After touring extensively for 'Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace' throughout 2007 and 2008 the band announced they would be going on a 'hiatus' for an indefinite amount of time. Speaking to BBC Radio 1 DJ in September 2008 Grohl explained "We've never really taken a long break, I think it's time", adding that they he thought they shouldn't return to the UK until people "really miss [them]".
Before the hiatus began the band went into a studio in Hollywood to record some demos of songs they had written and developing during sound checks for shows during the previous tour. The demos were filed away for later use and with touring commitments finally complete by December 2008 the band members duly began their well deserved break.
Despite this less than six months later in June 2009 the band were back in the studio again, recording two tracks for a Greatest Hits album that was set to be released later that year. Producing the two tracks was Butch Vig, the Garbage drummer and mastermind behind seminal Nirvana album 'Nevermind'. More details of that session can be found above.
The band made a one off live performance on July 4th as part of special Independence Day USO Concert at The White House before the 'break' continued. For Grohl it again didn't last very long, seemingly incapable of doing nothing for long periods of time. With Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age and former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones Grohl formed the 'supergroup' Them Crooked Vultures. Following a secret 'reveal' show in Chicago, Illinois the band immediately began touring in August 2009 despite having not released any studio material.
There was a short break in October and early November as Foo Fighters were again back together, this time promoting the Greatest Hits album released in October. After half a dozen promotional appearances and live shows the band returned to hiatus mode once again and Grohl returned to Them Crooked Vultures touring. Their studio album was released in November 2009 and touring continued through the latter part of the year and into 2010.
In January 2010 the band were booked on a tour of Australia and New Zealand and before a show in Perth Grohl, sat in his hotel room, hatched an ambitious plan for the next Foo Fighters album. "OK, we should make a documentary about the recording of this new album and make it a history of the band too. Rather than just record the album in the most expensive studio with the most state-of-the-art equipment, what if Butch and I were to get back together after 20 years and dust off the tape machines and put them in my garage?" Grohl thought to himself.
The band returned home in early February and Grohl immediately began to put his master plan into action. "I literally backed the minivan out of the garage, pulled the lawnmower out, put a drum set in it and set up mics. We soundproofed the garage door so that my neighbours wouldn't call the fucking cops." As with most previous albums demos began with just Grohl and Hawkins hashing out ideas. "I had maybe 20 or 30 rough ideas. And albums usually begin with Taylor and I, we'll go in and work on tempos and dynamic and rough arrangements of riffs, and then after we've narrowed it down to 20 song ideas we ask the other guys".
Grohl then had to contact Butch Vig to first of all ask him if he would produce the album and secondly let him know the unconventional way he wanted to record it. "Well, the first day we sat down and talked about it" said Vig. "he dropped one bombshell: ‘I wanna do it in my garage.’" he recalled. "I thought, Well, he’s probably got a pretty nice garage.
So we went down to his house and opened it up — and it’s just a shitty little rectangular room, about 18 feet by 20 feet or something. Hard, dry wall. It just sounded like a trashy garage" he continued. "Then he dropped the second bombshell: ‘I want to do it on tape.’ I was like, ‘OK...’ — in my head, thinking what we’ll do is we’ll probably record on tape and then dump it into Pro Tools.” That was exactly how the previous two albums had been recorded but Grohl had other ideas for this record. " ‘No no no no, dude. No fucking computers. Not one computer. None" was the response from Grohl. Vig soon came around to the idea remembering that was exactly how he used to make records but he warned Grohl that he and the rest of the band had to be prepared. "That means you guys have to be razor-sharp tight. You’ve gotta be so well rehearsed, ’cause I can’t fix anything. I can’t paste drum fills and choruses around. This is gonna be a record about performance, about how you guys play” said Vig.
