When the Foo Fighters gathered last winter at leader Dave Grohl's Virginia home, they had two things in mind, according to bassist Nate Mendel.
The first was to christen Grohl's new home studio by recording their third album, There Is Nothing Left to Lose, which comes out Tuesday (Nov. 2). The other, more daunting task was to refashion the band's loud-quiet hard-pop sound.
They completed only the first of those tasks, Mendel said.
"We talked about musically changing things radically," Mendel, 30, said Wednesday from his Seattle home.
But except for a few studio tricks involving guitar overdubs and unusual placement of microphones while recording songs such as the power-pop ballad "Aurora" and the new wavestyle "Headwires," the Foo Fighters ended up abandoning the radical makeover, Mendel said.
Instead, the bassist said, the band focused on crafting melodically soaring pop songs that owe as much to '70s rockers such as Foghat as they do to his and Grohl's former punk bands. Mendel played bass for Seattle's Sunny Day Real Estate; Grohl was Nirvana's drummer.
The album's producer, Adam Kasper, said Grohl's and drummer Taylor Hawkins' affection for '70s rock went so far that "Seven Corners," one of the 20 songs recorded for the LP that didn't make the cut, sounds as if it could have been recorded by Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd in their heyday.
The disc's poppy first single, "Learn to Fly" (RealAudio excerpt), has been one of the most-played songs on rock radio for the past month, according to trade magazine Radio & Records. Sky Daniels, the magazine's general manager, said the tune's melodic pop sensibility sets the group up for a likely crossover into pop radio.
"While I'm sure it's not a calculated move, this song happened to come around at a time when melodic pop songs are all over the radio," Daniels said.
Kasper, who worked with Grohl on several Nirvana sessions, said the group did accomplish the task of breaking in Grohl's new basement studio, which was barely finished in time for the sessions.
"You'd spend the afternoon running around trying to get connectors or pieces for amps," Kasper, 33, said. The room still had wires hanging from the ceiling and piles of dust on the floor as recording began in February.
"There was a guerrilla aspect to the sessions that I think allowed us more flexibility as far as wanting to change things and improve them, having the time to work on them and not worry about money," Kasper said. Mendel said the unfinished feel in the studio matched the loose vibe of songs such as the driving pop tune "Breakout" and the bouncy "Gimme Stitches."
"[Grohl is] definitely a better singer now and a better songwriter," Kasper said. "Especially on this album, he tried to get away from the screaming and super-whispery thing, his extremes for the first two albums."
Mendel said an exception is the schizophrenic, neo-psychedelic punk song "Stacked Actors," which opens the record. It mixes an insistent drumbeat with a mellow, Doorsy keyboard interlude and screamed choruses.
During the chorus, Grohl howls the lines, "Stack dead actors, stacked to the rafters/ Line up the bastards all I want is the truth." The song came together after heavy-metal veteran Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath contacted Grohl last year for help writing songs, Mendel said.
"Dave had this one riff and he came in and said, 'You know, I wrote this for the Ozzy thing and I think it's really cool,' " Mendel said. "Then we just tacked the two together and came up with that song. It's kind of weird, but it worked" (RealAudio excerpt of interview).
Grohl formed the Foo Fighters after Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994. Grohl played all the guitars on the new 11-track album, as he did on the Foo Fighters' self-titled 1995 debut. The band's second LP, The Colour and the Shape (1996), was produced by Gil Norton (the Pixies) and featured the radio hits "Everlong" (RealAudio excerpt) and "My Hero" (RealAudio excerpt).
Touring guitarist Franz Stahl quit the group prior to the new disc's recording. The band recently added 28-year-old guitarist Chris Shiflett, formerly of No Use for a Name and 22 Jacks, to replace him.
The track listing for There Is Nothing Left to Lose is: "Stacked Actors," "Breakout," "Generator," "Next Year," "Learn to Fly," "Gimme Stitches," "Headwires," "Ain't It the Life," "M.I.A.," "Aurora" and "Live-In Skin."