Dave Grohl and co. on the pressures of being one of the new generation of world-conquering rock bands
"So we've finally graduated to Classic Rock. Do I get a bar mitzvah or anything? Does someone baptise my beard or what?"
Dave Grohl is a happy man. In fairness, he is routinely portrayed as one of the happiest men ever to grace a stage, but on this occasion his happiness is entirely justified. After 13 years of active service with the band he originally founded as a means to circulate a few rough demos he'd recorded for fun during the final, dark days of Nirvana, everyone's favourite drummer-cum-frontman is now staring down the barrel of two consecutive sold out nights at Wembley Stadium. It's not as if Foo Fighters haven't already enjoyed the spoils of success. In fact, they've been one of the most consistently popular and meaningfully consistent rock bands of the last 20 years. As Grohl acknowledges, it seems that Foo Fighters have become a classic rock band, almost by accident.
"I think that everybody in the band grew up listening to bands that made music for the sake of making music," he states. "Bands like The Who, the Stones, Zeppelin, Queen, The Beatles, Sabbath. Those bands, I feel, would've been making music whether people were paying attention or not. They had fucking quality musicians with incredible passion and this originality that inspired all of us, and so I guess having listened to those albums for so long it does rub off on you. I think maybe we share the intentions for being a band. Our focus has always been musical and so it's a lot more inward than some careerist attitude."
"I don't see us in the lineage of Led Zeppelin, though," adds bassist Nate Mendel, the longest standing Foo after Grohl. "Because bands like that are iconic, and 30 years later, we're still talking about them. I think we'll be fortunate if we achieve a fraction of the importance of those bands. I don't know if bands can do that anymore. It's a different time. But I think history will be kind to us."
This newfound ability to pack out huge stadiums has hardly been thrust upon the Foos at short notice. It's been a gradual and dignified process, as the band have steadily picked up fans and respect along the way, with each successive album and tour adding to their reputation. It wasn't really until 2005's In Your Honour double set that the band really started to feel their heads pressed up against the glass ceiling that threatens to keep supposedly 'alternative' bands in their place.
"I just think that 'alternative' term is just a bunch of bullshit, period," says drummer Taylor Hawkins. "It's more about a haircut than it is a style of music. You'd have called it 'college music' before Lollapalooza. I don't know who is 'alternative' now, but I wouldn't consider us alternative rock, and I wouldn't have said so at the start, either. I think it's just rock music."
Having now smashed through that barrier and joined the ranks of the virtually untouchable, it's going to be interesting to see how Foo Fighters maintain strong relations with both ends of their now huge fan base. The mainstream folks who know the hits and little else are now won over, but where does that leave the die-hards that have followed the band through thick and thin?
"I think our music is still for the people who have always been with us to a certain degree," continues Hawkins. "I think, especially in England, we seem to pick up a few fans every time around. Maybe the reason our audience grows is because most of our audience has kids now, so they have to bring their kids with them. You look out and you see the moustache crowd. You see the 50-year-olds who like us because we're more of a rock'n'roll band than Linkin Park. We probably represent more of a traditional sense of what a rock'n'roll band should be like, or was like, at one point in time."
"I know that when I was younger, once a band got too popular, it automatically made me stop liking them," laughs guitarist Chris Shiflett. "I'm sure some of that has probably happened. But when you look out in the crowd at our gigs, there's, like, the 35-plus people there, and probably a lot of them were there ten years ago."
It's not just their ascent to the higher echelons of rock stardom that have turned the Foos from post-grunge chart-botherers to bona fide members of the rock'n'roll establishment. The band's music has also undergone a steady evolution over the
last 13 years, culminating in the widescreen charms of 2007's Echoes, Silence, Patience And Grace album; easily the most rounded and cohesive record they have produced to date, and plainly the one most likely to endear them to Classic Rock readers, 'Echoes', might be a polished and professional sounding but it still sounds like a band rocking out in a rehearsal room, even if it's a room in their very own Studio 606 complex in California.
"You can get off just as hard jamming with your friends in a garage as jamming in front of 70,000 people in a field," shrugs Grohl. "Some of my fondest memories of playing music include practising with Queens Of The Stone Age in a fuckin' closet, in a room the size of a pick-up truck. That feeling of making
music when you almost have an out-of-body experience, that's what it's all about. It has nothing to do with selling records or playing in front of anybody. It's just a bunch of people in a tiny room. I think that intention or that idea or that feeling comes from all of those classic rock bands. That's where longevity comes from."
