Recently, Fast Company Create posted a great piece by Rae Ann Fera that provided an inside look at how Foo Fighters recorded their latest album Sonic Highways. The piece focuses on how creative discomfort fueled the band’s latest album and film project. For a band that has been together for twenty years, recording an album can become formulaic both in process and sound. Foo Fighters have never been conventional when it comes to the recording process. They have recorded in studios on both coasts, in basements, in garages and the first album was famously recorded by the front man Dave Grohl all by himself in a week.
Sonic Highways takes the recording journey literally and in the form of a love letter to the history of American music. The thrust of the project is to record each track for the new album in a different studio in a different influential music city (Austin, Nashville, D.C., Seattle, Chicago, etc.), and allow the unique vibe, local musicians, influence the song-writing process. And in true Grohl fashion, film it all. Grohl took on the distinct roles of historian, journalist, filmmaker and, of course, musician, as he documented each city’s unique music history, interviewed local music greats and unknowns, and wrote a new Foo Fighters’ song in a new studio all in a week. Grohl says the following of the process:
“We didn’t write the lyrics until the very last day of each session because I wrote them around all of these people’s stories. So we’d go into a city for a week, we’d begin recording, and I’d go do interviews and by the last day I’d have all of my transcripts, take them back to the hotel and pick out words, phrases and sentences and put them in my journal.”
The process that Foo Fighters undertook is one full of exploration, assimilation, hyper-focus and creativity. The latter and the key ingredient is it wasn’t a project designed to have Foo Fighters travel to New Orleans and play a jazz song or play a blues tune in Chicago. The project was to analyze the history, roots, and musicians of a given locale, evaluate their attributes, distinct qualities, and then create a new Foo Fighters’ song. It was to use the top of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy for Educational Objectives.
These are lessons for schools and learning. Sure we can’t have kids travel to Electrical Audio in Chicago, or Robert Lang Studios in Seattle or even Washington, D.C.’s Inner Ear Studios but they can execute on a multi-step project that drives towards creation. But we can create projects where students play multiple roles, just as Grohl did, to build the understanding, apply that knowledge, analyze the data, evaluate the next steps, and create. Creativity isn’t rote. Creativity isn’t about coloring inside the lines, because there are no lines. Creativity is about pushing the edges and it can cause discomfort (both for the student and teacher).
But we learn when pushed and when challenged, and, more often than not, we rise to the occasion and create something new. We create something distinctly ours.
In 2013, Grohl gave the keynote address at South by Southwest in Austin. He closed with the following, which is his goal for his children and one that should be the goal for all of our children regardless if they are artistic or not. Creativity should not be confined to just the arts, the creative process should be a process used daily in schools:
As a proud father, I pray that someday that they are left to their own devices, that they realize that the musician comes first, and that THEY find THEIR VOICE … THEY become someone’s Beatles, and that THEY incite a riot, or an emotion, or start a revolution, or save someone’s life. That THEY become someone’s hero.