On February 26th Grohl was at the annual Independent Spirit Awards in Los Angeles and in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine revealed his master plans for the record to the public for the first time, also announcing he believed the album "could be our heaviest yet". With a basic 'studio' constructed in and above his garage and soundproofing in place on March 1st the band went in to complete some 'test' recordings with engineer James Brown, aiming to see how viable recording an album there would be. Details of that session can be found here. Afterwards Grohl was soon back on the road with the Them Crooked Vultures and shows continued throughout the summer across North America and Europe.
In the meantime work continued preparing the garage for recording later in the year including constructing a makeshift control room in the study above the garage. A single Studer A827 24-Track 2" tape recorder had been used during the test recordings and a second was brought in to enable the band to run up to 48 tracks. The main recording console was then ordered, an API 1608 with an extension to 32 channels. "The primary concern was space" according to engineer Brown. "Along with that, we knew that there was a very good chance that it was gonna end up on 48‑track analogue. API are very honest, musical sounding boards." he added. Vig was also complimentary of the API console. “I love APIs. I think they have a really punchy sound. The EQ is not subtle. When you wanna boost some mid‑range or high-end or bottom, you hear it right away."
Other equipment installed included a pair of Barefoot MM27s for monitoring and the outboard gear installed stuck to the analogue rule. In terms of compressors there were two Chandler Little Devils, two Dramastic Audio Obsidians and five Universal Audio LA3As. Two Manley Massive Passives and two GML 8200s equalisers were installed. For preamps a mixture of APIs and Neve racks borrowed from the BCM10 from Studio 606 were used. Despite Grohl stating a desire not to record the album in a modern studio with the latest cutting edge technology all of this analogue gear did not come cheap, totalling well over $150,000.
For vocals a small isolation booth was created in a small room just off the study with sliding doors to close it off from the main room. For the garage room itself very little work was done minus the required soundproofing, some large four feet square baffles placed behind Hawkins' drum kit, two placed near the door to stop sound leaking out and a large carpet underneath the kit. "Initially, it was so loud and bright with no carpet in it, and the cymbal bleed was killing everything." said Vig of the reason for adding the latter. "It still was a very bright sound, but a little bit more reined in" he added. “To tame that space, we would’ve had to hang things everywhere" engineer Brown added. "And y’know, the brief going into it was that Dave didn’t want to do that. He wanted the record to have a trashy, aggressive quality to it.”
Miking in the garage was extensive. Covering Hawkins kit was a Yamaha SKRM100 Sub-kick, an AGK D112 on the kick itself, A Shure SM57 on the top and bottom of the snare, an AKG 452 on the Hi-Hat, a Josephson ES22S on the toms and finally an AKG 452 on the ride cymbal. Because of the unique challenge that came with recording in a room with no acoustic treatments and a concrete Brown spent a long time experimenting with placement of overhead and ambient microphones in the small space. Eventually he settled on a Neumann M49 for drum kit ambience, a Violet Black Finger for overhead ambience, a pair of Soundelux 251s at knee level against the garage door for main ambience and a pair of Crown PZMs for floor ambience.
Finally a Violet Designs Stereo Flamingo and a Shure SM58 were used for overhead mics, the latter placed behind the drum kit at head height. “I’d use the same mic placement in that garage, regardless of the mic, turning the Soundeluxes away from the drums and pointing them into a corner tempered the top end" commented Brown. "The mic choices were more about choosing cymbals and asking Taylor not to hit so hard. That allows more room for the snare and kick to cut through in the ambient mics. That’s when you can really hear the garage; the air isn’t getting sucked up by cymbals and midrange.” he added.
After the final show on Them Crooked Vultures European tour on July 4th Grohl had nearly a month break until the final show on the whole tour on July 30th. The band used this opportunity to head into studio 606 and work on some further demos. On July 20th Grohl took to twitter and posted a series of images from this demo session. In one of these pictures a board can be seen teasing the start of song titles, a total of seventeen. In another image part of the lyrics of the song 'These Days' can be seen. The demo session came to an end on July 23rd, Grohl declaring on twitter they'd had "a very productive week" and that they were getting closer to starting the record. Grohl then headed off to Japan for the final show of the Them Crooked Vultures tour at Fuji Rock Festival.
