Foo Fighters: Wasting Light – [Record 6]
Wasting Light: is the seventh studio album by American rock band Foo Fighters. It was released on April 12, 2011 on RCA Records. Wishing to capture the essence of the group’s earlier work and avoid the artificiality of digital recording, frontman Dave Grohl arranged for the band to record in his garage in Encino, California using only analog equipment. The sessions were supervised by producer Butch Vig, with whom Grohl had worked on Nirvana’s Nevermind. Since the old equipment did not allow for many mistakes to be corrected in post-production, the band spent three weeks rehearsing the songs, and Vig had to relearn outdated editing techniques. The band went for a heavier and rawer sound to contrast with the musical experiments from their previous albums, and most of the lyrics were written as Grohl reflected upon his life and possible future. Guest musicians include Bob Mould, Krist Novoselic, and Fee Waybill.
Record 1, Side 1.
1, Bridge Burning.
3, Dear Rosemary.
Record 1, Side 2.
4, White Limo.
6, These Days
Record 2, Side 1.
7, Back & Forth.
8, A Matter of Time.
9, Miss the Misery.
Record 2, Side 2.
10, I Should Have Known.
The recording: sessions were documented for fans on the band’s website and Twitter, and the album’s promotion included the documentary Back and Forth and a worldwide concert tour that included concerts played in fans’ garages. Wasting Light was preceded by the successful single “Rope”, which became only the second song ever to debut at number one on Billboard’s Rock Songs chart. The follow-up single, “Walk”, also charted highly. The album was a commercial success, debuting at number one in eleven countries, and it received positive reviews from most music critics, who complimented its production and the band’s songwriting. In 2012, Wasting Light and its songs earned Foo Fighters five Grammy Awards, including Best Rock Album.
After the Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace tour ended in 2008, the Foo Fighters went to Grand Master Studios in Hollywood to record 14 compositions written during the tours so as to possibly release a new album without much promotion and touring. The band eventually decided to take a break instead of continuing to work on those recordings. Three songs from those sessions saw a later release: “Wheels” and “Word Forward”, were rerecorded for the band’s Greatest Hits album, and “Rope” became a part of Wasting Light. As “Wheels” and “Word Forward” were the reunion of frontman Dave Grohl with producer Butch Vig, who had previously worked with Nirvana on their breakthrough album Nevermind, Grohl thought it was finally time to bring Vig to produce the next Foo Fighters album.
The idea of a new album came back in 2010, as frontman Dave Grohl was touring Australia with Them Crooked Vultures. Grohl decided that “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 later elaborated that Vig was brought in so the record could be “that one album that kinda defines the band: it might not be their best album, but it’s the one people identify the band with the most, like Back In Black or the Metallica Black Album. It’s like you take all of the things that people consider your band’s signature characteristics and just amplify them and make one simple album with that. And that’s sorta what I thought we could do with Butch, because Butch has a great way of trimming all the fat and making sense of it all.” Grohl also used the tour with the Vultures to turn song ideas into demos, which were then brought to drummer Taylor Hawkins to be further developed. The album would also mark the return of guitarist Pat Smear as a permanent member; Smear left the Foo Fighters after the release of The Colour and the Shape, but had been part of the touring band since 2006.
“I get to [Dave Grohl’s] house and the first thing he says is, ‘I really wanna do this in my garage.’ So we went downstairs and set up a snare drum. I said, ‘Well, it sounds really loud and trashy, but I don’t see why we can’t do it.’ Then he said he wanted to record on tape with no computers. That threw me for a loop; I’ve made lots of records that way, just not for the last 10 years. But Dave really wanted it to be about the sound and the performance. They’d just played some shows at Wembley Stadium, and he told me, ‘We’ve gotten so huge, what’s left to do? We could go back to 606 and make a big, slick, super-tight record just like the last one. Or we could try to capture the essence of the first couple of Foo Fighters records.'” – Butch Vig on how the album came to be.
Unlike the band’s previous two albums, Wasting Light was recorded in Dave Grohl’s garage in Encino, California, as opposed to the band’s home-built studio, Studio 606. Regarding this decision, Grohl states: “There’s poetry in being the band that can sell out Wembley but also makes a record in a garage. Why go into the most expensive studio with the biggest producer and use the best state-of-the-art equipment? Where’s the rock’n’roll in that?” Grohl added it was a way to “do something really primal sounding”, innovate, break people’s expectations and “make records the way we used to fucking make records”.
The album was recorded using entirely analogue equipment until post-mastering. Grohl said it was done that way because he felt digital recording was getting out of control: “when I listen to music these days, and I hear Pro Tools and drums that sound like a machine- it kinda sucks the life out of music.” According to Grohl, the analog strategy would make the record “sound rawer and somewhat imperfect”, something which guitarist Chris Shiflett agreed was beneficial, declaring that “rock n’roll is about flaws and imperfections”. Bassist Nate Mendel added that “we grew up making records on tape, which has a certain sound, certain limitations”, and drummer Taylor Hawkins said that the digital recording in contemporary rock n’ roll lead to an artificial sound: “they kinda played it and then how someone else manipulated it in a computer, to make them sound a certain way.” Hawkins believed an analog project would help the band reclaim its artistic freedom.