"I think we've retained a lot of the essence from the first records" adds Hawkins considering his band's lifespan. "We haven't made a complete departure. Apart from the acoustic side of In Your Honour. and a couple of songs on the new record where Dave's playing piano. It's very different from anything on The Colour And The Shape, but I mean, but we've never made an album departure, like a dance record. We're not, going to make a Kid A"
The reality of what the Foos had become hit home with Grohl following the epic In Your Honour set. "It was the first time I'd ever imagined this band lasting another 10 or 15 years," he admits. "Because having been in a band like Nirvana which achieved notority and so much attention, and then starting this band a few years later, you can't imagine that something like this would last. Coming out of a band that achieved so much in four years and then just stopped, slammed on the brakes and was over in one fuckin' second, you can't imagine another band lasting for more than four years. Everything starts to seem temporary, so every time I make a record I think 'Okay, I'd be satisfied if this was the last one, because I can't believe we've gotten to this point'. But In Your Honour made me feel we could explore the acoustic side of the band for as long as we want or we could write rock songs for the next 10 or 15 years, you know?"
You certainly wouldn't bet against the Foo Fighters still being around in 20 years time - "Oh God, it's gonna be ugly if we are!" grimaces Mendel - but as any multi-million selling rock band will tell you, the times are a-changing and the music industry is undergoing a major transformation, as it struggles to keep up with the forward surge of technology. Foos have found themselves at the sharp end of developments a couple of times already, when both Echoes... In Your Honour were leaked onto the internet well in advance of their release dates.
Not surprisingly, given his roots in the American punk rock underground Dave Grohl seems unlikely to embark on any Metallica-style intenet-bashing campaigns and appears enthused at the prospect of a world where anyone with a guitar and a PC can share their songs with a potentially vast audience. "I like the idea that the industry has fallen back into the hands of young," he says. "The huge major label machine is breaking down while these younger bands have all the distribution that they could ever need at their disposal. When we were young and making albums by ourselves, we didn't have anyone to help us. We were stuffing album sleeves and sending our eight-track tapes to the pressing plant and it was a good feeling when we were done. Basically, I look forward to hearing music in a few years when bands can utilise the internet as their own major label."
Having survived the passing trends of the last 13 years while steadily growing in stature, it hasn't all been plain sailing for the Foos. There was a time in 2001 the band weren't getting along - a period which also included Hawkins' well-publicised accidental overdose and the band ditching a load of material that they had been working on "It's funny," Shiflett says, shrugging it off. "Because that sticks with us to this day as being this real shaky period. Which in some ways it was, but a band can always implode at any time. It's always fragile."
Necessity, then, has seen the Foo touring machine change. "Going on tour used to be, 'How much fucking crap can I put into my body and how many chicks can I bone?'" admits Hawkins. "It's not really about that anymore. It's about the work now, which is better, because it means it's really about the music. What I do is so physical. What Dave does is very physical too. You're just so much better when you've had a good night's sleep, and you're not fucking hungover and all that crap. Although, Dave has a bunch of whisky shots and a bunch of beers before he goes onstage - and it's like going to the gym. Can you imagine having two shots of whisky and four beers before going to the gym?"
It seems fitting that it's in the UK, and at Wembley, that the band are to play out their boyhood fantasies. More so than in any other territory, the UK has always been a haven of acclaim for Grohl and co. "I don't know why it is," muses Chris Shiflett, "UK audiences have just been really good to us. We've always done better there than anywhere else. But that's the thing about all this, it's all great and it's all good, and it can all go away in the blink of an eye and there's nothing you can do about it. Where can we go after Wembley? I guess we'll just have to go slum it and play Hyde Park again. Actually, I think maybe we should give England a break for a while. You're gonna get sick of us."
"If this all ended tomorrow, I really would be the happiest guy alive," Grohl laughs. "I'd still be the same guy, sweating my balls off, jamming as hard as I possibly can in some studio somewhere, making music with my friends. But right now we're enjo}ing every second. Holy fuck, dude! we're headlining at Wembley fuckin' Stadium! Who wouldn't wanna do that?"
Words: Dom Lawson
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