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Foo Fighters' Mendel: When Love And Nate Collide

Bassist reveals inspiration behind solo debut album

Foo Fighters bass player Nate Mendel has released his first solo album under the name Lieutenant US. Titled ‘If I Kill This Thing We’re All Going To Eat For A Week’ and released via Dine Alone Records, it has seen the four-stringer assemble a touring band packed with familiar faces: The Bronx’s Jorma Vik on drums, Fleet Foxes’ Christian Wargo on bass and Snow Patrol’s Paul 'Pablo' Wilson on guitar, plus the album’s producer, Toshi Kasai, on keyboards. So, with the Foo Fighters in full swing on the road at the moment, why did he decide that now was the right time to make a solo record?

“I just hadn’t thought of it before, honestly,” he says on the phone from Australia. “I was busy playing bass and just being in a band. I’m kind of ashamed of myself for not being more creative or ambitious earlier on. It’s not like I was dissatisfied with what I was doing, so it took me a little longer than maybe it should have to think outside of what I was doing. 'Oh okay... so now I’m a professional musician, this is what I do!' So maybe that means something more than being in a band, maybe it means doing scores or singing or learning new instruments or collaborating with people. I had this epiphany that things could be broader than I’d experienced at that point.”

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Nate Mendel and the artwork for _If I Kill This Thing We’re All Going To Eat For A Week
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Live photo: Joe Scarnici/FilmMagic

The result is a warm melodic rock record soaked in harmonies, recorded at the Foo Fighters’ own Studio 606 in California, and it sees Mendel taking lyrical inspiration from tribulations in his own personal life, as well as stories from history and his thoughts on the state of the modern world. 

“It’s quite varied,” he says. “I was going through a period of trouble with a relationship, which is startlingly unoriginal there, but it just happened to coincide with when I was writing the bulk of the lyrics for this record. So a lot of it is trying to figure out that portion of my life through the lyrics. Basically how much of your own personal self to sacrifice when you create a relationship amongst two people. So there was a lot of that in there and then some random subjects, be it World War II or what happens in American cities when there’s an excess of wealth there, how instead of bringing people together – which as the main goal of life, to make personal connections – I think it’s kind of ironic that when people tend to get wealthy the first thing they do is separate themselves from other people. It was just subjects all over the map.”

Sunny Day Real Estate's classic 1994 album, Diary and Mendel (centre) with Jeremy Enigk (left) 

During the recording, Mendel drafted in friends in high places to flesh out the songs, with guest turns from The Shins’ drummer Joe Plummer, Helmet’s Page Hamilton and his Foos bandmate Chris Shiflett. But fans of his mid-90s emo band Sunny Day Real Estate are likely to be most interested in the fact that the album sees him reunited with frontman Jeremy Enigk.

“He’s actually on a bunch of the songs,” Mendel explains. “I sent him the rough mixes and asked him to do some harmonising on it because I love his voice. He was really enthusiastic about it which was great, I was flattered, he really liked the record. He sang all over the record, he added so much to it.”

Lieutenant US played some recent shows in California, and are heading to Austin, Texas for this week's SXSW festival. There’s a full US tour coming up, and Mendel says he’ll be sorting out international dates as soon as the members of the live band can co-ordinate their schedules. He says that those first few shows managed to banish any jitters he may have had about stepping up to be the frontman for the first time.

“It was naturally nerve-wracking, but not as much as I thought it would be,” he explains. “It felt more natural than I had expected and I enjoyed it. Going into it I thought the first couple were maybe going to be disasters and I questioned what I’m doing, all this doubt and frustration. But it was cool, we sounded like a band, we operated like a band, I liked that. And it was pretty scrappy on my part but I could see some light at the end of the tunnel that there’s a chance that this was gonna be pretty good in not too long a period of time.”

With plans to start writing the follow-up while he’s out on the road this year, the whole experience has given Mendel a taste for the limelight. So while Dave Grohl remains the star of the day job, we’ll be hearing more from the quietly-spoken bassist in the coming years. 

“It has given me a taste for it, yeah,” he says. “It really was an experiment, like can I do this? Can I put together a record? And if I like it, I’m happy with it, then maybe I’ll do another one. I’ve loved the process and the challenge of it, I’m happy with the record and I’m addicted to playing live having only done two shows. I definitely want to continue doing it.”

If I Kill This Thing We’re All Going To Eat For A Week is out now via Dine Alone Records. Foo Fighters tour the UK in May. Click here for details. 

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