In January 2002, after around two months of recording material for their next studio album at Studio 606 in Virginia the band took their rough, unfinished ProTools recordings and headed to Conway Recording Studios, a large, professional recording studio in Hollywood, California that offered a "change of scenery" according to Grohl in a post the official Foo Fighters postboard. That post appeared fairly casual and everything was seemingly going well but the truth was quite different. Tensions had been running high in the basement studio, none of the band members particularly happy with how things were going.
Despite all the positive messages over the past month Taylor Hawkins later stated he believed "nobody had their studio chops on" and Grohl was even more critical at the time, telling his band mates that he felt they were lacking enthusiasm. He also believed the band were too focused on perfect production using the digital Pro Tools system for the first time. The mixes at that point "sucked a lot of the life out [of the songs]" according to Grohl and he believed it "sounded like another band playing our songs". The tension between the band by this point had reached their peaks, Hawkins "not feeling like much of a band", bassist Mendel going into the studio most days with a bad attitude following several arguments with Grohl and Chris Shiflett, recording an album with the band for the first time, felt lost, many days passing without him doing anything.
Proceedings therefore moved to Conway Recording Studios, the band hoping the change of scenery really would improve relations in the band and also allow them to improve the quality of the songs. Whilst he was not mentioned by Grohl or Hawkins in these studio updates on January 21st Queen guitarist Brian May joined the band at the studio to record guitar parts on two songs, potentially invited along to help break the tension between the band members. According to the diary section of Brian May's official website two days earlier the band had joined him on stage during an impromptu 'jam' show at the tiny Cat Club in Los Angeles.
It was revealed by Hawkins in a later interview that the first track May recorded a guitar part for was 'Knucklehead' and then as somewhat of an afterthought he also featured on the track 'Tired Of You', sometimes referred to as simply 'Tired'. "This is a really sparse one guitar and one vocal song - but then in the chorus Brian May overdubbed these 4-part guitar harmony swells - it's fucking insane" Grohl said describing May's work on the song. "He's the only guest appearance on the record but you wouldn't even have to put his fucking name on the album because someone would hear that song and be like 'oh my god - that sounds like Queen.' It sounds like a string section, but he did it with a guitar and it's fucking amazing" he added.
Brian May might have been the only guest on the final album but he wasn't the only guest at this session. At one point Grohl invited friend and former Nirvana band mate Krist Novoselic to join them at the studio but rather than recording bass as would be expected Novoselic instead recorded backing vocals, for the track 'Walking A Line'. In a special edition of 'One By One' Nate Mendel described the track as "a better-than-average punk rock sing along" and noted that "depending on fader position" Krist Novoselic may or may not have participated, referring to the fact Novoselic's vocals were either very low in the mix or not included at all.
The ten songs finished at this session were 'All My Life', 'Lonely As You', 'Come Back', 'Overdrive', 'Halo', 'Have It All', 'Burn Away', 'Tired Of You', 'Normal' and 'Walking A Line'. Three of those tracks were released but below is a breakdown of how the other seven songs differed from the later, re-recorded versions as featured on the album 'One By One'.
All My Life
This song is structurally very similar to the re-recorded version although production wise there were differences in this earlier recording. The soft 'whisper' vocals in the verses are quieter and there are a few extra guitar dynamics in the quiet 'breakdown' part towards the end of the song. The final 'done, done, onto the next one' vocal lines are also different with Grohl's voice moderately distorted, as if recorded through a megaphone.
Slightly faster in tempo in comparison to the later version but otherwise generally the same.
This track was by far the one that evolved the most from this first version and the final version, almost a different song with a more straight forward heavy rock verse chorus verse setup. The track was also much shorter, without the breakdown part lengthening the track. This version of the track was performed by the band live on only one occasion, a show at the House Of Blues in Anaheim, California, on the 7th of February 2002.
Halo & Overdrive
Both of these songs were very similar to the re-recorded versions with some minor changes in dynamics during the bridge section of 'Halo' and 'Overdrive' featuring some slightly different drum work with more fills on the version recorded during this session.