With touring complete Dave could put his complete focus on recording the next Foo Fighters album and August 16th saw pre-production for the record officially begin at Studio 606. For the following three weeks the band worked with producer Vig narrowing down the 20 or so songs they had to around 12. "I thought the more prepared we are when we get to the house the less we have to worry about the songs and the more we can focus on the sound.
Having never made a record in the garage, nobody knew what was going to happen." said Grohl, adding "I wanted to make sure the songs were ready so we rehearsed every day, eight hours a day. Just to the point where there was still some mystery to them. But the process inspired the lyrics". When the band were demoing songs earlier in the year they were playing around with ideas that Grohl considered "heavy shit" and in February he told Rolling Stone that the record was going to be "our heaviest record yet". Despite many of those songs not even making it to these pre-production sessions Butch Vig had read the quote and told Grohl "Well, now it has to be 'cos you've already told everybody!".
And so in these three weeks of pre-production Grohl would show songs to Vig who would decide which songs were up to the designation. " This doesn't rock enough, no. Next." was his response to many tracks, Grohl then having to show him another until they had the 12 songs worthy of the 'Heaviest record yet' tag.
Cameras also began rolling at the studio recording footage for the other side of Grohl's plan, the documentary, Grohl tweeting "We're being watched" along with an image of the crew. The band worked hard on the arrangement of the songs with Grohl again teasing partial images of whiteboards showing their progress, song titles only partially visible. The first song revealed entirely by Grohl was 'Bridge Burning', tweeting an image showing of the rough arrangement of the song as well as it's tempo, 170 beats per minute.
Another image revealed that Jessy Greene and Rami Jaffee were again involved in recording and this was followed by a second image showing a song arrangement, this time 'White Limo', set at 167 BPM. On August 26th Grohl tweeted another image of the whiteboard shown earlier only this time each partially visible song title with one exception had a star in the 'arrangement' column, Grohl accompanying the image with the message " Looks like we're almost ready to hit record.......".
Pre-production wound up on September 5th and the very next day, Labor Day in the United States, operations moved to Grohl's garage and recording of the record began. The band had a clear plan for recording, aiming to complete one song per week, starting with the drums on a Monday and a rough mix of the entire track being complete by the following Friday. “We stuck to that and it was good because each song kinda had its own life." said producer Vig of the schedule. "Once we were focused on a song for a week, that’s pretty much all we did. In a way, you had a sense of completion. And then we would change the drum sound out, change everything out" he added of the process and what they would do once each song was complete.
Mid way through the first week Grohl tweeted an image showing the first part of their song chart and revealing that the song they were working on in that first week was 'Miss The Misery'. As planned Hawkins recorded his drum track first although initially they had teething problems. "when it came to recording the first drum track, it quickly became apparent that the cymbal bleed was still presenting a major problem.
The cymbals are always a problem with the Foos because they wash a lot and they hit them so hard" explained engineer James Brown. To try to solve the issue the main crash cymbal was switched out for a shorter-decay Zildjan cymbal with holes drilled in it and the main ambience mics were turned around to face the bottom corners of the garage. Acoustics were not the only issues the band hit during recording of the first track. "The first song we recorded, we get a drum take and Butch starts razor-splicing edits to tape, we rewind the tape and it starts shedding oxide" recalled Grohl.
Panicking that takes would be lost or erased producer Vig suggested they also back everything up digitally. Grohl however was having none of it. "If I see one fucking computer hooked up to a piece of gear, you’re fucking fired! We’re making the record the way we want to make it, and if you can’t do it, then fuck you!" he playfully shouted at the suggestion. "What if something happens to the tape?" Vig replied. "‘What did we do in 1991, Butch?’ You play it again! God forbid you have to play your song one more time."
