Always electric, Foo Fighters will rock Austin again when they headline the ACL Music Festival in October.
The Foo Fighters love music history, and there’s plenty of that in Austin. That’s why they included Austin as one of the cities in their HBO documentary series Sonic Highways, and taped an episode of Austin City Limits, and why in October they’ll return here to headline both weekends of the ACL Music Festival (they headlined in 2008 as well). “There’s something about Austin and its alternative culture,” says frontman Dave Grohl. “It’s an oasis in the middle of the country, and its personality and fingerprint are unlike anywhere else.”
Sonic Highways, the band’s eighth studio album, quickly rose to No. 1 on Billboard’s list of Top Rock Albums. The companion eight-part documentary, directed by newly minted rock historian Grohl, has just garnered four Emmy nominations; they focused their Austin episode mainly on Austin City Limits. When the band rides into town, it will be riding high. “Austin City Limits inspired me as a kid. I was about 8 when I first saw it and just learning to play.” Grohl continues. “There was nothing like it on TV. You could watch an entire musical performance in front of an audience.”
Dave Grohl reflects on his rock roots while filming an episode of Sonic Highways.
At 46, Grohl is the long-haired, hard-rocking, and passionately talkative nice guy of the music world. He has never lost his appreciation for the business that made him an icon among wildly disparate groups, ranging from grunge-rock kids to 40-something moms and dads. But, he is quick to point out, he is surrounded by guys who also know their stuff.
“Our band is kind of a group of musicologists,” says Grohl. “Chris [Shiflett] knows a lot about country. Nate [Mendel] and I know a lot about the underground scene. Pat [Smear] and Taylor [Hawkins] know a ton about classic rock. And so when we started choosing the cities [for Sonic Highways], people would say, ‘Oh what about this guy? What about this club? What about this studio?’” The complicated project took years to produce, with Grohl interviewing music influencers in each of the cities and then writing lyrics to new songs, weaving phrases and references from the interviews into each to place the song firmly in the city in which it was recorded. Each song was recorded in a studio that helped shape the music of the city—in Austin, it was KLRU’s Studio 6A, the original home of Austin City Limits. Recalls drummer Taylor Hawkins, “Dave says, ‘I’m going take sentences from the interviews and write a song.’ And I thought, That seems really difficult. But it’s given him a whole new way of writing lyrics.”
Chris Shiflett, the band’s lead guitarist, says, “Sonic Highways became a way to show our love and passion for what we do and for music history.” Adds Grohl: “The whole concept really came out of trying to explain how these cities seem connected somehow. Whether it begins with Robert Johnson or ends with Lady Gaga, it’s all connected by something.”
The cities chosen were relevant not only to the band members themselves, but to music history as a whole. The Austin track, “What Did I Do?/God is my Witness” references Austin music legend Roky Erickson’s psychedelic band, The 13th Floor Elevators, and local punk rockers Tim Kerr and Chris Gates, who flipped a coin to see who would play guitar in their band, The Big Boys. On the song, the Foos are joined by Austin blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr., who is also performing at this ACL Festival. “Gary represents something very important,” Grohl says. “He is so humble, but he is carrying the torch of the blues greats who came before him. That’s a responsibility I don’t know that anybody wants to have, but he has it in his soul. There’s no disconnect between his heart and the instrument.” Foo Fighters perform at the ACL Music Festival on Friday, October 2, and Friday, October 9.