With 10 studio albums, countless gigs and hundreds of flights under their belt, it’s safe to say that the Foo Fighters have perhaps seen it all over the course of their 25-year career.
So how exactly does one stay motivated and enthusiastic when you’re about to hit double digits in the album count while also dealing with fan expectations of trying to one-up your previous work?
For Foo Fighters bassist Nate Mendel, he and the band are still happily doing all this today because they’re in it for themselves at this point.
“I think it becomes a little bit more for [the Foo Fighters] at this point,” Mendel tells Rolling Stone. “I think if we wanted to we could just go and tour on the nine previous records and that’ll probably be just fine. But we need to feel as if we’re doing it for a reason other than that. Otherwise it would feel disingenuous and a little artificial. So it’s kind of like still going into the ring and going ‘we’re going to win this fight’ [laughs].”
“The game has changed, rock bands aren’t going to have top 40 – quote – hits, that’s no longer the game. But we’re still playing as if that’s the fucking game.”
Now that the Foo Fighters’ new album, Medicine At Midnight, finally coming out in February of 2021 after being indefinitely delayed by the pandemic, the bassist says the band approached the record with the intention of pushing it into new and challenging musical directions.
“We talked a few times about trying to make an album really different, like radically different, you know since you’re always tinkering around the edges,” recalls the bassist. “But then you get in there and the band is the band and it sounds like the band! So this time, it was like ‘what can we really do actually that’s actually challenging?’
It certainly seems like the Foo Fighters succeeded with their new album because the first taste we all got was the wildly different yet also familiar “Shame Shame“.
But don’t expect the Foo Fighters bassist to look back upon Medicine At Midnight with adoring eyes once the band’s current album cycle is over as he’ll almost certainly never listen to it ever again. In fact, he’s like that with all of the band’s records.
“No [I won’t listen to older albums] because I’m an anxious musician and really self-deprecating,” laughs Mendel. “So every once in a while I hear someone go ‘wow you actually did really good on that, you found a nice little lick there!’ and nine times out of 10 I’ll be raising my eyebrow and going ‘seriously, that’s what you came up with?'”
“So I actually don’t go back and listen to our stuff. Any time we make a record, I listen to it into the ground and then I drop it and never listen to it again. Then sometimes you’ll hear it on radio and it’ll come up or whatever and you’ll be pleasantly surprised, like ‘oh yeah, that’s pretty good!'”
One thing that did get Mendel more wistful was performing live again after lockdown. Foo Fighters played their first post-lockdown show at the Save Our Stages Festival back in October and like his bandmate Chris Shiflett, Mendel was happy to be back on the live stage, even though it was a much different experience compared to the pre-pandemic days.
“It wasn’t emotional for me [initially] but it was nice to get together and play,” recalls Mendel. “There was no audience so I felt like I was rehearsing with the band and some cameras on there and I was happy to be doing it. I already have a mental picture of what it’s going to be like to walk off the stage the first time we’re able to walk off the stage in a way that really feels like we’re back.”
“That for me is when I’ll probably be emotional because I’ve missed it and I know it’s going to be a long time. Just recently I’ve been optimistic about things, like ‘we’ll figure it out’ and ‘we’ll do something next spring blah blah blah,’ but I’ve had to take a moment and rearrange my thinking to a longer time frame.”
While Mendel says he doesn’t look back on Foo Fighters’ old albums, it was hard not to bring up the topic of how he felt about 1999’s There Is Nothing Left To Lose, which recently celebrated its 21st anniversary.
“Wow, There Is Nothing Left To Lose. You know, for a long time it was my favourite record, though Wasting Light has since surpassed it in terms of being my favourite,” says Mendel. “For me, it was the recording of that record that was unique. We had just lost two guitar players and so it was just me, Taylor, and Dave in [Dave’s] house in Virginia. We were playing basketball and barbecuing, and [Dave] had made a studio in his basement. I loved that area of Virginia we were in and I just have really fond memories of how relaxed and fun and easygoing it was to make that record.”
“I like the ‘beat test’ on that record too. Obviously we had a couple of songs that were huge, like ‘Learn To Fly’ and what not, which were pivotal for us. So I dunno. I love that one!”
Foo Fighters will release Medicine at Midnight on February 5th, 2021, with pre-orders available now.