Dave Grohl NME May 17th 1997

New haircut. New face furniture. New album. Forget New Labour 'cos here's New Foo Fighters (well, they've got a new drummer). Dave Grohl talks love and Love.

Fade up and zoom in on Dave Grohl in the Spring of 97. He's left the other three Foo Fighters in the TV studio. He's left his Neil Young wig back in the States. And the most recent of his perpetually-in-transit life hikes has lifted him from temporary home in Los Angeles to street walking on the prematurely sunblasted pavements of London.
  "Has anyone heard the weather forecast?" asks Grohl, pacing out at a steady saunter. Well the mid-week forecast on the Foos Monkey Wrench maybe, but the weather forecast?
  "Oh, y'know, i'm just sick of the weather been the same every day in LA. I was hoping for some British rain. I feel like I need watering."
  With the sun bouncing off his crisp white shirt and his haircut showing off a younger face than anyone with Grohl's history has a right to, he does not give off the impression of a man in need of irrigation. More like a balanced, sure-footed, motivated, passionate, professional musician going about the none too onerous business of promoting the Foos' second album.
  Nice guy, Dave, see. Everybody knows that Grohl's the sweet, smart, sober survivor who's pulled away from the wreckage of Nirvana wrth his positive riff machine - the drummer-turned-gifted songwriter, filtering out the toxicity of the early-'90s with pure post-Pixies, Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr, Scarce, Metallica and Sonic Youth momentum. But on the eve of phase two of the Foos, with a more sould-searching album on the way, it's time to consider that Grohl's presentable face of US post-punk might well reveal about as much as the beaming gob of the guy recently elected to run Britain.
  Down in the park we head for the shade. Have you done much voting in your time Dave?
  "I've voted yeah, but I don't know much about English politics, although I do think that this Bill Clinton bloke that you guys have, he's pretty hilarious. In the States I vote, but I'm not very vocal when it comes to politics."
  In explaining the Foos' debut album you said. "It's fun to bounce around to that kind of music". Do you think of the band as a way to escape the serious world?
  "Sometimes, yes, but sometimes it can go in the opposite direction, where I spend most of my time avoiding the serious world. Then, with playing music, that's when it comes to having to face things. I think things are taken a little more seriously now. I think it's turning into not so much an escape but a confronration in a weird way."
  The intro of the new Foos album 'The Colour And The Shape', is a strummed, intimate. ronfession of fear at a relationship commitment called 'Doll'. "You know in all of the time that we shared / I never felt so scared," admits Grohl, opening up and confronting an uncomfortable truth. It's a moment of calm but it lasts just 1 minute 23 seconds before the emotion-bombing, accelerator-rock charge of 'Monkey Wrench' kicks in. For the rest of the album, irrespective of the open-hearted stuff, the heads-down, soaraway guitars are always there to keep Grohl targeted on the horizon.

