Photo credit: Brantley Gutierrez
When Chris Shiflett answers the phone during a tour stop in Spokane, he immediately apologizes for his shot-to-shit voice.
"We just had two shows in Seattle," he rasps. "We heard that Social Distortion was in town, and they were kind enough to let us open for them. Then we drove across town and played our own show at the Sunset Tavern later that night. And now I'm paying for it."
Hoarseness notwithstanding, the guy is used to the road. A full-time member of Foo Fighters since the summer of 1999, Shiflett has spent a good chunk of the last 18 years on tour, slashing his way through "Times Like These," "Best of You," and other modern rock monoliths with Dave Grohl and company. Dig deeper and you'll find his guitar playing on two albums by No Use for a Name, as well as every release by the punk rock cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Hitting the highway — and losing your voice along the way — is nothing new.
What separates this cross-country run from those before it, though, is Shiflett's new responsibilities. He isn't just the lead guitarist these days; he's the frontman, too.
West Coast Town hits stores April 14th. It's Shiflett's third solo album, full of songs that shine a light not only his fretwork, but also his singing and songwriting chops. Tracked in Tennessee and inspired by California's country music, the record finds Shiflett singing about his homeland, mixing the twang of his Bakersfield-influenced songs with the crunch of his guitar playing. There's no disguising the guy's roots — he's still a Bay Area punk-rocker, with a voice that favors grit and gusto over polish — but West Coast Town approaches its country music reverently and authentically, with Waylon Jennings' former sideman, Robby Turner, softening the rough edges with swoops of pedal steel.
Working alongside producer Dave Cobb, Shiflett finished the album in three weeks, recording each song in Nashville's RCA Studio A. Occasionally, the group would take breaks to grab a meal at local institutions like Monell's ("I feasted on everything they put in front of me, and then I wound up leaving the recording session early that night, so I could crawl into bed by 8 p.m.," Shiflett remembers), but they mostly stayed put, pulling long days in the studio. Shiflett credits Cobb and the rest of the band — including drummer Chris Powell and bassist Adam Gardner — with shaping the album's sound, although he says the album's unique spin on country music was mostly shaped by his California home.
Days before West Coast Town's release, Shiflett will headline the High Watt on Sunday, April 9th. He's bringing along a four-piece band for the occasion, including co-writer Brian Whelan, who will double as the show's opening act. Shiflett and Whelan are sharing guitar duties these days, which helps Shiflett focus on his frontman role.
"I've figured out over the years, as I've done more frontman stuff, that I have a weird habit where I don't breathe when I'm playing guitar," Shiflett says, laughing. "When the solo is done and it comes time to sing again, I'm out of breath and can't remember the words. I'm just in la-la-lead guitar land, and it's like, 'Oh shit, I forgot the third verse.'"
Chris Shiflett rolls into The High Watt on Sunday, April 9 at 8 P.M. along with openers Sam Palladio (aka "Gunnar Scott" from Nashville) & former Dwiight Yoakam sideman Brian Whelan. Tickets are available here.