During the recording of Foo Fighters second studio album Dave Grohl was feeling the pressure. By the time the band had moved proceedings from Washington to a studio in Hollywood he was homeless, facing divorce and drummer William Goldsmith had quit the band over the handling of the drum recording on the album. Working furiously at the studio to meet a deadline and under a lot of stress, Grohl decided he needed a day off and headed out of the city into the desert.
He and a friend drove out to Rancho De La Luna, the desert studio a couple of hours outside the city owned by Fred Drake and Dave Catching. Established in 1993 it had played host to many artists all looking to escape the usual LA madness. Grohl liked his first experience at Rancho, noting how different an environment it was from the almost authoritarian recording process he was in the middle of back in Hollywood.
“You pick up an instrument and just start talking and before you know it, Fred Drake just puts a microphone in front of you and someone’s making dinner in the kitchen and you see that the tape machine’s rolling,” he said of the laid-back nature. “I was so used to sitting down and hearing, ‘Are you ready? Okay, tune your instrument. Here we go: Take 1.’ It was about capturing real moments. I was so blown away.”
Having enjoyed his first visit out into the desert Grohl got invited back to the studio in March of 1998 to contribute to earthlings?, the band founded by Drake, Catching and Grohl’s former Scream bandmate Pete Stahl. Whilst working on tracks for that album, as was so commonly the case at Rancho, the group would also just play experimentally, noodling on whatever came to mind as the beer flowed.
A 45-minute jam ended up being recorded utilizing synthesizers, drums, guitar and whatever else someone picked up in the studio. “It’s funky, kind of,” said Grohl of the jam. “It’s good for driving.” The four considered what to do with the experimental music piece before deciding on something a little left field.
‘Auto Environment’, as the jam had been titled, would be pressed to a limited-edition CD but it would not be sold via any regular channels. Instead, touring bands of musicians would apply for it. “In applying for 'Auto Environment', you will have to give your itinerary. We have to approve of your tour. And then you get 'Auto Environment' - the best driving music in the world,” explained Grohl of the somewhat strange plan. “What we might do is, you send in the itinerary, and we'll record the song around the route of your tour,” he continued. “So, say your tour starts in Scandinavia. Well! It's very cold and dark in Scandinavia. But by the end of the tour, you're down in Spain and Italy - some summer beach music”, he added.
Whether or not he was completely serious about the release method, ‘Auto Environment’ never materialized and nobody has ever spoken about it again in the last twenty years. The only real clue to its existence is the master reel at Rancho De La Luna, seen in several ‘studio tour’ videos.