Once Vig learned about the analog project, at first he considered Grohl was joking, but then replied that “You guys have to play really well, because nothing is gonna be fixed” since mistakes are not as easily correctable as in a digital recording. With that in mind, the band spent three weeks doing pre-production and rehearsals at Studio 606, where the composition was completed, going “from forty songs to fourteen”, and said songs were rehearsed to be recorded live, while in previous records, as put by Mendel, “we’d often come up with parts in the studio, and the songs would evolve”.
Grohl’s garage was equipped with microphones, sound baffles on the garage door and behind the drums to prevent sound leakings, and a carpet under the drum kit to make it sound less “loud and bright”. To reduce the cymbal bleed, the microphones were rearranged and the crash cymbal was traded for a “shorter-decay Zildjian cymbal with holes drilled in it”. A room next to the study was turned into an isolation booth to record the vocals. For the recording itself a makeshift control room was built inside a tent on the backyard, and a system of two cameras and a television provided the communication between the garage and the control room. The equipment was the same the band employed to record the albums There Is Nothing Left to Lose and One by One at Grohl’s former house in Alexandria, Virginia.
Recording of the album began September 6, 2010, lasting for eleven weeks, each one focusing on a particular song, something Vig stated “was good because each song kinda had its own life”. The recordings started with Grohl’s rhythm guitar and Taylor Hawkins’ drumming to provide the foundations and see if both could “lock in”. Hawkins usually played for hours before he got “a drum track I’d be proud of”. Click tracks were used, but Vig said that there was not a worry for the drums to follow it exactly as they “wanted it to groove” and “we realized that when everything is off just a few milliseconds, the sound gets wider and thicker.” After the guitar and drum track, Mendel would play his basslines, which were practiced enough for them to be recorded perfectly on the first take. The following day, Shiflett and Smear would play guitars, with the latter being the last and usually being given a baritone guitar to have a different sound from the other guitarists. After the instrumental backing was ready, Grohl did the vocals either on the control room or the isolation booth. As Grohl wanted the songs “to have maximum emotional potential”, the vocals were screamed to the point he had headaches—”when the mic is picking up every tiny inconsistency, you really strain to make it sound right.”
A bald man sings and plays a guitar on stage.
Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü, one of Grohl’s idols, was brought in to do vocals in a song Grohl conceived as a duet with him, “Dear Rosemary”. Mould also played guitar on the track, even though Vig’s plans had him just singing. Grohl’s former Nirvana bandmate Krist Novoselic appeared in “I Should Have Known” as Grohl thought “it would be nice to have him come down and share the experience” and that the song would be enhanced by his bass and accordion-playing.””Miss the Misery” features Fee Waybill of The Tubes, a personal friend of Grohl who said that the frontman invited him because “the background vocal sounded like him”. Other guest musicians included three members of the expanded touring band, keyboardist Rami Jaffee, violinist Jessy Greene and percussionist Drew Hester.
Vig started doubting it could be done fully analog once the tapes for the first song recorded, “Miss the Misery”, started falling apart, but Grohl reassured him “no, Butch, I don’t want any computer in this house at all.” The producer said that during recording he “had to force my brain to fire different synapses” to remember how to deal with the analog equipment and the lack of a digital display. One of the habits Vig had to call back was editing using a razor blade—”I used to be able to do 20 edits in half an hour if need be. It took me about 20 minutes to do the first edit!”—a technique he employed for the first songs recorded. Eventually he gave up and decided to punch in and punch out tapes instead, as the process was time-consuming and a more editable tape sent to Vig from Smart Studios was mostly ruined by one of Grohl’s daughters. While many recordings had inserts and some parts rerecorded, the only song that had to be redone from scratch was “I Should Have Known”, as Grohl felt Vig was “trying to make this into a radio single” when the singer wanted it “to sound really raw and primal”.
The mixing started at Chalice Recording Studios, but moved to Grohl’s house as engineer Alan Moulder said it was the way “to make it sound like your garage.” Since Grohl’s mixing console was not automated, at times four people—Vig, Grohl, Moulder and engineer James Brown—had to work simultaneously on the board, something Grohl found interesting because every song was done differently and “even the mixes sounded like performances” The mixes were tested out in the cars of the band members and Vig, as they felt that “if it sounds good on a lousy stereo, it will sound good anywhere”.
The recording of the album was filmed as part of a career-spanning documentary called Back and Forth, which Grohl said was essential to make audiences understand the decision to record the album in his garage. The album name, taken from a lyric in “Miss the Misery”, was chosen by Grohl because “it seemed to resonate with me: ‘OK, that’s what we’re here doing'”, as the band always “recorded each album thinking it could be our last” and tried to take the most of their tenure together—”we’re only here for a short time, we’re lucky to be alive, lucky to be a band; I don’t take any of this for granted; I don’t want to spend my time looking backwards, I want to look forwards”.