Have It All
The version of 'Have It All' from this session is structured much closer to the way the band played the track live after release of the album. For the most part it's very similar to the album version but does have a heavier sound during the outro and fades out rather than coming to a natural end.
Lonely As You
Like 'Come Back' the version of 'Lonely As You' recorded during this session was quite different from the album version. The quiet, whispered intro that features on the later version was not present, instead starting out with the basic guitar riff of the song followed by a heavy "YEAH" scream from Grohl. The structure of the song is also quite different, like 'Come Back' this version featured a more standard verse/bridge/chorus structure.
The lyrics are also quite different with Grohl asking 'Is anyone out there?' at the start of each chorus. The 'One more time for the last time' verse features only once in this version around 3 and a quarter minutes in, followed by a much more pronounced guitar solo from Chris. The song also runs on longer than the later version, clocking in at 5 minutes 17 seconds compared to 4 minutes 37 of the album version.
Recording was completed at Conway by February 5th and the following day the band played a live show at Anaheim's House Of Blues, a benefit show for MAP (Musicians' Assistance Program, a program assisting musicians health needs including drug rehabilitation). During the show four new tracks were debuted live, 'All My Life', 'Come Back', 'Overdrive' and 'Tired Of You'. Grohl also told the crowd that they had just finished making the record, "it's done" he enthused.
Despite the apparent enthusiasm from Grohl during the public appearance the truth was that he and the band were far from happy with the completed recordings. Grohl considered the end product "far too clean, too tame and boring" and despite his earlier postboard messages mentioning that they had "32 song ideas to go" by the end of this session only ten tracks were finished.
Of those ten the band were happy with only half. "The first four months, we recorded ten songs, five of 'em we liked. The other five we thought were okay, but we were basically just making songs that we thought people would want to hear on an album" he revealed in 2002.
Despite this a record was for all intents and purposes finished and ready to release, if they so wished. "Our manager, John [Silva], actually made the call." recalled Grohl. "He said, 'you know what? I like half of it. The other half just sounds like singles to me. And I don't think that's what you guys are all about, and it's not what you guys should do'". The band took Johns advice and essentially shelved the whole recording, not long before it was due to be sent to the pressing plant with artwork even completed.
"At that point, that's when I sort of called it and said, 'okay, let's stop, let's back away from it, re-evaluate'" Grohl remembered. The results of the last four months recording were scrapped and Hawkins would later refer to the failed recordings as the 'Million Dollar Demos', hinting at the huge cost the band incurred during the process. After a short break Grohl and Hawkins first recorded new songs together in April before new recording sessions for the album took place in May 2002. Details of these sessions can be found in the next two entries below.
Of the eleven tracks worked on during this session ten were deemed "finished", the exception being 'Knucklehead'. The only three tracks released were 'Tired Of You', 'Walking A Line' and 'Normal', the first being included on all versions of the album 'One By One', the second included as a bonus track on special editions of the album and the latter released as a B-Side to a single from the album.
The other seven tracks detailed above were not were used for the final record or released officially in any way however due to a mix up at the record company several short clips of those songs were leaked online. By 2002 internet file sharing peer to peer (P2P) programs like Napster and Kazaa were very popular for illegally sharing new albums and in an attempt to hinder the file sharers record companies would place cut up, incomplete clips of their records onto the networks to deter people trying to find the whole thing.
As the album was so close to release before being pulled someone at the band's label, Sony BMG, uploaded clips of what they believed to be the final record onto the networks. Before anyone realised their mistake the clips were downloaded by thousands of people and circulated amongst fans. The clips were of 'All My Life', 'Burn Away', 'Halo', 'Have It All', 'Lonely As You', 'Overdrive' and 'Come Back' and were all very short in length, ranging from just 20 seconds of 'Have It All' to 1 minute 21 seconds of 'All My Life'.
As per the original intent for the label uploading them most of the clips were also mixed up, cutting in and out. In May 2012 two complete songs from this session were leaked online via the official postboard for the band, the complete versions of 'Come Back' and 'Have It All'. Another short clip of 'Lonely As You' was also leaked but to date no further songs from the session have been made available.