Dave Grohl photographer by Stefan de Batselier

For someone who would rather not have their artistic life continually defined in relation to the demise of their previous band, Grohl's last couple of years have looked like someone trying to escape. From the day in October'94, when he dived into the studio in Seattle to knock up the first self-played album in five days flat, the pace has hardly slackened: The hurried rehearsals with Pat Smear and the ex-Sunny Day Real Estate pair, William Goldsmith and Nate Mendel. Crazy scenes at Reading Festival '95, The spiralling tours through to last year's Phoenix, And on and faster on...
  When the Foos started to snowball, didn't you ever feel. 'Oh no, here we go again'?
  "Well, it can't be compared to what happened to Nirvana, that's for sure, because now, having gone through it once, you see something like that happen and my reaction was kind of the same as it would've been back in Nirvana days, in that I just thought it was hilariously funny. Like at Reading thinking, 'What the fuck are always people doing trying to smash into this tent? This doesn't make any sense!'
  "I just have to laugh at it all. It's probably some bizarre defence mechanism but its sort of true and it works. I mean, shit, I'm still having fun, I'm not stressed out about it, I'm still having fun."
  The Grohl grin is still easily triggered. The clowning guy from the old days are still around, but if last time around Dave was happy to be the UFO-loving, fun-rock guy on the rebound, reclaiming the positive bits of his heritage and fending off speculation about Cobain, this time we allowed glimpses of a more soulful, complex character. Certainly, Foo Fighters flight path to the current round of global promotional and touring was far from smooth. Back in Seattle after Phoenix '96, Grohl set about putting together the new album with Gil Norton as producer ("the greatest producer on earth"). The six winter weeks of Seattle sessions proved to be arduous and serious problems surfaced with drummer William Goldsmith.
  "Everybody had their freakouts and breakdowns. "A lot of shit happened while we were in the studio." says Dave. With Grohl's personal life going through major turbulance, the band relocated to Los Angeles to record most of the album again. By the time it was finished, Goldsmith had decided to leave the band (he's since been replaced by Taylor Hawkins, formerly Alanis Morissette's drummer).
  All part of the everyday trials and ego battles of the rock star, you might think. Think again. Previously, Grohl's been deeply self deprecating about both his abilities as a singer and his qualifications for leading the band. Now, as the talk turns (from) personnel problems to his (lack of) confidence about his rock star abilities, a button flares red in the Grohl psyche.
  "I don't buy that fucking trip at all, for one second. It doesn't have to be that way. And for someone to say, 'I am not a rock star' - I just do not buy the thing at all, I never have. I have never met someone where I've said 'OK, he's a rock star'. Well, maybe David Bowie but still he's a nice person, a nice guy. 'Rock star' is almost derogatory. It's offensive to me. I fucking hate it when people ask me how it is to be a 'star' or a 'rock star'.
  "For me a rock star's not necessarily a musician in a popular band, but some fuckin' coke-sniffin', supermodel-fuckin', Lear jet-ridin' freak. It would make me so sad if when I walk down to my local corner shop I felt like an outsider or felt different from everyone else.
  "I've never had that problem, because everybody knows me as a normal person. And it's true, and I make an effort to convince people, 'Look! I'm just a fucking normal person'. I'm in a band, I play an instrument, and I sing. But does that make me any different from that dude over there with the tie drinking a coffee?"
  Yes. He doesn't have to go around convincing people he's ordinary.
  "That's true, but I'm trying to convince people that I'm ordinary because there is this idea of the rockstar but I didn't invent. I don't know who fucking invented it. Every live show that I've seen from the time I was 13 to 19 was in a club where I was 5 foot from the singer. Then I go to this Monsters of Rock festival and see these fucking clowns on stage in front of 50,000 people. It sounds like shit, looks stupid, it's a contrived, circus atmosphere. That's when I started laughing. That's when I started thinking, 'This is fucking hilarious!' So that"s probably the reason that throughout the whole Nirvana thing and the Foo Fighters I just laugh because... it doesn't make much sense."
  So does it piss you off when significance is read into things like, er, your new haircut?'
  "Yeah. I expect the worst. Always. Of course I do. I knew that by getting a haircut there'd be this image swap headline and by growing facial hair and wearing a turtleneck people think the album's going to sound like The Beatles 'Ruhber Soul' or something. And y'know, it's just funny! It's ridiculous! The need for people to see this rock'n'roll world as some non-reality which it doesn't really have to be."
  Normal guy Dave, see. Just a hardworkin' itinerant music lover plying his trade and enthusing about the bands he loves. lt's a good enough half-truth about Grohl, that one. Today he crumples up under a tree and talks about how much he loves The Prodigy and how he wanted to bring them over to the States in '92. It's not the Foo's world of course, but the drummer in him is fascinated by the likes of the Prod and The Chemical Brothers. At one point he even offers his services to The Chems as a live drummer.
  Clearly, if you're doing Gary Numan covers for the X-Files soundtrack, you're not trying to hard to come on as the tortured artist. But then if your shadowed by Nirvana's history there is not much to do but downplay your own melodramas. Briefly, the talk turns to Grohl's supposed antagonistic relationship with Courtney Love. "Last time we saw each other it was quite pleasant actually, "he says. "It's definitely not the feud it's been fate to be. I can understand why most people would expect that and I can understand why most people would want that because it makes for good copy, but really not like it's hyped up to be. I mean, we never really see each other, we never really talk to each other because we have so much shit to do, just as I don't see most of my friends in Seattle ever. "

