This is the first single from Foo Fighters' Sonic Highways album. Frontman Dave Grohl explained that the band recorded each of the eight tracks in a different US city and he interviewed musicians from each place and used their quotes in the the tracks. "The process is we come to a city and spend a week and record an instrumental because I interview all of these different musicians," he said. "I talk about the regional relevance of the music from that city, the cultural influence that made for the sound of the music."
"There's no way that you can tell the history of a city's music in one hour," Grohl added, "so we have to do it in a way that relates to the band and goes from point A to point B and becomes a song."
The song was written and recorded at Nirvana producer Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. Bassist Nate Mendel told NME: "'Something From Nothing' was inspired by Buddy Guy's story of moving up from the South, not a button to his name, moving to Chicago as a young blues guy, meeting Muddy Waters right off the bat, being the young buck in town and making his way in the blues scene there and becoming a legend after walking into town without s--t."
A TV documentary series, also titled Sonic Highways, was created for HBO by Dave Grohl to coincide with the release of the album. The first episode shows interviews with Chicago musicians and the Foo Fighters writing and recording this song in Albini's Electrical Audio studio. "The episode is basically about these people and how they all started with nothing," Grohl told reporters at the New York screening for the episode. "They were just inspired to follow their dreams, like Buddy Guy, legendary blues guitarist. He made his first guitar from wires and nails and pieces of wood from a screen porch. Now he's like a blues legend."
"And Chicago's also the place where I saw my first show," he continued. "The first time I ever saw a live band play was at this little bar called the Cubby Bear right across the street from Wrigley Field. It was just like 'I want to do this for the rest of my life.' So the idea of the song, and the episode, is that once you find that spark and inspiration, that begins your path in life, for whatever it is you want to do."
The song features Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen as the band's Chicago guest of honor.
BBC Radio 1 were found in breach of its broadcasting code by media regulator OfCom after it played a sweary live version of this track. The song was spun during Nick Grimshaw's breakfast show in November 2014, having originally been aired the previous night shortly after 8 p.m. Unfortunately, no one thought to tell the DJ's team that it contained two f- bombs before he played the tune just before 8 a.m.