’s completely terrifying and you have to have complete trust. I had friends in the room but if I didn’t, I don’t know what I would have done. I was sitting there breathing through my nose, not being able to experience anything else in the room, just telling myself “don’t panic, don’t panic” over again. Then once the mask is made it takes four hours to put it on.
It was seriously one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, after the initial terrifying part. Because it’s a total flash forward to what we’re going to look like in 25 years. That’s what Taylor’s going to look like, the dome top and the long hair, and Fu Manchu moustache – that’s my drummer in 25 years. Then you start to act like an old person too, once you have all that stuff on. You start to feel old and act old and moving slow, it’s a really strange thing to do.
MF: When you announced the album, there was also the announcement of your own Foo Fighters music festival Cal Jam. Obviously this has people pretty much losing their minds with excitement. At what point was the decision made to go and make this happen?
NM: Well originally it was going to be a much smaller record release party. It wasn’t so festival-like it was just show-like, and it just snowballed from there. We found a big venue and started thinking of bands who would play and what it would be like. We started thinking about big festivals from the past – I didn’t grow up in California but a lot of my band mates did, and there was a festival called Cal Jam back in the day. A lot of people had fond memories of that, so we wondered if we could buy the name and bring it back. So that was the genesis of turning it from a regular Foo Fighters show into something closer to a festival.
MF: How involved were you guys with curating the lineup itself?
NM: Pretty involved. We had a list of bands we thought might be appropriate and everyone in the band chipped in with names. My wife is in the music business and some of her clients ended up on the bill, because she’s got her ear to the ground for a lot of younger bands and we didn’t want it to be just all bands of our generation. We wanted to have a good spectrum of stuff and keep it varied. It’s a lot of bands to get together in one place so we wanted to reflect what we like but also include some up-and- coming bands that might not be familiar to a Foo Fighters audience.
MF: At this stage do you think there’s any potential for expansion in the future?
NM: It’s quite an undertaking and it could go a number of different ways. So everyone’s just focussed on having this one be a success, and once we’ve had it then we might talk about that. We don’t want to be already thinking about anything that might happen with a potential next year’s show before we’ve even done this one.
‘Concrete And Gold’ is out this Friday, 15th September. Foo Fighters will then bring their ‘Concrete And Gold Tour’ to Australia in 2018, for a run of huge stadium shows supported by their mates Weezer and a bunch of local acts.