The Foo Fighters’ latest, “Medicine at Midnight,” is not a product of the pandemic. Although the band was holed up in a house recording it — a rented property in the hills above the San Fernando Valley — COVID didn’t play a role since the album was completed ahead of the March 2020 lockdown. And while fans had to wait extra-long for its delayed release (the last Foo Fighters album, “Concrete and Gold,” came out in 2017), they got in return the shortest full-length in the band’s catalog, clocking in at 36 minutes.
One would think that having the benefit of time might prompt another go at music making — in order to address the challenging, restrictive and, for many, lonely times. But as producer Greg Kurstin tells it, the Foos didn’t change a thing. What they had in “Medicine” was a ready-to-tour onslaught of arena-friendly rock, accentuated by the addition of three female backing singers (including frontman Dave Grohl’s daughter, Violet, who contributes vocals), percussion by David Bowie collaborator Omar Hakim and the occasional string ensemble. It’s not exactly new terrain for the Foos, but the album doesn’t suffer from being overly familiar, either.
Kurstin, a seven-time Grammy winner (twice for producer of the year), who’s worked with Adele, Maren Morris and Beck, among many others, talked with Variety about how the album took shape.
Can you describe the set-up in the house where “Medicine at Midnight” was recorded?
We got to really experiment with all these weird locations in the house — we’d set up the drums in the living room or, for “Shame Shame,” in the stairwell in like a three-foot-by-three-foot space. We played with the sounds, trying the guitar amp in one room or the snare drum in another; the mixing console was up in the bedroom. … You’d arrive at the house and some people would be hanging outside. We had a kitchen there. It was really fun to have this relaxed environment.
Taylor Hawkins in a stairwell must have been loud as hell.
You could hear him through the floorboards. But sonically, it was really cool — the way that the drums reflect off the sofa; and the picture on the wall; and the railing; going up the stairs, where we positioned the mic. … All those little things gave it a unique drum sound, which you can’t really get anywhere else.
That sounds almost old school.
It was kind of old school. A lot of us come from that — the punk rock days. To squeeze the band into a house has its challenges technically. But being able to layer lush choir vocals — those are the things that Dave wanted to get into. The vocals are like a main hook of the song, rather than the guitar.
Barbara Gruska is one of the vocalists, and she’s also an accomplished drummer, right?
She’s incredible. There are at least three good drummers in that band. They’re covered.
And there are three guitarists, too — Pat Smear, Chris Shiflett and Grohl.
Three great guitar players. For people who love the Foo Fighters and their sound, the guitar is just such an important element of that. But “Shame Shame” actually has the least amount of guitar probably on the whole album.
Guitar sales grew massively during the pandemic, and now you can hear riffs all over songs by the likes of Machine Gun Kelly or Blackbear and even Harry Styles. Are we experiencing a comeback?
For sure. And I just worked with Great Van Fleet, too. I’ve noticed that in pop and rap music, there’s this emo guitar element, and I’m really happy about it because, for a moment, it was like you were taking this huge risk by adding a guitar.
How had the approach on this album evolved from “Concrete and Gold,” which you also produced?
I feel like we’ve gotten to some different territory on this album. In my experience from the last one, Dave would bring in a guitar riff and that would be the seed of a song; we develop it from that. But this one was coming from the drums a lot. Like “Shame Shame” started as a drum groove. Dave would say, “I want to do something like this,” and he’d drum on his legs with his hands, or sort of sing the beat. Then he would develop that into this amazing song. It was really cool to see that evolution. … We also had Omar come in and play all this cool percussion. So we got into a lot of layering of the rhythmic elements. There’s almost a dance element to some of the beats, that feels very different from previous albums.
The album’s delay and the COVID-impacted live industry hasn’t seemed to diminish excitement for this project.
I’m very happy about that. But it would have been interesting if the Foos came out a year earlier, because I feel like they’re such a live entity. Being able to perform these songs is an important part of the puzzle. Hopefully we’ll get there, but for now, I think we’re just waiting patiently.
You’ve been on a streak of Grammy triumphs and nominations for most of the last decade. Where do you keep the seven you won?
They’re on a shelf in the bedroom.
Wow, that’s a pretty intimate relationship with your Grammys.
Yeah, I like to cuddle; watch a movie together. It’s all very romantic.