As the past slips further back over the horizon and the Foos hurtle on, Grohl's perspective is clearly shifing. Anyone sifting the lyrics of 'The Colour And The Shape' for spin-offs from the old days is going to have an even harder time than with the last album.
  A set of briliiant, flat-out, paint-stripper pop tunes, 'The Colour...' starts with the self-doubt of 'Doll', flies through 'Monkey Wrench''s don't-wanna-mess-up-again screech and then races across a confused emotional landscape ranging from the searing rage of 'My Poor Brain' to the loved-up picking of 'February Stars'.
  Forget UFOs and extraordinary phenomena (Grohl shoves aside the alien freak typecasting on the lashing Pixies-oid 'Enough Space') this is Grohl's here-and-now record and it's an entirely earthy route map from someone who's been out over rough terrain. The fact that during the writing process he split up with his wife is of some pertinence. This time it's definitely personal.
  "I was really tired of all the rediculous speculation that went on with the last album," says Dave. "Most of it was incorrect, some of it was interesting and some of it was just offensive. So this time I wanted to spell it out for people. And for the record, this album really has nothing to do with Nirvana at all. There's maybe one song that has anything to do with any of that, but for the most part, they're just things that are far more personal than that."
  'Monkey Wrench' actually sounds like it's making some sort of generational statement about lost innocence and wasted anger.
  "This could be."
  Was there any intention to do that?
  "No. But maybe at the same time it could be universal. Love, loss, confusion, anger. I mean...durr? But for me, I know what I'm referring to.
  "Someone was asking what the songs were about and I said, 'This song is about being in a relationship and falling in love.' OK, so what's this song about? 'Well this song is about losing someone you really loved.' What's this song about? 'Oh, that's just a stupid love song.' And then they'd say 'God. Don't you think people are gonna be disappointed that you're not writing about anything deep?' And I said, 'What the fuck could be more profound and deeper than love?'
  "I'm just a hopeless, fucking sappy romantic, and I really feel like that. To sing about love is so much deeper than singing about this fucking generation hype. I sing about the generation! You know I'm 28 years old! What? Am I going to sing about my generation for a bunch of 13 year old kids that buy the album? It doesn't make sense. I can sing to a bunch of 28 year olds but most of them are behind a desk somewhere and anyway, they don't need any help. They all have therapists! They don't need my songs."
  Do you agree that this is more of a mainstream record than the last one?
  "Yeah I totally agree. Well, only in that we went out and got a producer and spent a lot of time. I hope it sounds a little more polished than the last one because the last one I consider like a demo tape. We wanted to make a pop record, the pop rock record. 'Cos I was so fuckin' sick...and this is another thing that bugs me! You wanna know what bugs me...ha ha ha...OK. That whole syndrome where a band gets signed, they get money spent on them, they get promoted and they become hugely popular, so much that with the next album they get to call the shots. So what do they do? Instead of making another great record they turn around and make a lo-fi record. It's fuckin' ill! It's not the way it should work. Why on earth would you want to turn around and do something worse?
  "I'm sick of bands like fuckin' Bush who wanna go and record with Steve Albini! I love Steve Albini. He's fuckin' great, and I know he got along well with them in the studio, but gimme a fuckin' break! Y'know. Go make a fuckin' record, stop trying to convince people that you're cool - because you're not."
  You're not a Bush fan then?
  "You wanna know what bugs me about Bush...ha ha ha! No, I'm jokin. You don't wanna know what bugs me about Bush. I'm telling you, you don't have enough tape!"
  Are you interested in the NIN-Marilyn Manson axis?
  "Well, I've never really listened to much Marilyn Manson. Trent Reznor has really cool ideas as a producer. But I don't really pay much attention to that. I think that most of that's actually in Florida! It's like the death metal revolution of 86. Just a bunch of kids tired of everything and anything."
  You haven't go anything pierced then?