Sound problems averted and the 'no digital' ethos made clear to Vig recording continued to plan and by the end of September 10th Pat Smear was adding his guitar part for the song followed by the first vocal for the record. Grohl first recorded his lead vocals before Taylor Hawkins recorded backing vocals together with the first guest of the album, lead singer of punk rock outfit The Tubes, Fee Waybill. Waybill first met Grohl many years previous in a vintage cloth store, himself looking for Tubes costumes and Grohl with his wife looking for a costume for an 80s theme party.
Waybill went over to introduce himself and the pair quickly hit it off, both a fan of each other's work. They soon became good friends attending parties and going to dinner together and so when it came to recording the album Grohl asked Waybill if he wanted to help. "He sent me a text and said 'We’re doing this tune and the background vocal sounds like you, come over'" recalled Waybill. Speaking of the all analogue, natural approach Waybill noted "it was all real, no Pro-Tools, no flying in parts from here or there, we sang that chorus every time it came up".
Week two and work began on the next song, 'Dear Rosemary' (initially titled simply 'Rosemary'). Again the drums were recorded first and quickly a routine began to shape. As Hawkins recorded his drum track Grohl would stand in front of him in the garage playing guitar and directing Hawkins. “Dave would just stand two feet away from him, just so they could communicate, especially if we were trying to figure out drum fills or some patterns that were not quite working" explained Vig. “A lot of times with Taylor instead of tape editing, we would just punch in.
You can hear the punch‑ins and punch‑outs if you put headphones on. Especially if you soloed the drums, you would hear the cymbals change or the snare tuning change a little bit." he continued, adding that it didn't always go swimmingly - "Sometimes we would fuck up — like James would punch in on a chorus and he’d clip a snare or something and we’d play it back for Taylor and go, ‘Sorry, dude, you’re gonna have to do it again'". With Hawkins' drum track down next in the process would be Nate Mendel recording his bass track. For most songs Mendel recorded with his Lakland Bob Glaub Signature bass through an Ashdown ABM 900 EVO II Twin Bass Amplifier head. "I think we might have used a Fender on one song, I think we tried a Gibson Ripper on one song" noted Vig. "But he’s very fluid, he has a really good feel and that was almost more important sometimes than the sound — how the performance felt on the song".
With the drums and bass down next came guitar from the band's now three strong line-up, Pat Smear officially back in the band as a full member after several years as a touring guitarist and guest studio musician on the last studio album, 'Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace'. "They all kinda have different roles. Dave is kind of the glue, he plays most of the rhythm stuff and locks in really well with Taylor" explained Vig. Chris is an amazing musician and normally he would play the riffy parts, the arpeggio parts, the lead breaks, things like that. Pat was the ‘x’ factor and sort of came up with all these gnarly guitar tones.
The funny thing is, for Pat’s main rig we ended up using a Roland Jazz Chorus [JC120] with these crazy pedals that would make the fillings in your teeth fall out. He also did a lot of baritone guitar stuff, so he would find this place lower than Chris and Dave to come up with his parts. I think he also used a cheap Peavey on a couple of songs. Chris and Dave have all these great vintage amps and then Pat has like the crudest sound. It was perfect." he said of the role each played. Shiflett mostly used a Vox AC30 amplifier for his guitar work, occasionally switching to a Marshall and a brand new amp by a small company named Audio Kitchen.
According to Vig Shiflett used it on a couple of songs and Grohl also used it on three or four songs. "It’s just got a really cool tone. You don’t necessarily have to turn it up loud to get a saturated sound on it. All the controls are very interactive between the tone and the boost and the bottom end. The guy who makes it sent us two — one was called the Big Chopper and the other was called the Little Chopper, but both great amps".
For miking the amps most of the work was done by Shure SM7 and SM57s although Royer R121s and two RCA BK5 ribbon mics were also used. “I had the RCA mics sent out from Smart Studios. They’re my favourite ribbon mic because they have more high end than normal ribbon mics, but they can also take a really intense sound pressure.” explained Vig on his reason for choosing the later.
