.Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett Plays Solo at Moe’s

Famed guitarist’s journey from punk to Americana

Once upon a time, no self-respecting punk would be caught dead playing country music. But starting in the early-to-mid-’80s, a handful of Southern California groups made outlaw country cool in the pit—L.A.’s X formed the rootsy side project the Knitters in 1985, and Orange County’s Social Distortion released the landmark cowpunk album Prison Bound in ’88. Add in the punk-blues of the Gun Club and straight-up country-punk fusion of Tex and the Horseheads in L.A., and the washboard-powered wildman antics of Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper in San Diego, and SoCal punk practically had its own Americana movement going by the time Social D found gold-record success with their 1990 self-titled third album, which featured a charting cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

Guitarist Chris Shiflett grew up on the edge of that scene in Santa Barbara, but ironically had to get to Northern California to discover the alt-country sound that was about to blow up in a big way when he joined No Use for a Name in 1995. The band had started in Silicon Valley in the mid-’80s, and found a following after Tony Sly became the frontman, and they signed to Fat Wreck Chords. At that time, no one would have expected No Use For a Name to be the place to get an Americana education, with the band releasing fast and furious melodic hardcore records like 1994’s Daily Grind and 1995’s Leche Con Carne. But Tony Sly was full of surprises, as fans would discover on his acoustic solo releases in the 2000s.

“Tony loved Uncle Tupelo and those early Son Volt records,” says Shiflett. “We used to listen to that shit just constantly on the road; he was into that stuff early. He was really the one that turned me on to it. I mean, I already loved X and Social D and some of the music that was influenced by country and roots and blues. But really, Tony turned me on to a lot of that stuff, and that’s what kind of set me on that path.”

It’s been a wild path, too, one that led Shiflett to play in the punk-covers supergroup Me First and the Gimme Gimmes for many years on the side, while leaving No Use for a Name in 1999 to play in Foo Fighters (just after the Foos released their album There is Nothing Left to Lose, which won the band its first of many Grammys for Best Rock Album).

With a long gestation period between the Foo Fighters’ 2007 record Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace and its 2011 follow-up Wasting Light, Shiflett not only recorded a second album with his brother Scott Shiflett for their side project Jackson United, he also made his first foray into Americana with 2010’s Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants. But it’s really on his solo records, 2017’s West Coast Town and 2019’s Hard Lessons, that you can hear him finding his sound and soul as an Americana singer-songwriter.

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He’s also become kind of a chronicler of the genre, having recorded over 200 episodes of his podcast Walking the Floor with Chris Shiflett, on which he talks to a range of musicians, many of them Americana artists like Dave Alvin, Robert Earl Keen and Steve Earle (he’s also interviewed those O.G. cowpunks John Doe of X and Mike Ness of Social Distortion).

 “It’s been an interesting evolution of the genre over the years,” says Shiflett. In the early days, he says, “I don’t think a lot of those bands that were coming up at that time came up through country music or were even necessarily fans of country music. They were, like, rock ’n’ roll people that found it kind of like I did. Whereas nowadays, you have a lot of folks that really did grow up with [country and roots music]. I think we’re more sort of steeped in it. I was kind of shocked when I interviewed Todd Snider, and he was like, ‘Nah, I never listened to heavy metal or punk rock or any of that shit.’ Americana is kind of a big tent.”

His solo tours, like the one that brings him to Moe’s Alley this week, are a whole different world than the stadiums he plays with Foo Fighters, sort of bringing his career full circle.

“It’s so different for me now doing van tours and gigs like this, because I don’t think I appreciated it when I was in No Use for a Name,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong. I loved it. I loved every minute of it. But I didn’t necessarily think about it in those days. I slept through just about every drive we ever did, so I felt like I missed that whole part of it. A van tour is a very different animal than being on a big tour. You see things differently—it’s more like a road trip.”

Chris Shiflett plays Wednesday, Dec. 14, 8pm at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz; $20/$25. moesalley.com.

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