“You know how you explore the history of music in Los Angeles?,” Dave Grohl asks. “You get out of Los Angeles.”
For the fifth episode of Sonic Highways, the Foo Fighters frontman mainly eschewed the city proper and traveled three hours east to Rancho de la Luna, the Joshua Tree-based studio that was ground zero for desert rock and recorded Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age and Fu Manchu, among others.
“I didn’t want to focus on all of those iconic studios like Ocean Way Recording or Record Plant and the decades of history and industry in the city,” Grohl tells Rolling Stone. “I wanted to get outside of that because that’s how I feel when I’m there. It can be overwhelming in Los Angeles. It can get to you. I didn’t want to focus on the glitz and glamour because that’s what people usually focus on.”
While Los Angeles musical mainstays like Joan Jett, Rick Rubin, Slash and the Doors’ Robby Krieger and John Densmore recall their respective experiences in the city (including an illuminating segment on Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear’s former band the Germs), Grohl personalizes the episode by returning to the studio that most impacted him in the area.
“We started recording [the band’s second album] The Colour and the Shape outside of Seattle in a barn for about a month,” recalls Grohl. “Over the holidays, we decided that we needed to record more, so we booked a studio in Los Angeles and spent another month there. We were running up against a deadline and recording furiously day after day to finish this project. I needed a day off and my friend said, ‘You know what? Let’s go out to the desert.'”
Grohl had never been to the desert before and drove with a friend to the studio on his sole day off from the album. “You pick up an instrument and just start talking and before you know it, [studio owner] Fred Drake just puts a microphone in front of you and someone’s making dinner in the kitchen and you see that the tape machine’s rolling,” says the singer. “I was so used to sitting down and hearing, ‘Are you ready? Okay, tune your instrument. Here we go: Take 1.’ It was about capturing real moments. I was so blown away. If that was my day off, I’ll take it.”
The group enlisted Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh for the Sonic Highways track “Outside,” returning to the studio affectionately referred to as a “crusty old bastard” by Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age member Josh Homme.
“People don’t know about Rancho de la Luna so that’s why I wanted to tell them,” says Grohl. “You get out there and you’re under the stars drinking red wine next to a bonfire and there’s a joint going around. You just feel free. All of Los Angeles just washes away and it’s just you and the stars. That is inspiring and definitely influences what you do.”