The Foo Fighters showed their unique process in recording Sonic Highways in a new HBO series documentary called Sonic Highways. According to the documentary, lead singer of the Foo Fighters Dave Grohl believes that the environment where you write and record an album influences the music itself. Sonic Highways is about regional music scenes in the U.S. and unraveling people’s musical character.
The Foo Fighters visited recording studios all over the country and worked with a variety of musicians, producers, and studio owners. The series contains eight cities, eight episodes, and eight songs, each a reflection of a particular city. The cities included Seattle, Chicago, D.C., Austin, Nashville, New Orleans, New York and Los Angeles.
The eight cities were chosen either by past experiences the band had with those cities or because of the historical music culture of that city. For example, Grohl played in Washington D.C. when he was a teenager and he recorded his first record with Nirvana in Seattle. Each region shapes musicians in their formative years and in turn impacts the cultural fabric of their hometown.
Grohl interviewed famous musicians who broke out of each specific town, explored the musical landmarks, and then funneled the inspirations into a song, which the band recorded there. He talked with Joan Jett, Guns & Roses, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Ray, and others.
The first thing Grohl would do is interview all of the musicians in that studio, then record the instrumental. Grohl says in the Sonic Highways documentary, “I ask these musicians the history of the city and the influence that the music has on those that come here.” Grohl held off putting down words until the last day of each session, so as to be inspired by the experiences. He developed a new way of writing lyrics by taking sentences from his interview and makes a song from it.
According to the Sound City Documentary, each song was inspired by each location and all had additional musicians from that city. The lead single “Something from Nothing” has guest Chicago baritone guitar player Rick Nielsen. The keyboards in the song is a reference to Muddy Waters. “Feast and the Famine” uses backing vocals from the Washington D.C. group Bad Brains. In “Congregation” the lead guitar and backup vocals was done by Nashville musician Zac Brown. Both songs feel like a true Foo Fighters rock anthem with heavy guitar and hard pounding drums.
“What Did I Do? God as My Witness” has one of the catchiest choruses on the album. The guest star in this song is lead Austin guitarist Gary Clark Jr. High-energy feel song “Outside” has guest appearance of guitarist Joe Walsh from the Los Angeles band The Eagles. “In the Clear” was played with the New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band.“Subterranean” is an indie rock jam that was recorded in Seattle with Death Cab for Cutie’s guitarist Ben Gibbard. The last track ends with a power-ballad “I Am a River.” The song is played with New York rock guitarist Tony Visconti.
Sonic Highways is unlike any album the Foo Fighters have ever produced. The Sonic Highways documentary calls the album “a love letter to the history of American music.” It is one of their most ambitious albums yet.