Kicking Drums


Dave Grohl earned a fearsome reputation with Nirvana and Taylor Hawkins drew much attention drumming for Alanis Morrisette. Foo Fighters brings them both together.

Dave & Taylor Since the death of Kurt Cobain, which, inevitably brought about the end of Nirvana Dave Grohl has pretty much been out of sight as a drummer. He can be heard though! Every now and then he plays on someone else's record and in his own band Foo Fighters he is, of course, the singer and guitarist. With strong, well-written songs and an energetic live show the Foo Fighters are one of today's ultimate rock bands. Prior to their show at the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam, Mark van Schaik interviewed both Grohl and his drummer Taylor Hawkins. It is fair to call Dave Grohl a true rock legend. In 1991 he became worldfamous overnight as the drummer in Nirvana when their album Nevermind and single 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' rocketed sky-high. We can still hear him as a drummer though in his metal side-project Probot, or on recordings by Killing Joke, Cat Power, Queens Of The Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails. Right now, he is sitting in front of us, grinning and with a twinkle in his eye.
In the other corner: Taylor Hawkins, looking tired but alert. The drummer proved himself supporting self-assured singers like Sass Jordan and Alanis Morissette. In 1995 and 1996 he played 240 concerts worldwide and was then asked to succeed drummer William Goldsmith in Foo Fighters, Grohl's hobby project that had gotten somewhat out of hand.

Dave, when was the first time you saw Taylor?
Grohl: On a TV show with Alanis. I was caught by his energy. It was nice to hear a drummer add so much to that music. I knew the record but that was very different.
Hawkins: Of course. You were just thinking: 'Why is that guy freaking out like that?' (laughs) Yeah, I remember. Our bass player Chris Chaney was totally high on space cake. I remember him looking at me. He just kept asking: 'Does my bass sound okay dude?'.
Grohl: The whole band was freaking out and the songs had got totally revamped. The first time I saw you play live was some award ceremony, wasn't it? No! I remember, it was a festival in France, where Foo Fighters and Alanis supported Neil Young. Taylor reminded me of Stephen Perkins. You could spot the influence.
Hawkins: Man, I was a Stephen Perkins clone! But without the class, that is. When you're young, you like to get in someone else's skin, don't you?
Grohl: Yeah. It was funny, though. Alanis could have asked any solid session drummer for her tour. But she got him.

Dave, Taylor obviously liked his splash cymbals back then. So why ask him to join Foo Fighters, when you're known as a straight-ahead drummer.
Grohl: Meat and potatoes, yeah. But when I got to know him, I still didn't want him in my band, you know? He was just a friend and it was nice to watch him play. He was a splendid drummer and was also good for a chat and to hang out with. Maybe that was even more important. In a band, that can be useful.
Hawkins: Weird to hear you talking about me like that while I'm here.
Grohl: This is your life, Taylor.

Taylor, were you a Nirvana fan?
Hawkins: Sure! Unfortunately, I never saw them play. But I remember listening to just two records: 'Nevermind' by Nirvana and 'Grace' by Jeff Buckley. Round and round, again and again. But I never dreamed of playing with Dave or Foo Fighters. then I found myself on a plane with Alanis, some time after the festivals we did together and she kind of guessed that Dave and I got along quite well. I mean, we spent quite some time together. She asked me what i would do, should he ask me to join his band. Of course I said I would NEVER EVER do that.
Grohl: Ha ha ha.

Dave, what were you looking for in a drummer at the time?
Grohl: Hmmm. I had just recorded the second album 'The Colour And The Shape' and I wanted someone who could play those songs right. I had been jamming with a couple of drummers and they were okay. But I think you should play with your heart instead of just copying what you hear on a record. And that's what those other guys were doing. I was watching one of them as we were playing and he copied my parts perfectly. But he was afraid to do anything else! He was lacking.....
Hawkins: ...The x-factor!
Grohl: Huh huh, yeah, the x-factor. My favourite drummers are the ones who freak out. Drummers that just freak out and don't care when they speed up occasionally. People who cross the edge. That's why I called Taylor, (laughs). That kind of approach makes our music explosive.

And is it?
Grohl: Well, I remember visiting Taylor and Pat in his house in Topanga in California. I'd given him our album and he took us to his jamming room. Remember?
Hawkins: Yeah.
Grohl: He said: 'That part in 'Monkey Wrench', does it go like this?' And he just starts pounding away! It was the f**kin' loudest thing I ever heard in my life! That was all he had to do, really.
Hawkins: Please explain that part to me, I still don't know how to play it.
Grohl: Ha ha ha.
Hawkins: "Still, it took quite some time before things were starting to run smoothly. When I had just joined them, we were everywhere. I think that didn't change until we toured One By One. We also supported Red Hot Chili Peppers and then it all started to come together with us."
Grohl: Taylor's right, there. He made us tighter. We became one.
Hawkins: Rehearsals were total war back then. I remember telling Nate and Chris: 'We can keep messing up or we can sound as tight as Rush or any other band you can imagine. We can do that. Only when we do, Dave can become the ultimate front man'.
Grohl: That was the moment we put a new front head on Taylor's bass drum with a picture of Buddy Rich on it.
Hawkins: Man, I wish I could play like him!

