Big Issue 1999
Foo Fighters' founding father talks about the new album - not about Cobain.
After all he called his record label Roswell, after the scene of the infamous alien landing, and sings: "I'm looking for the sky to save me, looking for a sign of life", on 'Learn To Fly', the first single off the Foo Fighters new album. It would not appear unreasonable, therefore, to expect frontman Dave Grohl to have an opinion on Y2K.
No such luck: "I hate that Millenium bullshit," Grohl snaps. "It's such shit, it makes me sick. I'm so over it."
"So over it" would also be an appropriate description of Grohl's attitude towards those who refuse to let him lay the ghost of Nirvana.
As the drummer in arguably the most important band of the last decade, Grohl's hard-hitting style had a huge influence on the sound the world came to know as 'grunge'. But more than five years after Kurt Cobain took his own life, and two highly successful Foo Fighters albums later, an interview without questions on either his old band or the most enigmatic singer of his generation is still something of a rarity.
As a result, Grohl is now accustomed to being strapped into the straightjacket of other people's expectations. It does not, however, stop him from trying to wriggle free. "People expect us to be rock stars but do we have to be big rock stars?" he asks. "Do I have to dress up and get on stage and be a fucking superhero just 'cos I'm the guy on stage? I don't think so."
'Stacked Actors', a typically furious slice of guitar-fuelled grunge pop and the explosive opening track on the Foo Fighters' third album, There Is Nothing Left To Lose, is a song which illustrates Grohl's take on the spiritual void of Hollywood. "It's about people having nothing better to do than trying to be other people," he explains. "It really grossed me out. Actors, just in general, make me fucking sick."
So why did he leave his home in Seattle - the cradle of grunge and briefly the centre of the universe, for Hollywood in the first place? It was not, as was reported in some areas, because of a ghost in his house. "No, I moved out of Seattle because of a divorce which I'm haunted by everyday," he explains with a sardonic smile. "I thought: 'I can't live in this city with this person who I've just divorced because we still love each other'. We would probably have freaked out and stayed married which was not what either of us wanted to do.
"I didn't know what the fuck I was thinking but I decided to move to Los Angeles, of all places, to make myself better. I hadn't lived on my own for 10 years and I got pissed drunk every night. It was nice, I had to learn to live on my own and to kinda start over. I looked at the time in LA as a bizarre, transitional period where I was lost and looking for something to believe in or relate to. I couldn't find it and I think that it has a lot to do with the lyrics on this record."
It is a record which confirms the Foo Fighters' status as one of the last great American rock bands of the century. The groups eponymously titled debut LP, a collection of demo tapes that Grohl refined in the period immediately after the demise of Nirvana, was an album which did much to wash away the anger, resentment and pain surrounding Cobains suicide. It showed life had to go on. Grohl wrote, played and recorded the album himself, quashing any suggestion that his solo career would see him saddled as the 'Ringo of Grunge'
The second album, 'The Colour And The Shape', was the Foo Fighters first effort as a band and was produced at a time when Grohl's marrige had hit the rocks. Less lyrically ambiguous than the first, it was a record not embraced as warmly by the critics, yet established Grohl as a serious player in his own right. Each of the Foo Fighters' three albums have owed something to a seperate kind of rebirth.
"I'd never considered that before but you're absolutely right," he says. "I think new beginnings are probably the greatest motivations or inspirations.
"The first album was not a band effort and it was done so quickly it should have been a demo tape. There was nowhere to go but up from there. The last record was done at a time when we were still trying to figure out what kind of band we were, what we sounded like. We hadn't really sussed that out then. We were still kinda like a loud punk rock band that was trying to write songs. It was also inspired by the end of this long relationship and the question of: 'What the fuck do I do now?"
Grohl has remained steadfastly loyal to the grunge template and 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose' features the familiar heady mix of distorted guitars and heavy drumming interspersed with passages of quiet introspection. While it may not exactly be rocket science, it is the music Grohl still loves.
"For this album we took a whole different approach," he says of recording it while being unsigned to a major label. "We told everybody to 'fuck off', built our own studio in my house in Virginia and took as much time as we wanted." The result is that Grohl thinks the album is "great, perfectly fucked up."
Grohl is not your typical rock star. Despite the tattoos, endless touring and fame, the very term is enough to make him pull a face. "I don't think being successful or well known should change you as a person. I still have the same morals I did when I was 17 or 18 years old. When Nirvana first signed to a major label there was definitely some guilt because we had just made that step from being on Sub Pop - a cool independant label - and then all of a sudden we were joining up with this corporate beast we had always disagreed with. But it didn't change the music and it didn't change us as people."
Nor, it should be said, is Grohl an angry man - Millenium theories and actors aside. It's just damn hard trying to be 'normal' when the world is forever asking: "What was Kurt really like?". A mark of how far Grohl has come, however, is that the comparison is in no way unflattering.
"Hey you know what I did read last night?" he offers as an afterthought. "On May 3rd to 5th in the year 2000, the six planets will align with each other. The last time that happened the gravitational force disturbed the earth's tectonic plates and there were earthquakes. All I know is that everyone thinks something weird is going to happen." For Dave Grohl, an ordinary rock star if there ever was one, perhaps it already has.
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