As the FOO FIGHTERS prepare to storm Slane, their mainman talks about Kurt, meeting the President, the mythical powers of punk rock and nearly moving to Belfast as a kid.
It’s four years overdue but I’m finally getting to meet the Nicest Man In RockTM, Dave Grohl. I’d been due to interview the Foo Fighter-in-chief at Oxegen 2011, prepared my questions with him in mind and then had a journalistic freak-out when I walked into their dressing room and found Taylor Hawkins sitting there instead of Dave who’d had to take an urgent phone call.
Thankfully I’m reasonably conversant with the Queen back catalogue, so there were no awkward silences.
“You had Taylor bending your ear about Queen for half- an-hour?” Dave laughs. “Oh, man, I’m sorry! I’m not kidding, it drives me up the fucking wall how much he and Pat (Smear) know about Queen. Ask them what the best B-side between ‘76 and ‘79 is, and you’ll have driven from San Francisco to Seattle before the argument’s settled. Taylor knows everything about everything. I’m not kidding,
He’s an encyclopedia. I tease him and say, ‘You’re using up valuable memory space on all of this bullshit! Who fucking cares who played the bass for the first year in the Dave Clarke Five?!’ It goes on for fucking ever...”
May 30 finds Dave and the Foos fulfilling a long-held ambition by headlining Slane, the latest in a long line of Grohlian visits to Ireland, which was very nearly his teenage home.
“When I was around 13 or 14-years-old, my mother, who was a public school teacher, applied for this Fulbright Scholarship exchange programme where they relocate you and your family to another country for a year,” he explains. “She applied, got accepted and we were gonna move to Belfast. I remember getting all the information about the area we’d live in and the school I was going to go to – which is the same one that the Ash kids went to – but at the very last minute the person we were meant to exchange with backed out because his father got ill. I’d never been to Europe before, had just discovered punk rock and wanted to see the places where these really cool bands like Stiff Little Fingers – whose ‘Nobody’s Hero’ I covered aged 14 – came from.”
Has he seen the Terri Hooley Good Vibrations biopic yet?
“No, and I really want to. Is it good?”
Probably the best film about Northern Ireland ever made. They had Brian Young from Rudi telling the actors, “You hold your guitar like this and duck into the microphone like that”, and so unlike most rock movies the band scenes look totally authentic.
“That’s hard to do, man. Amazing. I want to see it now; hook me up!”
Note to MCD: add copy of Good Vibrations DVD to Foos backstage rider.
“I eventually got to Belfast in 1992 with Nirvana when things were still pretty heavy,” Dave recalls. “Krist Novoselic and I drove around and looked at all the political activist murals different people had painted. You don’t really get that here in America.”
Does Grohl remember individual gigs or do they all start blurring into one after a while?
“When you’re hiking around the fucking hot stadiums in America for four months in a row it can get a little ‘Hello, Cleveland!’ but I absolutely remember that Belfast show in the King’s Hall,” he enthuses. “There’d been a bomb threat in the hotel (The Europa) we were staying in the week before, and Kurt went to the hospital the day after the gig. We were there with the Breeders and I watched him get pulled out on a stretcher to an ambulance. It was the beginning of the tour and I remember him making a speech about how all the dinosaurs were going to die off and be replaced by this new thing.
“Those early Nirvana gigs were so special because A) We were kids and B) We were taking over the world. It was an exciting time; we had no idea what was going to happen or what we were doing. Everything was an adventure.”
Talking of Ash, I’m under strict instructions from Tim Wheeler, who I was on the blower to earlier, to send Mr. G his warmest greetings.
“I love that man as much as you can love any man, which is quite a lot,” deadpans Dave who’s clean forgotten that the then Guaranteed Real Teenagers replaced them as the main support at U2’s 2001 Slane show after Taylor Hawkins’ “over-indulging” at the UK’s V festival forced the Foos to pull.
