I’m sure everyone knows of the Foo Fighters. Whether it be their classic songs, their back catalog, or even their newest full-length, Sonic Highways, it is hard to miss out on what seems to be the most popular rock band going. In 2014, the band accompanied their LP with an HBO series. This documentary follows the band as they traveled across major cities in the U.S., wrote a song inspired by the culture and history of each area, and recorded each track. This process brought about a five-day workweek for the band, as they worked tirelessly to pay tribute to each city.
When the weekends approached, the band’s bassist, Nate Mendel, was hitting the studio to finish up work on his first solo album. If I Kill This Thing We’re All Going To Eat For A Week was released on March 10 under the name, Lieutenant. This project has Mendel trading in his bass for guitar and vocal duty and features Sunny Day Real Estate bandmate Jeremy Enigk, Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett, friends from Modest Mouse and more.
What makes this one of the most exciting records of 2015 for me is the diversity. What started out as a few random licks on a guitar turned into nine full-fledged tracks. As Mendel got more invested, he became more comfortable with the idea of singing and playing guitar. Any time you can see a musician put their vulnerabilities out on display, they grow as musicians.
While this musician was on tour with the Foo Fighters in Australia, he was able to take some time to converse about his first solo work. Topics of discussion included the writing process, his live lineup, and what moment triggered it all. We also talked about his fears going into the recording, what he looks forward to most out of this upcoming tour, and whom he prefers playing with in the rhythm section, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, or the band’s drummer, Taylor Hawkins. See whom he picked and more below:
You have been really busy with Foo Fighters in the last couple of years. When did you begin writing for this solo release?
About five years or so ago I started messing around with a few guitar ideas I had in mind. I began recording bits here and there and at one point in time I wondered, “What if I could make these songs? What would they sound like?” I finished a couple of songs around the time of the Sunny Day Real Estate reunion tour that we did a few years ago.
I then put it aside because we were a busy with some things for Foo Fighters. I got back to it afterwards and started to take it more seriously.
What moment really triggered this all? At what point were you like, “I’m going to do this. I am going to record this album.”
For me, it was basically until I actually started to do it. When my friend Joe Plummer [Modest Mouse, The Shins] got involved and it was just so much fun working with him, I loved it. At that point, I got the idea that I wanted to take this as far as I could. I was like, “Let’s record this,” even though I was terrified (laughs).
Yeah, but that’s part of what makes life fun, right? Working through those moments (laughs).
Okay, so the recording process was a bit daunting at first?
Yeah. Just because at that point in time, my guitar playing was a bit novice. And I didn’t want to have that situation where just because I had time in the studio and I know some good musician friends that I could get in and use studio trickery to where I can somewhat make it sound okay. I wanted it to be genuine. I wanted it to be something that I played and was responsible for. The part I was really scared of was getting into the studio and falling on my face in a way.
And how long were you in the studio for?
I would say a couple of months. It took a little bit longer than planned just because as soon as the drum tracks were finished, the Foo Fighters got into a Monday through Friday workweek for the writing of Sonic Highways. It got drawn out that way because I would be doing Foo stuff five days a week and then come out for the weekend and do overdubs on the record.
Now, you played a couple of shows back in January with your live band. The lineup included members of Fleet Foxes, The Bronx and Snow Patrol. Will these guys stick with you as you get back into Lieutenant in March?
Yeah, for the most part. We do have one lineup change. Our drummer Jorma Vik’s schedule didn’t work out timing-wise because he will actually be with his band Mariachi El Bronx in Australia then. So when I get back from here, we will be rehearsing with our new drummer who is actually from New Zealand. Besides that, it will be all of the same guys.
This year has got to be interesting for you as a touring musician, because not only are you playing arenas and stadiums like Citi Field with the Foo Fighters, but you are also playing smaller venues like Mercury Lounge and Johnny Brenda’s as Lieutenant.
Yeah, I’ll be all over the place (laughs).
What are you looking forward to most out of this Lieutenant tour? Anything in particular?
Well, I really had no idea what I was getting into for those first couple of shows. My suspicion was that I wouldn’t fully get to enjoy it until we became a bit better and more experienced. Especially as a band, and in front of the mic and the audience. But I really loved it right from the start. I guess that is what I am looking forward to the most. Going from where we are at now, to where I have in my head, as to how I think this music can be presented live. I am a bit obsessed at the moment with trying to get it perfect. And the only way to do that is to play, and I want to do that as much as I can.
And it’s got to be great to have the Foo Fighters fans come out and back you up on this journey. It’s got to be a confidence booster to go out there, give everything your all in a position you may not fully be used to or comfortable with at the moment, and see that they are right there supporting you.
Yeah, it’s nice. Especially right now, with Lieutenant not being public knowledge and seeing people come out to the shows still. So seeing these Foo Fighters fans come out and support us is really great. It’s so nice to have the fans that we do because they love us as a band and will support us in all of our own individual endeavors and projects. At some point in time, it would be great to go out and hear that someone is there because they learned of the band from the record itself (laughs). But I’m not entirely counting on someone not knowing the Foo Fighters or anything like that (laughs).
And one quick Foo Fighters question. Because you have two great drummers in the band with Dave and Taylor, who do you enjoy playing with in the rhythm section more?
Oh, that’s a good question. It’s kind of a novelty when I get to play with Dave because it doesn’t happen very often. We have known and played with each other for so long that it is a nice switch in musical roles, which is kind of fun. As Pat [Smear] always says, “Different is good.” I agree with that and think it is a good motto. But I have been playing with Taylor for so long that his style of playing is what I have begun to expect and look forward to in a drummer now. It wasn’t always that way, but we have been playing together for a majority of my career now that I like his style. I know what he is going to do and I have grown accustomed to it. So I’m going to go with Taylor on this one. He’s my guy.
Lieutenant will play at Johnny Brenda’s in Philly on March 27, the Mercury Lounge in NYC on March 28, and Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn on March 30. If I Kill This Thing We’re All Going To Eat For A Week is available now. For more information, go to lieutenantmusic.com.