Despite drug problems and a “chud” last album, Dave Grohl’s fun-loving Foo Fighters remain the band we’d most like to bro’ down with. Their latest adventure? A double album! With Norah Jones! It’s a crafty plan. But will it work?
In Your Honour was supposed to have been a greatest-hits album. But despite a more-than-respectable repository of rock-radio singles to their credit ("Big Me," "Everlong," "All My Life"), the band didn't think they could fulfill the "hits" part of the package. And besides, it would have meant putting off a new record for another few years, and Grohl is not one for downtime.
"There are some bands that take four years to make an album," he says, reconvening in the upstairs kitchen with the rest of the band: Hawkins, 33, guitarist Chris Shiflett, 34, and bassist Nate Mendel, 36.
"I don't understand how you can do that. To me, that means you just don't dig what you do. I would lose my fucking mind. I almost lost my mind after a year, even doing other things."
In the period following One By One's release, Grohl maintained a level of showbiz workaholism not seen since Gene Hackman in the '80S. Not only did he get to perform with Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello at 2003's Grammy tribute to Joe Strummer, but every other Tuesday or so there was another new release with his name in the liner notes, either as a guest star, producer or full-fledged member. The list of his cohorts is long and rocking: Queens of the Stone Age, Cat Power, Probot, Nine Inch Nails, Garbage, Men Without Hats ... okay, so the last one is still just a pipe dream, but you get the point. The day this guy takes a real vacation, America's music chain stores will have to shut down for a week.
But Grohl has always made the Foo Fighters his main priority, a commitment tested during an iffy period between 1999's There Is Nothing Left to Lose and One By One, what with Hawkins's chemical romance and the hectic re-recording. "It was a traumatic period," Hawkins says. "We were just happy we got it done."
Grohl doesn't bother to make excuses for the last record. "Half of it is chud," he says of One, which nonetheless sold a million copies and featured "Times Like These," which for a while seemed like the go-to get-'em-pumped anthem on Monday Night Football. "There was a lot of filler. I didn't realize it when we were recording, or when we were mixing, but I realized it when we started playing shows, and half that album was completely deleted from the set list. That's just a telltale sign."
It's not a stretch to presume that the band see Honor as something of a make-good. Their mantra? "Absolutely no filler," notes Shiflett. "There couldn't be any fluff, like on Sandinista!"
For a double record, Honor is remarkably restrained. Each disc stays well under the one-hour mark, and the rock songs do sound leaner: The album's opener and first single, "Best of You," builds on the Foos' amped-up, hooked-in tradition. The real surprise, though, are on the acoustic album, which Grohl says was inspired by Ry Cooder's sleepy Paris, Texas soundtrack. Instead of just unplugging a few harder numbers, the songs feel as though they were meant to be played on a porch, dogs milling underfoot. It's a chancy venture; even though the Foos have busted out the 12-strings before, there will be the unavoidable comparisons with that other well-fed L.A. outfit with the famous drummer-turned-singer...
"I don't like the Eagles," Grohl says firmly. "Doing a song like the Eagles is like looking in the mirror and realizing you have a bad haircut, there's a fern behind you and you're sitting in a wicker chair."
There are even a few notable cameos courtesy of two distinctly different Joneses: Grammy magnet Norah sings on the "Girl From Ipanema"-inspired "Virginia Moon," and mystical Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul plays mellotron on a few numbers.
"He's like a Monty Python character, he's so cool," says Grohl of JP. "He walked in with his mandolin like a minstrel, [and] immediately went into 'The Rain Song.' I was worried, [because] I have all these pictures on the wall down there of Jimmy Page and John Bonham. And as he was leaving, he pops his head back and says," and here Grohl breaks into a dead-on impression of a wry, sprightly Brit, "'You know, it wouldn't kill you to have a picture of me on your wall.' And then we brought him to the Clive Davis party, where he got to see what's-her-name ...Fantasia. It was like taking John Paul Jones to American Idol."
