It'd be inaccurate to describe Nate Mendel as a reluctant frontman, but up until the arrival of, If I Kill This Thing We're All Going to Eat for a Week, his first solo album, "lead singing rock star" wasn't exactly how we pictured his music career to go. His original strategy was a little more pragmatic: He went from being a wide-eyed punk player for his first bands Diddly Squat and Christ on a Crutch, to a founding member of the emo indie-cult cavalcade Sunny Day Real Estate, to being plucked from both punk and emo and thrown into a rock stew called Foo by Dave Grohl.

This is Mendel's modest bursting-out-all-over debut, an open letter to his supernova star power and classic-rock radicalism; his teeming brain and crafty tongue. As the title of the band and album imply, he's now proud to step out of line and take charge. He talks about taking life by its prickly horns on 'The Place You Wanna Go', yields a wild grunge ego-trip on 'Rattled', casts a light during the lyrically motivating 'Prepared Remarks', and removes gloom from a title like 'Sink San' only to wield a set of poetic lines around it again, for instance; "Have you ever sought the common sting/only to find the hollow ring?"

The realness he reveals is genuinely impressive - a triple-edged plunge into his past from which this fine debut draws its soft power. Down the line from Australia in the middle of Foo Fighters' gigantic world tour, Mendel explores the new record, the ease of touring with incredible band-mates, and his love for David Byrne.

Tell me a bit about your upcoming solo live shows as "Lieutenant US"?

Well we sort of do an old '70s soul section with two or three slow jams.


I'm kidding no we don't.

Honestly, I was imagining this and now you must consider it.

That would be great though to move into Earth Wind and Fire, some Barry White stuff that would fuck people up for sure.

I was thinking Big Band swing, with an entire orchestra behind you

Oh god yeah, I'm in!

Right, so clearly you've gone a bit nuts while in the middle of the Foo Fighters' tour. Do you ever get punchdrunk after doing a lot of interviews?

I am getting literally drunk right now.

What is the time there?

No no no I'm not drunk, I just pulled a Jim Beam bourbon out of the mini bar. So I'll keep to the one's so I'm somewhat coherent.

You've essentially been touring for half of your entire life. How do you cope with the non-stop grind of it all, or is the momentum something you need?

I think part of it is that I'm accustomed to it and I don't really know any other way of life. I'm fortunate enough to have band-mates that I enjoy being around and that helps a lot. I know that's not the case for a lot of people, it gets really difficult being stuck in confined spaces with someone that you don't get along with. I'm blessed to not have that situation.

Musicians definitely let it get the best of them. If you see it in your perspective it's the nicest part of the whole experience, but its gotta be tiring

Well okay that's the challenge, not letting it get the best of you. The highs-and-lows thing is a little bit of an issue. You have 30000 people singing along to a song that you're playing and then literally like 45 minutes later being alone in your hotel room.

I've never thought of it like that... that imagery is pretty stark. In terms of your own musical abilities though, you're a phenomenal musician in your own right so what did you need from going solo?

I think "need" is too strong a word, need makes it sound like there was a deficit, like I wasn't going to be able to keep it together unless I made this record. Which may be the case for some people, but that wasn't it for me. It seemed fun like a nice challenge. For a long time if I wanted to have a musical moment I'd just pick up a bass and fiddle around with it. Then it transitioned over into into this idea where whenever I wanted to play music I could just go do it, it's not something that depends on the seasonality of my main band.

Did you know what you were going for when you pressed record?

No unfortunately I didn't. I gravitate towards my favourite bands though, like Devo, The Talking Heads and The Clash. All those bands have this identifiable identity you know? Devo had uniforms and built this philosophy around their band and I like that. But I was smart enough to realise that I had enough going on with just producing music and I wasn't going to be able to have some elaborate rouse or a construct around it in time. I duno, maybe I'll show up on the second record with a yellow suit or something.

Or a giant suit like David Byrne used to wear?

I mean that was so great - like how incredible to get up and play those songs in that giant suit. It made 'Psycho Killer' that much better.

Have you read his book How Music Works?

I did read that book and I loved it because I love him. What's so cool was how candid he was. To me he's one of the few musical heroes I really have and I've been around and met enough people to know that in the end of the day we're just people and we're more similar than we are different. So David Byrne is going to be just another musician, a very talented one, but to see him be so personable and open and frank it was kind of shocking to me. He was talking about the business of music and how he works it financially. It's like you're David Byrne you don't have to worry about who's putting out your record!

Oh completely, his conviction when he writes isn't forced or unnatural, everything he wrote was in some light educational too, which is why he's so inspiring as an artist.

Well that goes back to what kind of artist he was in Talking Heads too. Where he was bemused by life, rather than taking the usual rock and roll lyric approach and being like here's how you live life and here are my thoughts on what it is. It was more like it dropped on his lap and he was an alien and didn't know what to do with it.

You almost feel like he wasn't comfy until he wiggled around in his skin onstage. What was your main concern when you started writing?

Wow there were a lot of concerns! I didn't wanna be trite. Like what are the vocal melodies supposed to sound like? I didn't know what my range was so I went to a vocal coach and my first question was, "I wanna sing down here, but I also wanna sing up here and I can't so is it because my voice can't do it, or I haven't got the experience?" It's so hard in rock music to do anything that hasn't been done. Of course part of that is just part of the territory it's a genre and there's going to be repetitive elements, but I wanted to have some originality to it. I wanted it to be authentic to me and the things that I find interesting, without a construct

Why was it important to bring onboard this particular bunch of guests? It turned out to be such an eclectic mix of people

I wouldn't have thought about it if I hadn't have had the experience of watching how Dave and Foo Fighters work. It doesn't have to be anything super well thought out and I just took that to heart. The first person I called was Page Hamilton who I hadn't seen for years, or ever played with so I was afraid he wouldn't like the song or just say no, but he came in. I realised musicians are pretty generous with their time - they like to play.

That's really lovely to hear.

Yeah it's not as nerve-wracking as you might expect to ask somebody to borrow his or her talents. I told Page I was like hey man, I kinda threw you under the bus a little because it was the least developed song that I needed to still write, but he did this really beautiful harmonized long-note-guitar-thing that underpinned the song and gave it exactly what it needed.

If I Kill This Thing We're All Going To Eat For A Week is out now.