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INTERVIEW: The Birds Of Satan
Valerie Siebert , April 25th, 2014 10:47

We talk to Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins about his new trio, an original material-writing evolution of his hard-rocking covers band Chevy Metal

You'd think that being in one of the world's most successful rock bands would be enough to keep Taylor Hawkins busy. The Foo Fighters are a platinum record-selling, globetrotting, moneymaking beast of a band that demands enough time and effort and produces enough rewards to surely keep any musician happy. But no. In 2004, Hawkins and former Alanis Morissette tour bandmate Chris Chaney decided to form Taylor Hawkins And The Coattail Riders. Hawkins described it as a Steely Dan-type of meticulous recording band. They released an album, Foo Fighters released some albums, toured around the world, etc. Heady days, surely. But no. Hawkins then joined a trio called Chevy Metal, a three-piece cover band ripping through the deep cuts of Sabbath, Queen and others. They played some international gigs, Coattail Riders had an album, played some shows, Foo Fighters had an album, then some touring.

Now to 2014, Foo Fighters will be heading into the studio soon. Things are about to kick off again. But no. Hawkins clearly isn't busy enough yet so he's formed Birds Of Satan, which is essentially Chevy Metal – Hawkins, Wiley Hodgen on bass and Mick Murphy on guitar – but with self-penned tunes.

The eponymous debut record, out this month, is almost terrifying in its variety, jumping from pop to hard rock to blistering, shredding metal in a matter of seconds. It's only mildly organised chaos. A wee bit of Foo Fighters-style pop rock is never too far removed though, not surprising as Taylor's boss Dave Grohl – who also lent his studio for the recording – popped in a couple of times to help Hawkins put things together. Other guests on the album include Pat Smear and Rami Jaffee of the Foos, as well as Butch Vig.

The opening track 'The Ballad Of The Birds Of Satan' encapsulates all the insanity and genre-mixing that the rest of the record offers. It clocks in at 9:28 and begins with a swinging drum solo overlaid with sounds of a crying baby before ripping into a careening opus of prog decadence and metal axing. The record goes on to cover power balladry, 70s dirt rock and Van Halen-style guitar twiddling over its seven tracks. It's definitely not for the light-hearted rock fan that likes his pop nuggets snug in a single genre.

Hawkins was on his way into the studio again with the band to record a B-side when tQ caught up with him about the album, the band, the Foos and how the hell he keeps it all together.

So how did you decide to turn Chevy Metal into the Birds Of Satan?

Taylor Hawkins: Well, I wanted to make some sort of record. When I'm between Foo Fighters albums I like to, you know, put my stick in the ground, to say, "Here's where I was at this time" musically, for myself, you know? But I just didn't have a lot of time. The stuff I did with my other band the Coattail Riders takes a lot of time. It took a lot of getting everybody in the same place at the same time and I just didn't think it was going to be able to happen before we were starting up with the Foo Fighters again and our studio was booked all the time. So I had about a week and I just said, "Fuck it, I'll do it with Chevy Metal and we'll cut it live". I just called these guys up and said, "Hey, wanna make a record?" and they said, "Yeah!"

I read that you described your other band the Coattail Riders as kind of like Steely Dan, very meticulous. This sounds like the opposite…

TH: Yeah definitely. The Coattails were like Steely Dan in the sense that every part was perfected in the studio and we did it over and over again so that it was just right and all that. Which was great! But it's also really fun to just fucking go for it.

Tell me about Wiley and Mick - are they just a couple of buds or is there something about their playing and about Chevy Metal that made you want to work with them?

TH: Well we are friends. Wiley and I are really good friends. Mick is a new friend, kind of just from over the last year. And I do like the way that they play, that was part of the reason. Mick's guitar solos and stuff may not be my first choice in my head, but it's what he loves. He's got a lot of joy in his playing and that's what I really wanted, people who were really excited to do it and try hard and have fun. It's about the excitement and enjoyment you can get out of it. And for Wiley, this is the first record he has ever made, so it was fun to watch him – he was just hanging on for dear life! And he pulled it off, it was great!

Not a lot of rock bands will kick off an album with a ten-minute prog opus and a swing-style drum solo; how did that happen and why is it track one?

TH: Well I just figure it will get rid of the people who aren't going to like it right away. It's like, if you can handle this then you might like the rest of the record. It's like taking medicine! There's a song by Jane's Addiction called 'Three Days', which is like ten minutes long and it's a masterpiece, and it's difficult. And I like it when things are difficult sometimes, but have pop sensibility. Plus, it's just so tongue in cheek, it's like, "Really? Really guys? That's how you're going to start off the album? A ten-minute fucking magnum opus? That's fucking ridiculous." It's just my way of saying, "You know what? Who gives a shit!"

The album is pretty schizophrenic in style – it varies hugely from track to track. What qualities are there that you would say permeate all the tunes? What is something you can count on with Birds of Satan?

TH: Hmmm… that's a good question. A difficult one too… I guess you can count on… Anybody who likes American Idol to not like it! If you like American Idol, you ain't gonna fucking like this! What is it you guys have over there? Right, The X Factor. Yeah, if you like The X Factor you're gonna fucking hate this!

What are you getting out of this band that differs from your other groups?

TH: It's just a different experience! In the Foo Fighters my role is very different, my job is to try and play drums on Dave's songs and not fuck it up, but also bring a little something to the table. In the Coattails it was just as fun, it's just different! The Foo Fighters is fun too of course! It's just different.

How do you compartmentalise all the different projects?

TH: I don't think I do really. I'm not a very driven guy anymore like I was when I was like 21. I would have stabbed someone in the throat to get ahead when I was 21. I'm not like planning my next move for the band or thinking about where we can go or figuring out how we can do better or get bigger. I don't care! I just want the record out.

Though obviously you had some of the Foos guesting on the tracks, too, among others and it was recorded in Dave's studio. Did you not feel motivated to keep things more separate?

TH: It just didn't matter! And I like that. I mean, fucking Dave Grohl wants to come down and help you put a few songs together, wouldn't you do it?

How about the other guests on the record, like Butch Vig?

TH: Well Butch Vig is funny because he didn't actually play on the record and he was only there really for one afternoon, and he was doing something else! We were laying down a guitar track and he just sort of passed by and said, "Hey, why don't you try this?" and just hummed a guitar line, and we used it! So Butch co-co-co-produced one track on the album. I'm just giving out credits like fucking candy!

Is any of this cutting into the run up to recording the next Foos album?

TH: Nothing's ever going to cut into the Foo Fighters, that's my gig, that's my job, that's my money, that's my fucking bread and butter. That's the mothership, you know. I'm not going to ever be like, "Nah, I can't do that tour, Chevy Metal are playing a pizza place next week." That would be stupid. I've been accused of being stupid, rightfully so a few times, but I'm not that fucking stupid. The process changes a little bit every time, but all I can tell you is that when we've gotten together we've sounded really good, better than we ever have I think. I'm really excited.

When can we expect to see some Birds Of Satan live dates and touring? Your official website says that it's going to happen…

TH: Well, don't believe everything you read! We're going to try, we're really going to try! It's hard to get the songs ready! I have to play drums and sing on the 'Ballad Of Birds Of Satan'. We tried it the other day and it sounded like a fucking can of smashed assholes man. Not good. So we have to work on that.

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