Towards the end of 2019, Foo Fighters were on the hunt for somewhere to record their upcoming album, Medicine at Midnight. They found it in the Encino neighbourhood of the San Fernando Valley, happening upon a grand, Mediterranean-style villa secluded within two acres of land, giving the kind of isolation Grohl requires when laying down a new record. The place had a musical history — word has it that John Lennon and Joe Cocker used to hang out there in the Sixties and Seventies — but for Grohl, the main attraction was the living room, which had “f***ing amazing” acoustics.
But from the outset, something wasn’t quite right. “When we walked into the house in Encino, I knew the vibes were definitely off,” Grohl told Mojo last year, and it “wasn’t long before things started happening”. Guitars would become detuned by themselves; studio settings would go awry overnight; tracks would vanish, while some recordings would appear without explanation, capturing eerie snippets of white noise. Sufficiently spooked, Grohl got hold of a video baby monitor and set it up to record throughout the night. For a while, there was nothing, but then they “started to see things on the Nest cam that we couldn’t explain”.
So, what exactly did they see? A ghoulish figure? Some demonic apparition? Caspar the Friendly Ghost? Thanks to the wonders of modern litigation, we’ll probably never find out — the landlord, who was in the process of trying to sell the house, forced Grohl to sign a non-disclosure agreement, meaning that the frontman can’t divulge any details of the occult happenings, or “give away what happened there in the past”.
“But,” Grohl added, “these multiple occurrences over a short period of time made us finish the album as quickly as we could.”
In the hilly surroundings of Laurel Canyon, not too far from the site of the Foo Fighters hauntings, sits a four-bedroom house known simply as The Mansion. It has a colourful past — built in 1918, it was owned by famed actor Errol Flynn, while Harry Houdini used to practise his stunts in the garden’s swimming pool — and at the turn of the Nineties, it was bought as a recording studio by legendary producer Rick Rubin.
The first band to visit were Red Hot Chili Peppers, who arrived to lay down tracks for their 1991 album Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The band were keen to record somewhere unusual to stoke their creative fires, but ended up with more than they bargained for: bassist Flea apparently saw “a woman in black” and drummer Chad Smith “felt a presence” (singer Anthony Kiedis once claimed Smith was so perturbed that he refused to stay at The Mansion, but Smith claimed he simply wanted to spend more time with his wife). One “ghost” even supposedly turned up in the form of a floating orb, captured in a photo taken of the band during recording (check the picture out here and judge for yourself).
And that was just the beginning. Various other bands who have recorded there over the years have reported strange occurences. “Oh, it’s haunted,” said vocalist Corey Taylor, who recorded there with Slipknot in 2003. “I’ve got some stories that would raise the hair on the back of your neck — and that’s just not for press,” he told The Grand Rapids Press. “It’s so weird, I don’t even like talking about it.”
In 2005, while System of a Down were in residence to record Hypnotize and Mesmerize, Rick Rubin’s publicist Heidi Robinson-Fitzgerald arrived earlier than anyone else to set up for the day’s interviews and photoshoots. While she was in the dining room, she felt a presence behind her, “like something was standing right behind me”.
She turned, and saw a ghostly female figure dressed in all white walking down the staircase. “There was no breeze,” Robinson-Fitzgerald told Fader, “but whatever she was wearing was floating in the wind.”
There is no shortage of ghost stories elsewhere. There’s the one about Texas prog-rock band The Mars Volta who, after buying a ouija board on tour and experimenting with it to inspire their new album The Bedlam in Goliath, became beset by tragedy, from flooded studios to an audio engineer suffering a nervous breakdown. In a bid to banish the spirits the band had been summoning, guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez broke the board in half and buried it in a secret location.
There’s also the tale about Thom Yorke being visited by some undead spirits during the recording of OK Computer in a 16th century manor house (“Ghosts would talk to me while I was asleep,” he told Rolling Stone). And what about the time Black Sabbath went to Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire to record Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, only to be haunted by sightings of a figure draped in black cloaks, scaring the band to the point that drummer Bill Ward apparently slept with a knife in his hand each night?
Of course, this is all largely unverified — the ability of rock ‘n’ roll myths to embellish themselves over time means they should be taken with a pinch of salt, and that’s before we even start to wonder whether these sightings were simply figments of imaginations (especially if the musicians were inebriated at the time, which isn’t hugely unlikely). But it does add a certain edge to all of the albums in question — keep an ear out for any ghoulish remnants when you listen through Medicine at Midnight on Friday.