This week, Foo Fighters' guitarist Chris Shiflett unveiled his second solo album All Hat and No Cattle under Chris Shiflett & the Dead Peasants. The album is a collection of nine honky-tonk covers plus one original. The LA-based musician dropped out of high school as kid but has spent the years since building his knowledge base with politically-toned works of non-fiction and classic novels. We posed several questions about books and reading to Shiflett (which he referred to as “a test”) and discovered that while Foo Fighters fans may not be the most literary of the bunch, the band’s guitarist is.
What book brings you back to your childhood?
I have three boys that are nine, seven and five so this is actually a relevant question for me. My oldest is reading on his own these days and I’ve given him a lot of books I read when I was a kid. The one that I read to him that really took me back to being a kid was The Phantom Tollbooth. I read that when I was kid and loved it. It’s just so vivid and I think it struck with me. And my son loved it. We read it together a few years ago and it took me right back.
How would you define a classic book?
There’s a whole big list of names that you grow up aware of their writing even if you haven’t read it and you know it’s regarded as classic. To me, my favorite stuff is like [John] Steinbeck. I grew up in California and there’s something about it that strikes a chord with me. I guess it’s what strikes a note with you, what you connect with. There are the things that are regarded as classics and then there’s the things that actually touch you on an emotional level.
Paper or digital?
I have the Kindle app on my iPad and I use it a lot because when our band is working we’re gone a lot. Having any book you want at your fingertips anywhere in the world is pretty great. And to not have to lug a bunch of books around in your already over-packed suitcase is always great. But given the option I’d rather hold a book in my hand.
What’s the best book you’ve read on tour?
I like when you’re traveling and you read something that relates to where you are. I remember we were on tour years ago and I think it was the first time I’d ever toured Australia and I read a book about Bon Scott, the original singer from ACDC. It was just a trashy rock biography, but it was great because everywhere we went was in the book. I was actually just in the south of France with my family on a vacation and was reading [F. Scott Fitzgerald’s] Tender Is the Night, much of which takes place there.
Do you think you can fairly judge a book by its cover?
Sometimes you probably can. The romance novels at the supermarket, it’s probably fair to judge those books by their cover. I don’t really find myself looking at the cover of a book much. If the cover of the book is thing that draws you in then you’ve got problems and you shouldn’t be reading that book. When I go to the bookstore I usually go with a shopping list so I’m not looking at covers.
What’s the most times you’ve read a certain book?
I would say twice and I can only think of one book. I re-read Catcher In the Rye recently. I read it when I was in my 20s and then I re-read it because I couldn’t remember it. So it was actually like reading it for the first time. An interesting thing about buying books for my kids is there are all these books I thought I read that it turns out I never read. I bought The Hobbit for my son and I was like, “Oh buddy, you’re going to love this!
This book is amazing! I read it when I was your age.”
And I started reading it to him and realized a chapter in, “I’ve never read this fucking book.”
Do you ever find that things you read make their way into your songs?
Not that I’m aware of, but I’ve never really thought about. I think it might be the other way around. The music and cultural interests of mine influence what I read more than are an influence on my music. But it’s art, it probably seeps in there somewhere even if it’s subconscious. When I’m writing songs and I’m writing lyrics I really never write third person narratives or stories. And that is really appealing to me. I’ve tried to do it a few times and never really felt comfortable with it. I tend to write from personal experience. I should probably get into storytelling.
What book would you recommend to fans of your music?
I have a great recommendation that ties into my new Dead Peasants album. There’s a really good book that I read last year that’s a history of California country music. It’s by this guy Gerald Haslam and it’s called Workin’ Man Blues. It’s a super detailed, long book and it’s fascinating. It’s full of trivia. You slowly read through it and it’s an education, musically and in terms of knowledge.
Has a fan ever gifted you a book that you actually read?
I don’t think so but I used to live in San Francisco and we were at a drag queen bar one time years ago. And we were talking to this drag queen there and he gave me his autobiography that he had written. When I got home and actually opened it up the next day it was fascinating. It was amazing. I read that book from cover to cover but I don’t think he was fan. Not many Foo Fighters fans bring you books. Usually if fans give you a present it’s a bad pencil drawing of yourself. That’s the shit I get.
So is this a call to arms for some better fan gifts like books?