Stop number two on the ‘Sonic Highways’ recording tour would be a return home for Dave Grohl as the band headed for the US capital, Washington D.C. Whilst Grohl was born in Warren, Ohio as a youngster he moved to Springfield, a small area in the state of Virginia just 15 miles from the capital. Much of Grohl’s teenage years were spent exploring the hardcore D.C. music scene, seeing dozens of shows at the hugely popular 9:30 club in the city. That scene stretched beyond the capital itself, with his own early bands playing shows in both the capital and across the state of Virginia, including Arlington Country. “I never tell anyone that I’m from anywhere. Well, I tell people I’m from Virginia, per se, and they say, “Virginia?” And I say, “Well, Washington, D.C.” Grohl joked of how the two places felt like one. “But it’s a huge part of who I am and I wouldn’t be this person if it wasn’t for that place and those people. I’m proud to say that. I’m proud to be a musician from the Washington, D.C. area. Musically, it’s a lot richer and more vital than most people would ever expect.”
Returning to the area for the Sonic Highways project was a no brainer and the studio Grohl had in mind was also an easy decision. Inner Ear Studio in Arlington was a legendary location in the hardcore D.C. scene with hundreds of albums recorded at the studio by artists such as Minor Threat, Fugazi, Bad Brains and Bob Mould.
Another previous client was Scream, the band including drummer Grohl visiting the studio in December 1989 to record what would turn out to be their final studio album. At that time the studio was located in the basement of owner Don Zientara’s house, moving to the current location a short time afterward.
“I remember walking down into that basement as if it were Abbey Road,” said Grohl of how much the studio meant to him. “Oh my god, Rites of Spring recorded here! It was like hallowed ground to me.” Grohl had also visited the current incarnation of the studio a few years later to record demos of his own songs with his sister Lisa.
Grohl contacted Zientara to see if he’d be willing to host the band for their project, camera crew and all. For the longtime studio owner the decision to say yes was an easy one, remarking that he is always open for anyone to visit the studio, for any project. “There has been filming at the studio before, (although not of that size!) and I encourage it. Why not?” Zientara remarked rhetorically.
Foo Fighters and their huge crew arrived at the studio on February 3rd, 2014 and began loading their equipment in. The studio was already well equipped for recording but the band still brought a number of their own compressors and microphones, something Zientara totally understood - “I would have done the same in their situation - you’ve got to have some familiar tools with you.” They did not bring their two Studer A287 tape recorders, however, happy to use the Otari MTR-90 II 24-track recorder already at the studio. “You really have to be a great musician and know your stuff really well,” Don said of the challenge for the band recording in a new environment. “It’s a new place, you’re only doing one song here. You have to acclimate to the system. It’s a crazy way to do it, but they took it all in stride.”
With the gear set up, the band got to work on the song selected for this studio, ‘The Feast And The Famine’. Spread out across two of the four main rooms in the studio the band ran through several live takes of the song, deciding which one they most preferred to work on further.
Whilst the band generally stuck to the standard process of working on the drums, bass, and guitar in that order, Zientara noted that they could “go freely back and forth” between the different instruments, iterating the song as they went on.
Despite the Otari tape recorder allowing a generous 24 tracks for recording this still became a limitation for Foo Fighters. Once all 24 had been used the tracks were bounced to a digital ProTools session with the tape then being re-used for further recording. This process continued throughout the recording, making all initial recordings to tape before transferring to the ProTools session. By the time the instrumental track was complete the track had evolved from “very good” to “the best” in the opinion of Zientara.
While he’d worked with Grohl on several previous occasions this was the first time the studio owner had worked with the rest of the band and had nothing but praise for the guys. “Professionals work efficiently and to a set routine. That routine is modified slightly by each group, but essentially yields in the best recording the group can produce” he explained. “It’s so satisfying seeing this happen. Like a well-oiled and well-rehearsed machine, they incrementally but steadily get results”.
When it came time to record vocals Grohl was backed up by former Scream bandmates Pate Stahl and Skeeter Thompson, the pair already at the studio for interviews.
The completed track was first released on October 24th, 2014 and included as the second track on the album ‘Sonic Highways’.