The image of Grohl kicking it with
both an ex-Zep and a TV talent-show victor
is a spot-on snapshot of where the Foo
Fighters fit in these days. Fame-wise, they
have a good gig: They sell lots of records,
make enough money to goof around as
much as they want and yet they still don't have to worry about the paparazzi follow-
ing them while they surf.
"Being able to sustain a career is really tough these days," says Butch Vig, Nevermind producer and Garbage drummer. "One needs to maintain a healthy dose of humor and self-deprecation, and Dave definitely has both."
Plus, past dramas aside, the Foos seem to enjoy what they do, particularly Grohl and Hawkins, who have an easygoing, Starsky & Hutch-like back-and-forth between them.
Grohl: "I'm like the uptight guy, and you're like the 'No way, it's cool!' guy."
Hawkins: "[Bad Religion's] Brian Baker thinks it's homoerotic. He thinks we're lovers."
Grohl: "We're kind of like brothers."
Hawkins: "Well, my real older brother's a shithead. It's true!"
What really gets the Foos gabbing, though, is the wall-to-wall programming of music-industry reality shows, and the celeb-obsessed tabloids-which, of course, they find completely despicable. Or at least they claim to find despicable, for their lunch breaks resemble an all-dude episode of The View.
"I wonder if Kevin Federline sucks toes," Grohl muses, "because that might give him worms or something. Britney was up in first class, and they made her put her shoes back on because she was stinking up the cabin."
"Gnarly!" Hawkins barks.
"How did she turn into a redneck trainwreck?" Shiflett asks.
"Turn into it?" Grohl says "I bet all along, when she was just a teenybopper, she was out of control, just like sniiiffff!" He runs his nose up the table, and then makes a sound like the Tazmanian Devil on a bender.
If Grohl takes himself less than seriously at times, it's because he shook off
most of the other late-30s bellyaches a few
years back. In 2003, he married Jordyn
Blum, 28, an MTV producer; they bought
a house in the Hills, and Jack Black danced
in the backyard at their wedding. He surrounds himself with friends and family
(his mother has come along on tours
before, helping out with the post-show barbecues), and when he's not playing, he's
actually only a few degrees cooler than
"I'm a bowler, I'm a skeet-shooter," he says. "Time off is spent making up for all the things you missed while working, whether that's going to Home Depot, or Bed, Barf and Beyond, or a night of drink- ing with people you haven't seen in a long time. Typical bullshit."
It's taken a while for Grohl to get this settled. "I always looked at every song or every paycheck or every tour or every album as the last one," he says. "When I was 14, I thought I would die before I reached 16, because that's when you get your driver's license; when I was 16, I thought I'd never live to be 18, because that's when people start drinking. I've always had some sort of fatalistic outlook. And only in the past few years have I real- ly been able to imagine growing old and imagine making music forever. At some point you just realize you're a lifer."
Last year, after lengthy out-of-court disputes between himself and Courtney Love, the long-gestating Nirvana box set was finally released. When it comes to ever working with Love again, in any capacity, Grohl is diplomatic. "Well, I don't have to," he says. "This little world that we've created here is such a good place, such a fucking healthy loving family, and that's where I'd like ~ be. The Nirvana thing never ends, and when they need me to be there, I'll be there.
"I watched Singles the other day," he goes on, reminiscing about Cameron Crowe's 1991 Seattle-set dramedy. "It was just funny for me. Maybe instead of going to the Viper Room to see [hair-metal tribute artists] Metal Shop, it's time to see the grunge guys. See someone with a big soul patch and long johns and Doc Martens. It's so dated, it's so funny. [But] I can still listen to those bands and enjoy them. There's so many great bands from '91 or '92, but it's the rearview mirror."
Grohl stops himself, worrying he's sounding too much like a fuddy-duddy who's sadly pining for the past. "It's just like any old, fat, bald ex-football players who spent years in a fraternity fucking chicks on a field," he says. "'Those were the days!'"
"Oh, man," 'Hawkins moans. "Why didn't I go to college?"
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