INTERVIEW: Foo Fighter & Dead Peasant Chris Shiflett speaks with Sammy Jones

Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants: Honky Tonk class
Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants: Honky Tonk class

Chris Shiflett, guitarist with one of the biggest rock bands in the world, is juggling work on the new Foo Fighters album with promoting a new record by his own Chris Shiflett &The Peasants operation.

But then, as he tells me, he doesn’t ‘do’ time off: “The reality is I never take a break and I love it – my life is constantly playing music – it might be with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, it might be with Dead Peasants, it might be with Foo might be playing with some parents at my kids’ school...

“Just about every day of my life I am rehearsing or recording or writing.

“I am really lucky...that’s what I always wanted, and that’s what I got.”

The Peasants have just issued their second album, All Hat and No Cattle.

Foo fans looking for a riotous rock album will be way off the mark, mind.

This is honky-tonk, country class, all bubbly and rather brilliant.

Those who know Shiflett won’t be surprised by this solo turn though – his ears are always pinned to a mixed bag of produce.

‘All Cattle...’ is a 10 tune disc with it’s heart in the 50s and 60s of country cool. Nine of the compositions are covers of tracks by artists including Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Buck Owens.

How to whittle down such an extraordinary list of produce?

“About a year and a half ago we started rehearsing and learning a whole bunch of old honky tonk songs, probably 30 or 40, then we went out and started doing some shows.

“Initially we didn’t have the idea of making an album, then we thought ‘We’ll make a live album, that’ll be challenging,’ then I thought ‘Let’s go into the studio and make a live in the studio record.’

So when we went in and did it, the criteria was ‘What are the songs that are the most fun to play live?’ and the songs that want to make people move about?”

Finding out what people liked, was easy enough.

“We did a little tour back from Texas that was fun – we played in some legit little roadhouses, then opened up some shows for Casey Donahew – that was the first time we had ever played on the real country circuit...we had to work a little harder, which was good for us.”

And the lesson learned?

“...Once you get people dancing, don’t stop playing –you’ve just got to keep going.

“It’s not like a rock show, where you are like ‘Hey, and another thing happened to me the other day...’ You’ve just gotta keep on trucking!”

Tell us a little about the one original number on the album, A Woman Like You.

It slots in perfectly.

“I was really happy with the energy of that song,” Chris agrees.

“It was just some chords that we started jamming at rehearsal, then I wrote some vocals and the whole thing came together really quickly.

“It’s a fun song with a good energy and seemed like it would fit on the record.

“The thing that makes me happy is when we play that song live, we always get people dancing and to me that is the biggest test – what you want it to do, it does.

“The thing that would have been easiest would be to play the cover songs at full volume, all big, loud distorted guitars, and make them all punk rock or whatever.

That would have been a piece of cake: “Definitely, that’s the thing that’s most comfortable to me as a musician, and I also wanted to stay true to elements of the older stuff – while also injecting our Stonesy rock n roll take on it as well.

“For a while it just didn’t sound right, but there was a point where it all started to fit.”
Now, things with the Peasants – a troupe of players featuring three childhood friends among the ranks – feel natural.

“We rehearsed the other night and it feels so comfortable, which is exactly what I wanted – to be able to pick up my Tele and plug it into my Deluxe Reverb with no distortion and feel confident playing in that tone.

“I know that’s getting into the technical side of things, but to me as a guitarist, it’s meaningful.”

And if country music gets a bad rap for its depressive edge, this is the antidote: “...A lot of it gets bogged down as being gloomy and minor key, and this is the exact opposite .

“This is ‘It’s Saturday night, I’ve been working all week and I’m gonna have a few beers...’”

You know what he means.

Chris knows that not everyone will necessarily ‘get’ his take with this release.

“You never know how these things are going to be received, and if people are going to laugh and go ‘What the f*** is that idiot doing?”he says with a laugh himself.

“It’s always good to do something different, and I think it helps you as a player to stay motivated and inspired.

“It’s good to play with other people and do something different, play in a different dynamic.

“We just got started on the new Foo Fighters record,” he divulges.

“We’re in the very early stages of demoing new song ideas and it feels inspired.

“Going out and doing all the things we’ve done in the last year or so has certainly helped.

Chris has been an integral part of the band for the past 14 years, but can still remember trying out before Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins and the guys like it was yesterday.

“I was so nervous going into it, but the minute I walked through the door, Dave was like ‘You saved us from that last guy who wouldn’t leave!’ so I immediately felt comfortable.

“Then, when Dave and Taylor called and said ‘Ok, you got the gig,’ to me I had made it.

“My head was spinning for years and it took a long time to settle down!”

Chris seems refreshingly unaffected by the industry he and his band-mates rule over.

He isn’t guarded, is engaging and free from pretence.

“When there is just us five or six blokes in a room together learning songs and rehearsing, it’s the same as it ever was,” he says.

“It’s a really good thing that we don’t all show up in our own separate limousines and have our own separate managers, that whole thing...”

And as he heads off to join the remaining Foos in the studio once more, he promises there will be no diva dynamics from this mob. Ever.

“The Foo Fighters are never going to turn into The Eagles, you know? he asks, but really it’s a statement.

“You can see how that happens with other bands, but that ain’t gonna happen with us...”

> All Hat and No Cattle by Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants is out now through Sideonedummy Records.