Producer Vig, who first worked with Grohl on Nirvana’s groundbreaking Nevermind 20 (gulp!) years ago and then returned to helm two new songs on the Foos’ 2009 Greatest Hits collection (“Wheels” and “Word Forward”), warmed up to the all-analog dictum fairly quickly. “After thinking about it, I said, ‘Well, you guys have to play pretty good. You can’t fix anything. No multiple playlists, no autotune, none of that,’ ” he recounts. “And the band was psyched about it. I think they really felt like they wanted a challenge. It’s easy to fall into patterns, and Pro Tools — I love it, but it makes it too easy. When you go back to tape, it’s all about performance.”
The band agrees that recording to tape was liberating. “This got everyone out of their comfort zone,” notes Chris Shiflett. “That’s one of the best things about recording with tape instead of Pro Tools. If you record digitally, you’ll say, ‘Oh, don’t print it with that effect on it; we’ll fix it later.’ With tape, if you had your pedal and chorus going all out, there was no manipulating them after the fact. And it made mixing easier too. Albums used to be recorded this way — you were essentially recording and mixing at the same time.”
Adds Pat Smear, “One thing we all committed to: Whatever we did, we didn’t change it. If a distorted vocal went through a pedal, that’s what it was going to be.”
That speaks volumes about a band wanting its music to come across as honest, warts and all. “It’s like when we were kids on the punk-rock scene,” recalls Grohl. “It was all about integrity. It was important that your intentions were right on. It didn’t matter if you sounded like New Order, the Dead Kennedys, or whatever — as long as your intentions were real and you were doing the right thing, people would appreciate you for that. I still feel the same way, you know?”
So, to borrow a line, it’s really just a question of your honesty — yeah, your honesty? “You gotta give people something to believe in,” nods Grohl. “That’s a real issue people have with music sometimes. They don’t know whether to believe in it or not. Are these guys being ironic, or are they not? Is that a machine, or is it music? Can he really sing that note? There’s something to be said for what someone like Jack White does — it’s so great because it is what it is.”
Drummer Hawkins wholeheartedly agrees. “Jack White does it in a way that just feels right. I want to hear feel, I want tone, I want to hear bass. We cut a B-Side the other day, and when I was listening to the playback, I noticed how real it was, how organic it was — pushing and pulling a bit. That’s most important to me.”
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