“Oh, you’re right, we didn’t make that gig. Well, we’re making up for it this time round. We did make it to Slane though in 2003 when we were on with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One of my favourite photos of us playing live
is from Slane; the crowd spilling down that hill is like a scene out of Lord Of The Rings. It’s such a beautiful skyline. Location and atmosphere has so much to do with how a show works out.”
I still reckon that the Chili Peppers coming on stage ten years earlier at Dalymount Park with nowt more than socks on their cocks and launching into a word perfect ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ was the best rock ‘n’ roll entrance I’ve ever seen. Any chance of the Foos, who last month printed up their own Paddy’s Day t-shirts, treating us to a little something as Gaeilge?
“I already know what we’re going to open the show with,” Dave teases. “We’ve gotta learn it but come the day, man, we’ll be ready!”
A nation eagerly awaits. Even by their own workaholic standards, 2014 was an insanely busy year for the Foo Fighters as they embarked on the Sonic Highways odyssey of recording eight songs in eight great US music cities with a dream team of guest players from the various stop-offs. Accompanied on their Chicago-Washington, DC-Nashville- Austin-Los Angeles-New Orleans-Seattle-New York road trip by an HBO camera crew, the companion TV series has just been released on DVD with over three-hours of bonus footage. Among the highlights is Grohl convulsing with laughter as Joe Walsh laconically recalls meeting Stevie Wonder in the Record Plant bathroom.
“He was at the urinal and I say, ‘Stevie, my name’s Joe Walsh and I’m with The Eagles and The James Gang,” his yarn unfurls. “’We’re in Studio A’ and he goes, ‘Ahhh, yeah, I’ve been checking you guys out at the door.’ I said, ‘Stevie, a little to the left, you’re peeing all over the wall!’”
There’s a ‘Territorial Pissings’ joke to be made but I shall refrain. Laughing again at the memory, Dave says: “Man, if you ever get the chance, have dinner with Joe Walsh because you’ll get a couple of hours of that. He’s one of the most lovely, genuine, warm, gracious people I’ve met in my entire life. Outside of being a fucking guitar legend, he’s a sweet guy.”
Spot the bromance! He didn’t partake of any lavatorial humour, but the President was in equally chipper form when Dave caught up with him in DC.
“When I interviewed Obama, it was at the end of a really heavy day for him. He woke up in the morning and had a press conference announcing that we were going back into Iraq. Then around lunchtime he gave the Congressional Medal of Honour to a soldier who’d risked his life to protect his squadron. There are about a thousand other things on the guy’s mind when he sits down with me in the White House for what’s supposed to be 15 minutes and three-quarters-of-an-hour later he’s still talking about Dylan and the Stones, y’know?”
Barry’s coolness credentials were underlined last week when on the first ever US Presidential visit to Jamaica he paid an unannounced visit to the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston.
“And said whilst looking at a wall of gold discs, ‘I still have all his records.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you do!’ He’s such a cool dude.”
What was more surreal – talking to the Pres about Otis Redding or having Dolly Parton admit to her youthful wanting to do rude things to Johnny Cash?
“I don’t know, that might be a tie!” Dave proffers. “I was so nervous about interviewing Dolly but she’s such a sweetheart that it turned into this nice, 40-minute chat you’d have with one of your friends. Except your friends don’t tell you about writing ‘I Will Always Love You’ and then having to say ‘no’ to Elvis when he asks to record it because he wanted to take half the royalties off her. The King being this huge big hero of Dolly’s. That proves how strong and important an artist she’s always been. Dolly’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She’s Joan of Arc. She’s a survivor. She’s like a soldier but with this incredibly beautiful, warm, wonderful exterior.”
With HBO keen on a second season of Sonic Highways, the suggestion is that next time round Dave will switch sides of the road and indulge his Anglophile tendencies.