The final section of each song recorded (except those with any extra instrumentation) was vocals. For most songs Grohl would sing lead vocals into a Bock Audio 251 Tube Condenser Mic which went through a Neve 1073 Microphone Preamp & Equalizer into an Empirical Labs Distressor Compressor. Grohl would perform most of the vocals in the small vocal booth to the side of the control room but on some tracks would record them out in the open control room.
Speaking of the unique issues that the team were presented with recording in Analogue producer Vig noted “We were doing everything on the slave reel so by the time we got all the guitars on there, there were usually only four tracks left for vocals and two left for vocal bounces. So Dave would just do these performances and we would work until we felt that we had four good takes that could almost be considered a lead. With Dave, once he got focused, the takes were very consistent. When we’d finish, I’d put all four takes up and listen to them all at the same time, and you could hear how tight it was. If he was off, phrasing wise, especially on a chorus, then we’d go back in and do it. But really, though, it was so tight" explained Vig. "Then I would usually comp it in chunks — use take two for the first verse, take three for the chorus — and then we would record a double. The cool thing about live doubling is there’s no Auto Tune and it’s not perfect and because it’s looser, it sounds better. It’s sort of wider and thicker sounding. Every now and then when we were bouncing, we’d have to punch in a word. Or sometimes I’d have to do, like, ninja fades, slight crossfades. It was a lot of work, but again I think when you hear it, it has character. It feels like a performance. It doesn’t feel like something that was put together in a studio.” he said in conclusion.
'Dear Rosemary' also saw the second special guest of the session, Hüsker Dü guitar and vocalist Bob Mould joining the group. "I was a huge Husker Du fan, and obviously Bob Mould's music has influenced the way I write music and the way I play guitar. A lot of what I do comes from [him]" said Grohl of Mould. "I met him for the first time last summer and said, You know I'd be nowhere and nobody without your music, right? And he very politely nodded and said: 'I know' (laughs). We swapped phone numbers and became friends. I had this song that I imagined would be a duet between us, and he obliged" Grohl said, explaining how the collaboration came about.
Recording continued in the same weekly routine with tracks 'These Days', 'Walk', 'A Matter Of Time' and 'Bridge Burning' put to tape. The next track recorded was 'Better Off' however this song was the first to stray from the pre-planned formula. All of the instruments were recorded but vocals were not finished in the original week allotted to it. In an image posted to twitter by Grohl Shudder To Think front man Craig Wedren's name can be seen in the 'etc' column. Vocals were recorded for the song later in the session but Wedren was not featured, Grohl perhaps not able to get in touch with him or Wedren not available.
Next up was 'White Limo', a song that has been floating around in some form for nearly a decade, fans reporting hearing the band play the song instrumentally at sound checks as far back as 2003. The band can also be heard playing it in the background of one part of the 'making of' DVD that came with special editions of 2005 album 'In Your Honor'. "We've been trying to make that into a song for years" said Shiflett. It has such a badass riff it's fucking insane. It makes you want to break into someone's car and steal their stereo" said Grohl of the track. For the most part the structure and sound of the track was the same as the version heard on the bonus DVD. That version was instrumental however and this was the first time the track would have vocals.
They were recorded in a less than conventional manner to the rest of the tracks in an effort to give them a rough, gritty sound. Grohl would sing into a Shure SM57 microphone which was plugged straight into a Pro Co RAT distortional pedal then sent to a Roland JC-120 Amplifier. The result was a gritty, distorted vocal performance not too dissimilar to the vocals found on 'Podunk', recorded by Grohl back in 1994. As for the lyrics Grohl claims to not even know what they are. " I don't even know the lyrics to that song. I wrote them in two minutes" he told Classic Rock magazine.
