He's Got Another Confession To Make

High Life - June 2018

Since first arriving in Los Angeles in 1990 to record Nirvana's Nevermind, Dave Grohl has experienced a complicated love affair with California's most rock'n'roll city. Ahead of a triumphant UK tour, he tells Eve Barlow about the enduring power of Foo Fighters and offers up his tips on surviving and thriving in the Golden state.

A Starline bus swings towards Mulholland Scenic Overlook on the edge of MRCA's Fryman Canyon Park. It stops in front of a scarlet 1968 Chevrolet Camaro parked on the side of the road, surrounded by a camera crew. The tourists look on, hoping they're privy to an early glimpse of Tinseltown magic. Standing next to the car is the star - Dave Grohl, frontman of Foo Fighters, former drummer of Nirvana and all-around rock'n'roll firebrand for the past 30 years. The tourists don't see Grohl. They're focused on the Camaro. True to form, Grohl can't resist taking centre stage. "Gwen Stefani's house is right there!" he shouts. It really is the house that No Doubt built, Grohl attests. "My kids went to school over there with Gwen's kids," he continues, pointing across the freeway and to the white building dangling over the side of the cliff. "So, they would have play dates and go to this crazy house, which is like the Guggenheim. It's insaaane."
  When you're in LA, it's best to get a local to show you around. But Grohl is no ordinary local. Hanging out with him is like socialising with a cartoon character - albeit one voiced by The Dude from The Big Lebowksi. "Rock'n'roll? It's just an energy, man," is actually a sentence that comes out his mouth. "I'm a frustrated comedian," he laughs. "When you're on stage in front of 30,000 people and you've had four whiskies, who knows what can happen? Those are the shows I love most." For two hours today, he finds a comedic beat at every moment. "I'm sorry," he says to the photographer who has to repeat his instructions. "I'm also deaf. I have a legitimate excuse."
  The 'nicest guy in rock' moniker has followed Grohl throughout his entire career and he does a lot to corroborate its truth. Grohl never walks through a door before you. Grohl remembers your name from the get-go. When Grohl signs into the bar of the Sportsmen's Lodge hotel as 'DAVID GROHL' in caveman handwriting, he takes the time not only to gently mock the neatness of my signature, but to return the pen lid to reception. Anyone expecting the behaviour that got Keith Moon banned from Holiday Inns worldwide will be disappointed. Grohl is conscientious to a fault.
  That's especially true in regard to his family. The Sportmen's Lodge isn't just a watering hole for roadies and Hollywood royalty - Clark Gable and Katharine Hepburn were fans - it's also home to the 'Daddy-Daughter dance', a big deal for Grohl's three daughters: Violet (12), Harper (nine), Ophelia (three). When it was Harper's debut, his wife Jordyn texted Grohl to let him know the date fell between two sold-out shows in Perth and Adelaide, Australia. For Grohl, there was only one decision. "Harper had been waiting her whole life!" he says. "So I flew back. I jumped on a plane, fell asleep, woke up, took them to school, brought them to the dance, jumped back on a plane and played Perth." He defied time and space - arriving in LA before he left. "Well, there's an international date line too," he laughs.
  At this point, Grohl produces his phone and proudly shows off a video of Harper drumming. It's like watching himself when he had long hair in the early 1990s. He's dragged her on stage twice. The first was in Iceland last Summer where she played Queen's We Will Rock You in front of 20,000 Foo fans after only two weeks behind kit. The next was in Athens: "She was pissed off at the Acropolis. Later she said `Don't do that again! You have to warn me'." She's not the only musical offspring - Violet is a singer in a band with other preteens. "It's the cutest thing you've ever seen. They do Hold the Line by Toto," he says. "I'm not a sports guy so I can't scream from the side lines. This is as close as it's gonna get."
  Armchair psychology may tell you that Grohl's eagerness to please is a sign of someone whose default position is supporting others - say, while anchoring Nirvana as they inadvertently became the biggest band in the world. The first time he came to LA was with his old old band Scream, at the age of 18. Fronting it were brothers Peter and Franz Stahl, whose sister Penny was a mud wrestler. "She was a rock'n'roll chick, it was the mid 1980s and she was going on a date with the singer from Poison." Tailgating the date, they followed her to legendary venue the Troubadour. "That was my first night in LA."
  When Nirvana invited Grohl to join the band in 1990, he returned to California to make their second LP Nevermind, which went on to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide. "I never imagined that I'd ever be in a band successful enough to be my job," he says.
  A self-described "vagabond", he moved to LA in 2002 and has been here for 16 years, living in Encino, which he has proudly described as "the most unhip place to live in Los Angeles". It's where he can decompress, and work in his studio - where the band's 12 Grammy awards are crammed on to bookshelves.