“The great thing about the format and structure of the show is that it can work anywhere,” he ventures. “Jakarta, Glasgow or Toronto; every city has a musical history even when you don’t think they do. DC’s a great example. There aren’t many people from outside of Washington who know about go-go, Discord Records or Bad Brains and the rest of the punk scene there.”
An oversight that Dave made sure to rectify on Sonic Highways.
“I had dinner with Ringo Starr about a month ago and he was like, ‘I love the show. I never knew about go-go. Trouble Funk are great!’ I thought, ‘Oh my god, I just turned a Beatle onto DC dance!’
“Anyway, we’re talking about doing Season 2 right now. It’ll be a little different but have the same core elements, which is the history and creative side of things and the performance. When we put the thing together it was honestly just my friends and I. We went to HBO and, being so fucking cool, they said, ‘Yeah, do whatever you want.’ They left us alone, man. I interviewed everyone from Chuck D and Willie Nelson to Thurston Moore and take your fucking pick – about a 100 people – and because of the relaxed conversational approach got some beautiful stuff out of them.”
One of the big hits of the recent Jameson Dublin International Film Festival was Montage Of Heck, the Kurt Cobain documentary Brett Morgen has made in collaboration with Kurt's daughter Frances Bean who ruffled fan feathers this week by revealing that she'd take Oasis any day over Nirvana. Whilst Krist Novoselic features prominently in the telling of the story, sightings of Grohl are confined to the archive footage of Aberdeen, Washington’s grungiest going supernova. Asked whether he was for some reason a conscientious objector to the film, Grohl shakes his luxuriantly tressed head and says: “No, not at all. I’ve been so busy the past year-and-a-half that I never had a chance to hook up with Brett Morgen until right before the film premiered at Sundance. He clearly had a vision and we had a great two-hour conversation but it was too late in the end for them to include it. It was heavy to go back there and talk about those things, y’know?”
Bubblier than a bottle of Bolly up till now, Dave’s voice almost quiets to a whisper as he adds: “I’ve heard that the movie is really moving and emotional and beautiful and dark and disturbing. I haven’t heard anyone say that it’s not great, but I don’t think I can watch it. It’s too weird, y’know? The way I look at life...I like to have my own memories and experiences, not somebody else’s. It’s hard for me to watch some of that old stuff. I looked at the trailer for it and thought, ‘I don’t know if I’ve been invited to some of these moments.’ So, yeah, I don’t think I can watch it.”
There are umpteen more Kurt questions to be asked – 21-years on or not, it’s still hard to get your head around his death – but not wanting to intrude further on private grief I move on to Dave being the international 2015 Record Store Day Ambassador.
“I still have the very first LP I bought, which is this ridiculous K-Tel compilation from 1975,” he reminisces. “20 songs and only three of them – KC & The Sunshine Band, Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter’s ‘Frankenstein’ – were any good. Even so, it started a life-long love affair with vinyl. I mail- ordered a lot of stuff from these punk fanzines. You’d send off your three dollars and fifty cents and two stamps and six weeks later you’d get a homemade single with a letter from the bass-player back. That inspired my and my friends to do the same. The first thing I made was a punk rock single with my band when I was 15 or 16. We went to some shitty studio, recorded some music, sent it off to the plant and then stuffed the vinyl into the sleeves ourselves.
“All my kids have record players and I buy them stuff they want like The Beatles and Taylor Swift. I’ll also slip a fucking Kiss record or Back In Black
in there too. I was a really proud dad a couple of months ago when I went into my eldest daughter’s bedroom and found the 13th Floor Elevators on the turntable. I was like, ‘Man, job well done!’”
Which also applies to the 30-plus years Dave Grohl has spent making life-affirming and life- changing music.
“I look at people like Lemmy and Rick Nielsen and Billy Gibbons, who are all in their late sixties now and feel like we can go on forever,” he concludes. “They’ve never fallen out of love with rock ‘n’ roll and I can't imagine myself ever not wanting to do this either.”