He went on to compare the lyrics to some of those he wrote for the first Foo Fighters album, noting "Some of the lyrics weren't even real words" but that for the second record someone suggested he "really try to write lyrics". For 'White Limo' though he decided it was ok to go back to some nonsense after received an email from bassist Mendel. "Dave, I don't want you to feel like you always have to write We Are The fucking World every time you write a song." read the message. "That made me a lot more comfortable writing, a lot more laid back" said Grohl. Speaking of the title for the song he noted that 'White Limo' "used to be sort of text code for getting really fucked up", reiterating that the track is "about nothing at all".
The band were well over half way through recording and in October work began on the next track 'I Should Have Known'. "that song happened half way through preproduction. We didn’t enter into the recording with that song." said Grohl of the song's origins. "I just did that in my bedroom. I sang it and played the riff. And everyone wanted to work on it."
After the initial positivity the track was nearly left on the cutting room floor after a second play through. "The next time we played it, it sounded like shit. It had none of the passion or the energy or the combustion of the first take." said Grohl. "We suffocated it. I hated it. I didn’t want to think about the piece of shit". Despite these strong feeling the band picked up the song again, spending a week on the track as per the schedule.
Grohl's vocals on the song were recorded through a Roland RE-201 Space Echo delay effects unit creating a "spooky, distorted sound" according to Vig. Grohl recorded the vocals sat next to Vig in the main room rather than the vocal booth and he later recalled the experience. "At the end of that take, the hair on my neck stood up; I couldn’t say anything. Dave looked like he was crying, ’cause he was singing so hard. He was obviously channelling something inside." he stated." Butch believed the song was written about Kurt Cobain but Grohl partially denied that.
"At first I started writing it about someone specific, not Kurt," he told Hot Press. The someone specific he referred to was Jimmy Swanson, one of Grohl's best friends since childhood who passed away suddenly in 2008. "But then as I elaborated on it... I mean, I look at it and I think there are definitely connections. And I definitely felt that way before, especially in Nirvana, with Kurt where, you know, I was afraid this was going to happen." Grohl added, noting that some aspects of the song definitely had connections to Cobain as well.
On October 22nd Grohl tweeted two images to reveal the next guest musician on the album, former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. "We've always been in touch. One of the things about the expanded Nirvana family, it doesn't matter how much time has passed, when you see each other you're immediately connected by that, by the good and bad things" said Grohl of his long time friend. "it was perfectly natural for me to say,' Y'know, this would be such a cool opportunity to get Krist down into the studio.' He and Butch and I haven't hung out in the studio for 20 years. And I wasn't even thinking about the music, I was just thinking about the three of us coming together, and maybe without words just acknowledging that we survived, y'know?".
Novoselic recorded bass and accordion for the song and footage of him recording both can seen on the 'Back & Forth' documentary. “When Krist plugged his Gibson Ripper into the Hi‑Watt amp he played the bass line he came up with in his head and, I’m not kidding, it was so undeniably Krist Novoselic that Butch and I just looked at each other and laughed" Grohl said of the experience.
Recording continued into November with the tracks 'Arlandria' and 'Back & Forth' although for the latter only drums and bass were initially recorded for reasons unknown. The band then moved straight onto the twelfth and final song of the session, 'Rope'. One of the older songs recorded at the sessions it had begun life in sound checks whilst the band were on tour in 2008 and started out as many Foo Fighters songs do, with Hawkins and Grohl jamming.
"Taylor sometimes comes up with a rhythm on drums, and then bases a riff around that - that's how it happened with this song. I think he had that rhythm in his head and then figured out the chords and the structure" said bassist Mendel of the process. "When we first heard it, it was just Dave playing it on the guitar; then we started jamming around with it. Taylor and Dave usually work on the drum parts together. Taylor comes up with ideas, and then Dave will say, "I want to hear it like this," or, "That's cool what you're doing there - try it this way," and we just build it up from there. Since Dave's a drummer, he has the advantage of rhythm being second nature to him. It allows him to do things that are a bit more complicated without having to think about it too much" he added, describing the way the song was built up.
