Red Light Fever, the second full length from Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders (out April 20 on Shanabelle/RCA), represents a quantum leap from the band's eponymous 2006 debut. Though core Coattail Riders Chris Chaney (bass) and Gannin Arnold (guitar) reprise their roles from that decidedly low key affair (that first album was recorded at Foo Fighters/Coattail Riders percussionist Drew Hester's home studio), Red Light Fever sees them reuniting at the Foo Fighters' own 606 studios, enlisting the aid of members of Queen, The Cars and Hawkins' bandmate and best friend Dave Grohl, and ultimately tackling a much broader and more ambitious range of material-with stunning results from start to finish.
"The first record was garage-y and scrappy," Hawkins recalls. "We got into it in such an immediate and intimate manner and banged it out in two weeks. With this record, we were conscious of it being a bigger production-I mean we were in 606 and not Drew's living room-but it was still about having fun. The way I think of it is, if it's over-produced then it's over-produced in a 1970s way, not in a 2000s way. It's meant for people who like that kind of stuff. Because those are the records that I like."
As huge a sound and scope as Red Light Fever eventually grew to encompass, it began beyond humbly: with Hawkins demoing tracks on his own when an early 2009 break from the Foo Fighters' grueling touring schedule finally freed up the time. According to Hawkins, who of course provides drums and vocals on all tracks among other additional instrumentation, "About halfway through, I just said f**k it, I don't care if the record ends up sounding like me having sex with my record collection."
The record soon snowballed from another home recording project to full on sessions at the Foo Fighters' state of the art 606 studio complex. Hawkins, Chaney and Arnold expanded the band's studio lineup to include touring Coattails guitarist Nate Wood and began hammering out the dozen songs that would become Red Light Fever. Sounds got progressively bigger, arrangements more grandiose and the band more unabashed than ever about wearing its vintage 70s influences on its collective bedazzled sleeve. "Sweet, Queen, The Move... even 10cc," Hawkins says. "It's all in there. Whether its that Chinn-Chapman glam hit factory feel or a Roy Thomas Baker type production vibe, we just went for what felt natural without worrying. People forget that sometimes, the reason you do this in the first place: It's supposed to be fun."
And so it would follow naturally that the record's dozen songs would be fleshed out with the aid of a stellar supporting cast, many of whom shaped Hawkins' own musical acumen since childhood. By the time of its completion, Red Light Fever's credits would come to include Elliot Easton of the Cars, Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen, and last but by no means least, Hawkins' bandmate Dave Grohl.
In fact, Red Light Fever could be considered a labor of love - if the sheer joy exuded in every note, influence and nuance of every song didn't make the entire affair seem so effortless. Hawkins' increasingly accomplished vocals and world renowned drumming skills recall and pay uninhibited and spontaneous tribute to a vast spectrum of classic rock heroes: "Way Down" is an undeniable highlight that began by Hawkins' recollection as "a silly little song I did a demo of in three hours, putting some tongue in cheek lyrics to a glammy stomp, with nods to the Move and Sweet that I didn't even notice were there until later! That was definitely a theme of this record, not paying tribute deliberately, but at the same time letting it all come out. There was nothing self conscious about it." Similarly "Not Bad Luck" grew out of a riff that would not be dislodged from Hawkins' head toward the close of the sessions and ultimately became a standout track with additional guitar from none other than The Cars' legendary Elliot Easton. "'Not Bad Luck' was honestly an afterthought. I ended up recording the basic track with Elliot Easton on guitar and backing vocals, using the same method Roy Thomas Baker used to record The Cars and Queen... And now that afterthought is the record's opening track. Just shows you can't plan these things..."
Red Light Fever's songs will soon be debuted in public as Hawkins reassembles and expands his Coattail Riders live incarnation for as much touring as can be squeezed in between the members' various full time gigs. "I'll still play drums this time out," he promises. "But so will Drew Hester. Nate Wood too. I'm going to push myself a little. I never had dreams of being a frontman, but I am going to get up there, play some guitar, piano and sing up front on this tour." What this will mean for live arrangements of material ranging from uptempo rockers like "Your Shoes" to Beatle-esque balladry like "Hell To Pay," will very likely hold as many surprises for the audience as for the Coattail Riders themselves.
"I never went into this with any plan," Hawkins concludes. "I never said 'I want this to sound like this' or made any conscious decisions about anything with this band. The songs just went where they naturally went for me. In a way, I first really heard the final record the same way anyone else will: In hindsight once it was all laid out in front of me. And that's how it's going to be when we do this for however long we do it. I'm just going to have fun with it."