Foo's Mendel enlists for duty as Lieutenant

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Nate Mendel is still feeling his way through his new band, Lieutenant.

"I don't know what this animal is yet, I'm trying to figure it out," says Mendel, on the phone last week from a tour stop in Columbus.

He has some breathing room: His day job, as bass player for the Foo Fighters, isn't drying up anytime soon.

Still, Mendel is still working through the particulars of Lieutenant, which released its debut album of sunny, lo-fi rockers "If I Kill This Thing We're All Going to Eat for a Week" last month.

"You have to do it in some instances to figure out what it is," Mendel says. "Is it a band with other people? I don't know yet. Will there be other records? Will I do more touring? I wanted to get out here and see if it was something that was enjoyable and fruitful before making too many plans."

Last month, Mendel took the group to Austin, Texas, and the South by South West festival, and the group plays Pontiac's Pike Room on Thursday.

Mendel, who before enlisting with the Foo Fighters was a member of influential indie rock outfit Sunny Day Real Estate, started tooling around as Lieutenant during downtime from the Foo Fighters. He knew he wanted to do something else with music, and he toyed with the idea of making an instrumental record with just drums and bass before deciding to start a band with himself as singer.

He began writing songs in early 2013.

"I was pretty anxious about showing anybody anything," says Mendel, 46. "I was not much of a singer or a guitar player, publicly, so I really wanted to get things finished in a state where I thought they were songs before showing them even to my wife. It took a lot for me to show them to her."

He scored his wife's approval — "I like your voice!" she told him — and then recruited a handful of players (including Fleet Foxes' Christian Wargo on bass, Snow Patrol's Paul "Pablo" Wilson on guitar and the Naked and Famous' Jesse Wood on drums) to round out Lieutenant's live constituent. Now he wants the band to focus on tightening its sound.

"It's musical at this point," says the Richland, Wash., native. "There was an itch that needed to be scratched and a desire for a new creative outlet, and now that I've worked through that, the new goal is I want it to be good."

Following Lieutenant's tour, which wraps next week in Los Angeles, Mendel returns to active duty in the Foo Fighters. After a run of European dates — the band members are touring with their families, which puts them out on the road with 11 children — the band returns for its biggest summer outing in America to date, including stadiums in several markets. (The band is due Aug. 24 at a sold-out DTE Energy Music Theatre.)

"In some ways we're doing what we've always done, which is getting a bunch of songs together and going out on the road and trying to put on an energetic show, but in other ways its new," Mendel says. "In America, the band hasn't been as popular as it has in some other places, and we're trying to play on a larger scale here this summer, which is a change for us. So we'll see how that goes."


8 p.m. Thursday

Pike Room, 1 S. Saginaw St., Pontiac

Tickets $15 or (248) 858-9333