According to guitarist Shiflett the song had evolved greatly since it's early inception. "[Rope] is so different now than what it was when we were jamming it on tour". Grohl also noted that that the chorus was slightly different back then and Smear wasn't sure on the earlier version of the song at all. "Somehow it didn't make sense to me when we played it at sound checks. I couldn't get a handle on it until we got into the studio".
Talking to Guitar World Magazine Shiflett explained some of the technicalities to the guitar parts of song. "The verse chords in Rope are really interesting to me. What my guitar is doing over the bass makes no sense in a way" he suggested. "It does, but you don't know how. A flat seventh, a fourth and a minor third; those seem like weird notes to put together in a chord and put in those places. I remember when we were learning that I was like, 'What the fuck? This is nuts'. Speaking of the chords in the intro to the song Shiflett noted "They're all minor sevenths with a sus four. But it's in B minor, and then you move to a D, which is also a minor sus four. So that's kind of illogical, in a way, to your ear."
The drum track of the song featured what producer Vig described as one of his highlights - "there is an amazing, really ballsy moment on Rope where it just stops and it's dead space, and then they come back in and Taylor plays these crazy fills before it launches into the guitar solo. I think a lot of producers would probably have cut that out, but we wanted to leave it in because we felt we had captured something special. It had a great vibe, and it was fun, cool and completely unexpected".
One further song title was listed on the whiteboard Grohl posted images of, 'To No End', however in the last shot he posted of the board with all but two of the other songs complete nothing at all had been recorded for that track, every box empty. It is therefore assumed the band never recorded the song although this is unverified.
With the exception of 'Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace' every Foo Fighters album since 1997s 'The Colour And The Shape' had been in some way or another completely re-recorded. That wasn't the case with this album but the band did go back to one song they weren't happy with, 'I Should Have Known'. "We tracked it and I thought it sounded good bur Dave thought it sounded too ‘parted out’, like I’d worked out the arrangement too much." said producer Vig. Grohl thought the track was being turned into a radio single by Vig but that wasn't to Grohl's liking, instead wanting a "raw and primal" sound. ". It sounded like some bad Coldplay B side. Fuck this! Why can’t it be chaotic and out of control and why can’t we let it explode? Don’t try to rein it in. Let it go free" thought Grohl.
The band went back and listened to recordings of the track from pre-production and despite it sounding like "a complete train wreck" according to Vig he did like the different vibe of the earlier, less polished version. "Taylor was playing all these wild fills and Pat Smear was playing noise and feedback, but I remember listening to it going, 'The vibe on that is really exciting'".
And so in the final week of recording the band went back and re-tracked the song from scratch. Grohl told Hawkins to "Go bananas" and he duly obliged, adding fills that Vig described as "almost Keith Moon‑esque".
For Grohl's vocals a lighter version of the setup used to record vocals for 'White Limo' was used, a hand held microphone running into a guitar amplifier with tape echo applied. " It definitely has that John Lennon solo album vibe, dirty and mucky, but really primal sounding" said Vig of the sound. " The end of that song is all from the first take he did. He was sitting about four feet away from me and when he finished it nobody said anything for a few seconds and I could see tears welling up in his eyes and he had sung so hard he couldn't even catch his breath." he added commenting on the emotion and power Grohl put into the vocal take. Krist Novoselic also returned to the studio adding bass overdubs to the track.
With 'I Should Have Known' re-recorded and the band now happy with it recording was complete, attention then shifting to mixing in mid December. The group chose Alan Moulder for the job, a renowned British music producer who had last worked with Grohl in 2009, mixing the debut Them Crooked Vultures record. Initially the tapes were taken to Chalice Recording Studios in Los Angeles for Moulder to mix on their huge 72 Channel Solid State Logic SL9000 mixing desk, the same place and board he'd worked on the Them Crooked Vultures, but neither Moulder nor Grohl were particularly happy with what they were hearing.