Dave Grohl photographer by Stefan de Batselier
  "I have not been pierced, ever, anywhere."
  See, I was looking for Satanic influences in your songs.
  "No, I don't make any reference to the Devil in any of the songs, although y'know what I miss so badly? Bands that consider themselves Satanic. I fuckin' do man! When I was a teenager I loved Venom, I loved Slayer. It was so fuckin' cool to be 14 years old, smoking tons of pot, listening to Slayer and Venom and giving yourself a pentagram tattoo. Those were the days! And at the same time, I was at Catholic school. It was fuckin' great and it made you feel so good. So...ha ha ha...I mean that is actually why I grew the goatee, to try and look a little more menacing."
  Maybe that wouyldn't be such a bad thing as people have you down as this super-well-adjusted guy...
  "But totally Satanic! Actually, as a teenager, I was obsessed with Charlie Manson and Jim Jones, and I was in a band called Dain Bramage, and I wanted to make a banner to place behind us so I did a graph drawing of Jim Jones on this white sheet. When I went to take it off the wall, the paint had gone through so for about 7 years I had this huge painting of Jim Jones above my bed."
  Guess you weren't too impressed by the Higher Source people then?
  "No, not really. They had nice shoes though."
  As well as Dain Bramage, there was a whole string of bands. You're past looks like the history of someone running away from something.
  "No, I don't think so. Maybe I'm chasing something. I've never lost that feeling, never got tired of playing music. Probably never will. I mean, in a weird way, I don't have a real place to live right now, so in a way, it's avoiding having to go home. That might be the case now."
  Does getting older make you want a more settled life?
  "Possibly. I always imagined growing older to be more time spent realising things and figuring things out. But actually I have plenty more questions about everything that I did when I could just skate through life. So a lot of the lyrics on this album, they're more questions than anything else, basic confusion and dysfunction among my own emotions. I think as you grow older, it feels like there's something that everyone's searching for, there's something that I'm searching for and I just don't know what it is. I don't even know if I've already had it."
  Does having the money from Nirvana affect the creative stuff that goes into the Foo Fighters?
  "Well... it doesn't affect how I approach it, but in a weird way there's the argument that the tortured artist is the one that writes the soulful songs, the tortured artist is the one that can express pain and suffering more so than anyone else... I don't know. In a way, I'm sure that it does. But does it make a difference with this band? Probably not."

Did the press get it right about what happened over the re-negotiation of the songwriting royalties split near the end of Nirvana?
  "Ahuh... I don't remember what was said. But it's the kind of thing I wouldn't want to talk about without Krist... And it's the sort of thing we wouldn't talk about with anybody. .. Good try though."
  So 'My Hero'was the one that relates to Kurt?
  "Yeah. But the song is really about having heroes that are... The song 'My Hero' is about finding heroes in ordinary people. And when I was young I didn't look up to sports figures or movie stars. There were musicians that I had a lot of respect for, but did I want to grow up and be like them? No. I had a Kiss poster, but did I want to grow up and be like Ace Frehley? No. They were usually friends or family that I had so much respect for that they just became my heroes. There have been a few important people in my life that I still consider heroes... Because they were ordinary people, and not because of mass adulation or... whatever."
  The last song on the album is Seattle-connected, isn't it?
  "Well, those were the images, all the landmarks that I found comforting on my way home from being downtown at rehearsal. It was at that point that I'd realise that I'd made it through another day, and it was OK, and everything was going to be alright. So it was self-affirmation.
  "I thought it was kind of appropriate for that song to be at the end with 'Doll' being the first song. Just because 'Doll' is a song about feeling that you're unprepared as you're entering into something and the fear of committing yourself. And 'New Way Home' is that affirmation at the end of the day that you're not really scared and you'll probably do it again. So it was just book ends which kind of made sense. Plus it's the onLy song that fades out at the end. The last song always has to be a fadeout. It really does!"
  It's got that line, "I'll never tell you the secrets I'm holding." Does that mean you're never going to tell us the secrets that you're holding Dave?
  "Exactly. Hahaha."
  With most of his secrets intact, and a good few spinning round the emotional vortex of the new album, Grohl steps out of the shadows and into the bleach bath sunshine. The fade-out's way over the horizon and the ordinary Dave Grohl as a lot of distance to cover on his extraordinary trajectory. Time to be moving on and on.