The Foo Fighters‘ Sonic Highways is packed with references to the musical legacies of the eight cities where the band wrote and recorded their eighth LP. Many of these were detailed in the band’s accompanying HBO docuseries of the same name, but frontman Dave Grohl offered a more in-depth look at album closer “The River” for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon‘s web series, “How I Wrote That Song.”
In the clip, Grohl explains how in each city he would spend the first few days tracking in the studio with the band, and recording interviews with local legends at night. Around day five, Grohl would gather the transcripts from his interviews and pick out key words, phrases or sentences, jotting them down in his notebook next to an outline of the song.
“I would sort of cut and paste and fit them in,” he says. “So the next day I would go sing the new lyric, and it was meant to represent that whole week that we’d been there by telling the stories of the people that I’d talk to.”
Written in New York, “The River” is packed with intricate references to the city’s vibrant musical history, as well as the city itself. For instance, the opening line — “I found a secret behind a Soho door” — is a nod to the nondescript entrance to famed studio Magic Shop, while the titular river refers to Minetta Creek, a stream that actually runs beneath New York City.
“This song is mostly about that, this river that runs underground through the city,” Grohl explains. “I thought it was a beautiful idea that there’s something natural and prehistoric that runs underneath something as monolithic and futuristic as New York City. And maybe we’re all connected by something like that.”
Grohl and Co. also performed “The River” during their Tonight Show stop, enlisting the help of a small orchestra to bring the song to its bombastic conclusion. The Foo Fighters are set to kick off a massive North American tour in support of Sonic Highways next year, starting with a July 4th gig at Washington D.C.’s RFK Stadium.
That show, which will celebrate the band’s 20th anniversary, will feature performances by musicians representing some of the cities it chronicled in Sonic Highways, including Chicago’s Buddy Guy, Austin’s Gary Clark Jr., Seattle’s Heart, Los Angeles’ Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, New York City’s LL Cool J with DJ Z-Trip, D.C.’s Trouble Funk and New Orleans’ Trombone Shorty.