Speaking of the rough mixes engineer James Brown had created back at the garage Moulder found he wasn't able to improve upon them. "James hadn’t done anything in particular - it just came off the API sounding like that. There was a certain top‑end presence that when you threw it up on the SSL just wasn’t there. Immediately it sounded a bit cloudier.” Grohl was also keen for it to sound more like the rough mixes - "Alan, make it sound like my garage" he told Moulder.
Grohl had initially wanted to mix the album back at the garage and Moulder soon realised that was the only way it was going to sound like the garage. "You want to make it sound like your garage? Mix it in your garage!" he playfully told Grohl. "There seemed to be a theme and a story to the record and us being at Chalice didn’t seem to be part of it. The whole record was done punk rock style in the garage, and it seemed a little odd to go from that to this other studio in Hollywood". Vig was surprised at how accepting Moulder was of the idea, noting "There’s a lot of mixers I know who would not want to do that, who would not want to go to manually mix in this room where there’s no acoustic treatment. But he did".
Moulder, Vig and Grohl were forced to squeeze together at the console in the study come control room, Vig claiming that they needed eight hands to complete a mix. "We mixed manually on the API board, with me, James, Alan Moulder and Dave, all eight hands on board, all doing the faders, no automation; we couldn’t even do mutes" he explained. "I would do the vocal rides, Alan would man everything and effects, James would do the guitar, Dave would run the drums, but the drums were only four tracks and it was second generation. We didn’t go back, we didn’t have the inputs on the API to go back and lock up the A reel. So all the drums are second-generation mixed to the B reel" he said, further detailing the process.
To this point the record had, as Grohl wished, been created using only analogue gear and techniques. This was however broken slightly in the mixing phase, Moulder using an Eventide 2016 Reverb Unit to add some digital reverb to the tracks as well as two Lexicon PCM 42 Signal Processors for delays and an Eventide Eclipse digital effects processor on the vocal tracks. Despite mixing being well under way on December 18th Grohl posted a message to twitter noting that he was completing the last vocal for the record, also posting an image to illustrate the point. Based on the previously posted image of a near complete white board this could have only been either 'Back & Forth', 'Better Off' or much more unlikely, 'To No End'.
On December 21st 2010 the band played a secret live show at Paladino's, a small bar in the Tarzana neighbourhood of Los Angeles. During the show four tracks from the recording session were given their live debut, 'Back & Forth', 'White Limo', 'Dear Rosemary' and 'These Days'. Before playing the first of the four tracks Grohl told the crowd that they had just finished the record that day, clarifying in a later interview just how close it was - "Honestly, we finished the last mix and an hour later we got in Alan's car and drove down to the club and I walked right up onstage".
With recording and mixing therefore complete the last step of the process was mastering. After a short break for the holidays on January 3rd 2012 Grohl took to twitter to reveal that task had been placed in the hands of Emily Lazar, a Grammy nominated mastering engineer operating at The Lodge, a mastering facility she herself founded based in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of New York City. Grohl tweeted again later that same day to announce "Ladies and gentlemen......we are officially done".
Of the thirteen tracks fully recorded at this session (assuming 'To No End' was not finished) only the first version of 'I Should Have Known' has not been released. Eleven of the tracks were released on all versions of the album 'Wasting Light' and the twelfth, 'Better Off', was released on various special editions of the album. The tracks 'Rope' and 'Walk' were released in multitrack stem format as downloadable content for the video game Rock Band and both tracks were also released for the online music training platform Jammit, in isolated bass, vocals, drums, keyboard vocals format. 'Walk' was also released in similar format for the game Rocksmith.
Two tracks were also made available as official remixes, Deadmau5 remixing 'Rope' and The Prodigy remixing 'White Limo'. An alternative mix of 'Walk' was also released on a CD featuring nominated artists of the 54th Grammy Awards.