Friday June 7 saw Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett take part in an AMA, a popular event on social media website Reddit which sees celebrities and people of importance answer any questions they are asked by users.
Chris spent around an hour answering questions on a range of subjects from his time in Foo Fighters, his guitars and equipment, his latest solo record and his fandom of Arsenal, a football club in England he has famously followed for many years.
Naturally he didn’t have time to answer all of the 500+ questions he was asked but he got through as many as he could and we’ve compiled some of the highlights below.
Q: Dave has said that the three of you (Dave/Pat/Yourself) Have very distinct guitar playing styles that complement each other well. I’m curious to know how your playing had to evolve once Pat started writing with you again with Wasting Light. Did you have to re-think your approach to accommodate another layer? What’s the process of stacking all those guitar parts like in the writing process?
A: When pat first came back we spent a lot of time figuring that stuff out and now it seems like we just kind of all fall in to playing different parts. i guess it’s become more intuitive.
Q: Who’s your biggest influence as a guitar player?
A: That’s changed over the years – Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Ritchie Blackmore, Ace Frehley, Randy Rhoads, Andy McCoy, Don Rich, etc… I just love guitar playing.
Q: What’s the story behind the design and looks of your awesome red Fender Tele Deluxe Custom Shop guitar?
I wanted to make the high end version of my signature guitar so i went to fender to see if they’d be up for it. master built, real deal pickups, etc… it was fun to design a guitar that we weren’t trying to keep the cost down on. the production version was intentionally built and priced for beginners.
Q: What is your favorite amp + guitar recording combo for the Foos or Dead Peasants?
A: I love fender combo amps, vox’s, old marshalls – all the usual suspects – but the fun thing in the studio is to put together different amp, pedal & guitar combinations that maybe you haven’t done before. it’s great when someone brings in something you’ve never used and you make it work.
Q: That trick where you use your guitar strap like a hula hoop – how did you figure out how to do that and how soon can you bring it back, please and thank you?
A: hahahaha i was copying Yngwie Malmsteen. sadly the only thing i can do like him is spin my guitar (not shred arpeggios).
Q: Your solo music has gone in different directions interestingly. How important do you think it is to have these solo outputs when you’re in a band like Foo Fighters?
A: I think playing with lots of different people helps keep you fresh and inspired. working on solo records & gigs is so different than my role in the foos that it kinda scratches a different itch.
Q: My question is pretty niche and nerdy, but I was wondering what you remember of your very first recording session with Foo Fighters in late 1999 in Dave’s basement, just after joining the band? Nervous I assume, but did you feel it went well? Did you think “Yeah, this’ll be my job the next 19 years? Any specific memories of the songs you recorded – I believe a mixture of old FF tracks, new stuff (at the time) and a few covers?
A: Ya that was a funny little period of recording. i think we went down to dave’s place in virginia and recorded some demos. not sure if any of that stuff ever became anything. i was so new to it and i was trying to find my feet, figure out where i fit in. it’d be funny to hear that stuff now.
Q: What was your time like in Me First and the Gimme Gimmes? Do you have any great stories from when you were in the band?
A: The gimmes started out as a fun thing for some friends to do when we all lived in SF. we’d put on Hawaiian shirts, get hammered, and play a little bar to a roomful of our buddies. unfortunately it ended for me a while back on bad terms. shit happens.
Q: What was the first guitar model you ever got, how old were you, who got it for you and how much did it cost?
A: My first guitar was a Takamine copy of an aria pro II explorer shape. i had that for a couple years then sold it to buy my first Les Paul – an 82 black beauty.
Q: Many creative people keep notes and journals of ideas. Are you the same? If so, are you organised or are your ideas scattered over a thousand Post-It notes?!
A: I am extremely UNORGANIZED in my note keeping but i do write down lots of lines and thoughts and themes and what not that pop into my head throughout the day. the worst is when you’re lying in bed about to fall asleep and you starting singing a line in your head and then you have to get up and go scribble it down.
Q: What made you become an Arsenal fan?
A: Johnny Rotten’s first autobiography! he talks about them a lot in there. i didn’t know what he was talking about but i remember thinking, “if i ever follow a football team it’ll be arsenal.” luckily for me they’re the greatest team on earth. 🙂
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a professional guitarist and what made you take the leap from more mundane jobs to the work you do now?
A: it was the summer between 8th and 9th grade. i remember walking around melrose and picking up lots of band flyers and BAM magazine and rock city news and all that and it just seemed very exciting. big spiky blonde hair with pointy boots and a les paul??? i can do that!!
Q: You used to have a FF tattoo on your right hand – why did you cover it up, and what with?
A: that was a really horrible little tattoo that looked more like a smudge of wasabi than an FF tattoo. 🙂 it was also kind of an awkward conversation started with strangers, “you must really like the foo fighters, huh?!?” sadly the cover up isn’t much better.
Q: What is the musical writing process in the band and how effective is it i.e do you have loads of songs and get rid of a bunch or do you have just enough?
A: foos usually demo a lot of songs before the ten or so that wind up on the album get narrowed down. over the years we seem to spend a bit more time on pre-production than we used to.
Q: Any tips on the best scales to learn for developing solos? Or is it just something you’re naturally a badass at?
A: My first guitar teacher showed me a minor pentatonic and that’s still the foundation of most of what i do. best thing for developing solos is to move the boxes around between different keys. once you figure out the relative minor and all that jazz you’ll be unstoppable!
Q: Walking the Floor is one of my favorite podcasts, and it’s all thanks to your charisma. And good guests and tunes. That said, are there any episodes that stand out from the rest? Ones you particularly enjoyed or disliked or anything that made one extra special?
A: I’ve liked so many of them but one that sticks out in my head is the interview with brothers Osborne. my memory of it was that we laughed a lot. i had never met them prior to the interview but it was very comfortable. no nerves. i think it had something to do with the fact that it was at night. usually i do my interviews before noon. they grabbed a couple drinks and we just chewed the fat. kinda perfect.
Q: Which guitar of yours has been your personal Holy Grail? And do you still have it?
A: My 82 gibson black beauty. i now resides in a closet in my garage which is kind of sad. i should dust it off and take it for a spin but i’m petrified that something bad will happen to it. i trained my kids that if there’s ever a disaster they need to leave the dog and cat and grab my les paul!!
You can view the entire AMA thread on reddit here.
Chris’ new album ‘Hard Lessons’ will be available worldwide next Friday, June 14th.
Kirri & Simon