Was it ever intimidating, the fact that you were going to play with Dave Grohl?
Hawkins: Not really. When I had just joined them, a guy came up to me. I think he was in Shudder To Think - some arty band. He put his hand on my shoulder and said: 'Don't screw this up, boy. You're in Dave Grohl's band now!' But that didn't cross my mind.
Grohl: People thought it would be strange for Taylor since I am a drummer too. But for the band it was a total luxury to play with a drummer like Taylor. We never complained.
Hawkins: I studied Dave's parts and gave them a twist. That's it. There's no way I can sound like Dave.
Grohl: I write the cheque, Taylor signs it and we go and cash it together. Taylor and I have completely different styles, you know. We are almost opposites. I tend to play slightly off the back beat. I have a lazy one, or just a lazy snare, I don't know exactly?
Hawkins: I think it's your bass drum.
Grohl: Yeah, I guess so. It's always a little late. My fills are nothing but single strokes and some flams. Taylor is more on the beat. And he'll playa multiple stroke roll or any syncopated stuff. Right now he's on an ostinato trip. He'll play those ostinatos during sound checks. Man, I have no idea...
Hawkins: No need for them whatsoever, but nice anyway...
Grohl: While on my way to the gig today, I was enjoying the drumming on those old E.L.O. songs. I like 'em!
Hawkins: In rock drumming, I see two opposites: John Bonham and Stewart Copeland. To me, Dave is more of the Bonham type, I'm like Copeland. Which isn't bad within one band, because those are the two most important rock drummers of all time. Except for Ringo, of course.

Dave & Taylor Dave, when recording new stuff, do you still refer to Nirvana?
Grohl: My first demo, which became the first Foo Fighters album, was an accident. At the time, I wasn't thinking about starting a new band or starting a new career. I was just messing around. I still clung to the Nirvana dynamics: easy verse and loud refrain. I liked that! By the second album it started to change and the third album shows a more linear song structure. When the refrain's approaching, don't just start pounding. Try and find a good melody solution. Anyway, Kurt and I wrote our songs quite differently from the way that I do now. Therefore the comparison between Nirvana and Foo Fighters doesn't mean that much to me.

Are you a different drummer now?
Grohl: No, I've been the same drummer since I was 19. That's when I got stuck.

Still you sound quite different in recent yearS, in Probot for instance. You suprised people with those pure metal covers.
Grohl: If I sound different, it's because the albums require that. Not all albums need parts as simple as 'Nevermind'. That was like an AC/DC album. You can play 'air drums' from start to finish, even if you've never played the drums. The same thing goes for what I did with Cat Power and Garbage. Even Killing Joke and Nine Inch Nails were relatively simple jobs. Queens Of The Stone Age was something different. It wasn't my band so to me it was no-holds-barred. They didn't stop me. Probot was another story. That was a hobby project from the basement that started as a coincidence. The drumming style depends on what album you're about to make. If they want people to dance I'll be drumming like fucking Tony Thompson, man. Disco drummers, like the people from The Gap Band, Cameo, Chic, awesome! Rick James, I love that four on on the floor shit! On the other hand, should I be asked by people like ... (turns to Hawkins) ... I can't think of anyone!
Hawkins: ... Chris Squire, for the new Yes album.
Grohl: Ha ha! Then it would sound like Owner Of A Lonely Heart. All songs! No, I mean, you play whatever the song requires. Killing Joke needed these stacked rhythms. The snare first, some toms on top of that, then a marching beat, a gong drum, some broken cymbals, a hi-hat, a tambourine ...

Are you choosy as to what you're hitting on?
Grohl: I'll play anything. Well, I like some drums better than others. And I'm surprised continuously by all the new stuff. But a $30 cymbal from a piano shop can please me just as much as an expensive Zildjian...
For our last album we even built our own drum, a roto snare! We fitted a roto tom inside a nice deep snare drum shell. It sounded remarkably well, like hitting a bongo with a round of small shot.

What song features that drum?
Grohl: None. Ha ha! I'm sorry, the song wasn't good enough for the record. So, are we ready...?

No. but I am told we are. Would you like to pose together?
Grohl: Yeah, let's go pose.

Words: Mark van Schaick

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