Chris Shiflett has been a Foo Fighter for 17 years, typically identified as the lead guitarist, but more comfortable with the notion that he is one of three co-equal axe men. Foo Fighters is Dave Grohl, lead vocals and guitar; Shiflett and Pat Smear on guitars and backing vocals; Nate Mendel on bass, Taylor Hawkins on drums and backing vocals and touring keyboardist Rami Jaffee.
The 11-time Grammy winners have recorded eight studio albums with worldwide sales of 30 million copies. When the popular rockers close BottleRock on the main stage Sunday night, that will not have been Shiflett’s only appearance at the festival. On Saturday afternoon, he will front a different band with a very different voice on the Miner Family Stage.
In terms of genre, “alt-country” comes close, though Shiflett gives it a wider berth. On the phone from his office in Los Angeles last week, he talked about his musical influences and how they are expressed in his two very different bands.
“Early on it was my older brother’s record collection,” Shiflett said. “It was Zeppelin, the Beatles, and Aerosmith and the Stones and that sort of stuff. That was when I was really young. Kiss was a big one.
“I sort of came to country later on through rockabilly. You know, I loved rockabilly, including honkytonky rockabilly. That was kind of the opening for me. I started getting into Sun Records, Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline and Hank Williams and all that sort of stuff.”
Career-wise, rock ‘n’ roll comes first, with Foo Fighters an abiding commitment. Though the band is stereotyped by some as prototypically “Seattle,” grungy and loud, Shiflett said that that doesn’t do them justice. “We are a very loud rock band,” he acknowledged, “but Dave’s songwriting is very melodic. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I think loud and melodic go hand in hand.’
Shiflett spoke in some detail about the roles of the three guitarists in the band. “In Foo Fighters, I don’t think any of us play lead guitar. That kind of moves around depending on the song. I wouldn’t call myself the lead guitar player. I am one of three guitar players. And we’re all doing different things much of the time.
“For live, obviously Dave is singing and playing guitar, so there’s some things that he may have played on a record that I’ll wind up playing live, or Pat will wind up playing because Dave can’t be singing and playing at the same time. So the parts kind of shift around. There’s what happens in the studio and there’s what happens live, and they tend to be a little bit different.”
Shiflett said that while three electric guitars definitely have the potential to muddy the sound of a band, that rarely happens. “Most of the time we just kind of fall into playing things in different parts of the neck in different versions of chords and parts,” he said. “It’s not very often that we’re all sort of hunkering down on the same thing. Sometimes it’s here and there, of course, but most of the time I think we’re staking out different territory.”
Fronting his own band on Saturday, with Luke Adams on drums, Guitarist Brian Whelan and Muddy Stardust on bass, Shiflett will slip into his country-flavored singer/songwriter identity performing music from his 2017 “West Coast Town” album.
“The record is sort of a mishmash of a lot of the different styles of music that I like,” he said. “It’s equal parts Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, the Rolling Stones and Faces and Social Distortion and Steve Earle and the Old 97’s and all that stuff.
“I think it’s all just kind of mashed up together. So no, I don’t think of it as being a straight-forward country record, but then country is a huge influence on me in the music that I write.”
Saturday, May 27, 2:50 p.m. Chris Shiflett. Miner Family Winery Stage.
Sunday, May 28, 8 p.m. Foo Fighters. JaM Cellars Stage
Shiflett will also perform a “pop-up” acoustic set in the VIP Village during the festival.
BottleRock Napa Valley. Napa Valley Expo, 575 Third St., Napa. BottleRockNapaValley.com
Napa’s Secure the Sun opens the festival
It is traditional for a local band to open BottleRock on the main stage. This year, it’s Secure The Sun, teenage alt-rockers from Napa with a touring track record beyond their years – Silo’s and the Slack Collective locally, the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma, the Boom Boom Room and the DNA Lounge in San Francisco. Material from their recently released EP is in regular rotation on college radio. Secure The Sun is Ari Eisenberg on lead vocals, Liam Milligan on guitar, Anthony Capetto on bass and Jonathan Soria-Gil on drums. Friday, May 26, noon at JaM Cellars Stage, BottleRock Napa Valley.