  His home in Encino is also a chance to indulge his second biggest passion: barbecuing. Grohl is evangelical about it - going so far as to cater his own recording sessions for Concrete and Gold. "I brought both my smokers to the studio," he boasts of the sessions at EastWest Studios on Sunset Boulevard. "I had to get there at Sam to get the fire going. I was cooking three briskets at a time - 40lbs of meat. Queens of the Stone Age were next door so I was feeding their asses, too." It went so far as to bust out the smoker on tour: "When we played Hyde Park [in 2006] I grilled for everyone backstage. They were like, `Dave you're on in 25 minutes'. I was still flipping. We did the show and I smelled like barbecue."
  In June 2015, it was Grohl himself who was flipping. He broke his leg jumping off stage in Gothenburg - rather than stop the show, the band covered for him while he travelled to hospital, only for Grohl to return on a stretcher and play for two-and-a-half more hours. Any other band would have gone on hiatus - instead, Grohl completed their worldwide dates, renaming the jaunt The Broken Leg Tour and sitting on a custom throne of his own design. Axl Rose would later borrow it, and look significantly less cool.
  You wonder if part of Grohl's reluctance for bravado (he refuses to pander to words like `legend', 'rock star' etc) is because he's forever indebted to the accidental success of Nevermind. "When I was young and listening to Dead Kennedys, there was no opportunity. I got lucky being in Nirvana. We were never pushed to be commercial. I had licence to do whatever I wanted. That's a great luxury."
  Not only has having been in Nirvana allowed Grohl 24 years of Foos fun, it's brought him endless opportunities, whether forming a super-group with members of Zeppelin and Queens of the Stone Age, producing a TV show and film, appearing in films with the Muppets and Tenacious D, or performing with Paul McCartney. According to Grohl, he and Macca first met at a Royal Albert Hall concert in 2002 to honour George Harrison a year after his death: "Paul McCartney is how I learnt to play music. To meet him was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Then we started going out to dinner. We jammed a bunch. It's not something I want to sound casual about, because it never is. You never forget that he is Paul McCartney... he planted the seed that became my musical life." Grohl actually has remarkably English tastes in rock: he regularly goes for a curry with Queen when he's in London and reckons his songwriting DNA is even more indebted to British rock. He's also made an unlikely new BFF in Liam Gallagher. "After we headlined Glastonbury, Liam was singing Bob Marley in my face. All night."
  Grohl's natural gregarious nature means that he is forever befriending bands and musicians across genres. 'Neighbourly Dave' is the glue in LA's rock scene, linking the old and new guards. Last year he threw the inaugural CalJam Festival in San Bernardino, a launchpad for new acts. "Starcrawler blew my mind!" he says, still gassing. "They're 18 years old and they're out there playing to a field like their lives depend on it? That's what it's all about. As an old guy, you feel some obligation. We have to remind everybody how rad it is when you and your friends get up onstage and sound like a trash truck on a road full of potholes."
  His own fraternity of trash-truck noiseniks - Foo Fighters - has survived far longer than any act born by accident ever should. After Cobain's death in 1994, Grohl retreated to Seattle and made demos. He played all the instruments himself, but the idea of going solo never appealed so he called in the cavalry. The initial touring line up included Nate Mendel, William Goldsmith and Pat Smear, though over the last two decades and nine albums there have been several reshuffles.
  In 1995 the Foo Fighters became his lifeline. "I've never felt the need to chase something else," he says of their classic red-blooded rock sound. "And we get cursed for it: 'Oh God, it's another Foo Fighters record.' Well, yeah! I don't wanna make a reggae record."
  Asked about how the band has continued to survive, Grohl is clear. "We are like brothers," he says of the Foos today. "It sounds trite but it's true. Imagine being on a family trip for 20 years. That's what it's like being in the Foo Fighters." Grohl is unquestionably the band leader and his rules apply - shared dressing rooms and transport, no inadvertent egos. What's the key to keeping happy campers? "Well," he says. "You just have to steer the ship. As time passes it goes from being a dingy to a yacht." Ever the cheeseball, he concludes that the music is what keeps Foos alive, man. "There's a quote, 'The fish always starts thinking from the head'. Well, if you're the face on the cover of British Airways' High Life magazine, you'd better be writing good songs for everybody."

Words: Eve Barlow     Pics: Austin Hargrave

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