A surprise album release has become a mainstay of the Internet age. Pioneered by Radiohead and perfected by Beyoncé (with masterful execution by David Bowie and My Bloody Valentine), the idea of a major artist dropping all-new material online in the dead of night is one of the fun perks of the near-total collapse of the recording industry.
The latest band to get in on the act is the Foo Fighters, who issued a rambling letter (penned by frontman Dave Grohl) around midnight last night, explaining the impetus for the sudden release of new EP St. Cecilia,—”a celebration of life and music” in the wake of the horrific terror attack in Paris, which involved occasional Foo tour mates the Eagles of Death Metal. The EP takes its name from Austin’s Hotel St. Cecilia, where it was recorded in early October.
Although the hotel doesn’t have a recording studio on the premises (though the Willie Nelson-affiliated Arlyn Studios is next door), if you’re Dave Grohl, you can just make that happen:
The Saint Cecilia Hotel, named after the patroness saint of music, is known as “A lush retreat from the world”. And, believe me, that it is! 14 rooms and a small bar, it’s tucked away in the trees within a bustling, Austin neighborhood. As our van pulled up in the wee hours of September 30th, 2015, I was struck with a rather impulsive idea: to record some songs on our days off to give to the world as a “thank you” for the last 2 years. Though there’s a world class recording studio just on the other side of the fence (Arlyn Studios, look it up.), the hotel manager, Jenny offered that we record in the hotel. A most generous, but unrealistic offer. Though, after rolling it around in my head a few times, it made perfect sense! Returning to the city where the entire Sonic Highways concept was born, loading in one last time to a room that was never designed to be a recording studio a la Sonic Highways, and making some music! Fate? Destiny? I was too tired to figure that kind of shit out, so I hit the sack, woke up the next morning and started making some calls…
The session brought out ideas that had been buried in Grohl’s notebooks since the band’s formation—and Austin producer/engineer Kevin Szymanski, who worked on the Foo Fighters’ Everywhere But Home live recording, worked to transform the hotel’s office and bar into a studio. The session brought out Austin music luminaries like Gary Clark, Jr. and Ben Kweller, as well as New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band and more to the hotel over the two weekends of the festival, and the songs on it range from the very specifically Austin-inspired (the title track, “Saint Cecilia,” drips with the atmosphere of the hotel) to longtime concepts that Grohl didn’t realize until he was in Texas this fall (closer “The Neverending Sigh” dates back to the Foo Fighters’ first album).
Grohl’s effusive letter reads a bit like an advertisement for the Bunkhouse Group—an EP named after one of your hotels isn’t bad real estate as far as publicity goes.
It was heartbreaking to leave that place, to say the least. I honestly feel like we left a piece of our band there as we were being torn away from it. The perfect unity of life, and love, and music is something that only comes around so often and in certain circumstances. When you feel it coming on, you have to take hold of it. That place and those people made it possible for our band to take one, big final breath before the curtain closes. Thankfully, we have evidence of this in these songs that we’re giving to you today. Thank you, Saint Cecilia. You made us feel right at home.
The Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways project—which ultimately became not just an album but also an HBO documentary series—was born in Austin, too. After Grohl’s Sound City Players supergroup closed out a night at Stubb’s during SXSW 2013, he began work on the project, which ultimately included an entire episode set in Austin. The band’s ties to Texas and Austin go deep, in other words, which makes the idea of an album recorded and partly based around the city makes a lot of sense.