The band toured heavily throughout 1995 and the first half of 1996 promoting the self titled album but in between shows and even in sound checks they would work on new songs together as a band. After one short three day recording session in January of 1996 primarily to record a song for a TV soundtrack the band decided to head into a studio again in late 1996, this time with the intention of recording the second Foo Fighters record, the first together as a band.
The first record had been recorded by Grohl alone in a very short space of time with his long time friend and recording partner, Barrett Jones but for the first 'proper' Foo Fighters record he had more ambitious plans. "I've made punk records and they're fun, and great, and it's quick and there's a passion. But I did that with the first record. I've never made a big, proper rock record before, so why not?" were Grohl's thoughts. As part of this change in approach to making the record Barrett and his Laundry Room Studio were out, replaced by a new name and a fresh, new recording location. "I just fancied a change" Grohl said when questioned why.
His choice for producer was Englishman Gil Norton, best known for his work producing three albums with The Pixies. "I admired Gil for a while" said Grohl, "I thought he'd be the right man for these songs because they've got the potential to be great pop songs, and a little polish can do no harm". Speaking of his work on The Pixies 1991 album 'Trompe Le Monde' Grohl had further words of praise for Norton. "I love it for the way you can hear the band falling apart, getting scattered, shooting off in a million different directions". Grohl approached Norton and he was happy to offer his services. "When I first heard the first Foo Fighters album I got the sense of a really accomplished songwriter, and I really liked the raw power of it. I loved the demos that Dave had done for the new album, so I knew we had a great batch of songs" Norton told Paul Brannigan in 2010.
Bear Creek Studios was the location chosen for recording. Situated in the small neighbourhood of Woodinville, Washington 20 miles north of Seattle the studio was set in a densely wooded area. Grohl felt it was just the place to get away from the media and prying eyes whilst still being close to home. The studio itself is a century old barn converted into a recording studio with a large 60 foot by 40 foot live room, another 20 x 40 foot space with many isolation rooms and a large control room. Upstairs there is a apartment to sleep six, fully kitted out with a kitchen and utilities, something the band made full use of during their time there.
Before the band went into the studio Norton and Grohl spent several days together at a local hotel, stripping back his songs to their basic components and challenging the songwriter to "pinpoint the essential truths and underpinning each one". Following that the whole band regrouped at a rehearsal room in early November. "We wrote the tracks in the rehearsal room and arranged them together. Then the producer came in and we refined the arrangement with him. During this time many detailed changed, some guitar parts and bass lines got rewritten" Dave recalled. "It was like that the whole time, really, the tracks were never really complete" added Nate.
Finally on 18th November 1996 the band entered Bear Creek Studios and recording formally began. From the outset the whole band realised how tough a producer Gil was and how different this process would be to anything any of them had done previously. "Gil has a reputation as being a real taskmaster in the studio" recalled Grohl. "He cracks the fucking whip and anyone who's ever worked with him will say the same thing. He accepts nothing but absolute perfection in what you do - whether that means dissonant, noisy chaos or a perfect pitch, perfect performance pop song, he needs it to be the best. So working with him was really fucking hard" he added.
The whole band were feeling this pressure but especially struggling were Nate and Will, referred to as the 'rhythmless' section by Norton the pair were feeling extremely under pressure and questioned their own abilities. "I was fucking terrible and Will was having his own challenges" Nate recalled in the 2011 documentary Back & Forth. "I could tell when I had to do something a million fucking times that it was taking longer than I wanted it to and it was sort of my first realisation like 'oh, I'm not a fully formed musician', I've got to keep getting better" he added.
Pressure on William wasn't just coming from the producer however. Grohl was the primary songwriter and leader of the band and this was the first time he'd be watching over someone else recording the drums on his songs. Goldsmith also knew that, commenting in an interview for Back & Forth that "constantly there was this feeling that whatever song we were working on, Dave had a drum part for it already in his head.
His feeling was right, as Grohl acknowledged in the documentary - "When I've written a song I have kind of a clear idea of where the basic root accents should lie. That's a fancy way of saying, I know what the drums should sound like in my head as I'm doing this thing. That's not necessarily fair to say that as a songwriter, you know, who's collaborating with other musicians". Will continued his duties in the recording process but became more and more frustrated. In an interview with the Miami New Times in 1998 the drummer claimed that Grohl and Norton had him do 96 takes of one song and thirteen hours worth of takes on another.
By mid December with tension between band and producer still high Dave Grohl was hit with another problem, divorce papers from his wife Jennifer. With this new added pressure on top of everything else the band decided to take a break from recording and they all headed home.
At least fourteen tracks had been recorded to tape before the left but nobody felt particularly happy with it. Around Christmas time Dave went into a local DC studio to work on a couple of new songs alone, more details of which can be found here. Following the well needed break Grohl headed off to Grandmaster Recorders, Ltd in January 1997 to finish what they had started at this session. More details on that session can be found here.
Despite all of the problems and many songs being re-recorded at later sessions some material from this session was released by the band on both the album 'The Colour And The Shape' and as B-Sides to singles released from the album. The following details what was taken from this session and how some parts were merged/joined with recordings from the later recording session at Grandmaster Recorders, Ltd.
A simple 'intro' song to the album, the track on the album was recorded entirely at this session.
Up In Arms
The opening, slower 55 seconds of the song on the record was taken from this session with William on drums but the second, faster section was taken from the later Grandmaster Recorders session with Grohl on drums, the two recordings seamlessly joined together in production.
Rather than two parts of the song being bookended together like 'Up In Arms' for this song the multi-track recordings from the two sessions were merged. The vocals and acoustic guitar were taken from this session at Bear Creek whilst the bass and drums came from the second version record at Grandmaster. The two were mixed together, forming the complete song. A second mix featuring only the acoustic guitar and vocals recorded at this session was later released on the 'Monkey Wrench' CD single.
My Poor Brain
The most complicated editing work came with the track 'My Poor Brain'. The vast majority of the song on the album comes from the Grandmaster Recorders session however the drumming in the verses is the work of Goldsmith, recorded during this session. The drums in the choruses are the work of Grohl, recorded in the later session.
The Colour and The Shape
This is currently the only song recorded at this session that has been released in complete form with no cutting or joining with other recordings. Nothing else from this session was officially released in any way.
To further complicate matters in 2008 the album was released as downloadable content for the video game 'Rock Band'. The game features official multi-tracks for the songs which were later extracted from the game into standard audio files playable on computers. The files revealed that the mulitracks used for the game differed slightly from the versions covered above. 'Doll' and 'See You' remained the same however the other tracks featured some differences.
First of all in 'Up In Arms' unlike the album version which used only the first slow section from Bear Creek this version featured Williams entire drum track from this session, the first slow part and the second faster part, the latter a re-recording by Grohl on the record. The biggest nuance is once again 'My Poor Brain'. Unlike the album version which used part of Goldsmith's drum track and part of Grohl's, this version features an entirely different, third drum track recorded by Goldsmith at this Bear Creek Session.
The drum track features him throughout but it is not the same track that is used on the verses of the album version and none of Dave's work is featured. It is assumed because of all the cutting and joining the wrong drum track, possibly one of the many unused outtakes recorded by Goldsmith, was given to makers of the game by accident.