Dave Grohl: the best rock drummer of the past decade; one-third of that band that changed the world (Nirvana); now leader of the Great White Hope of American guitar bands (Foo Fighters) in the age of techno. I picture his reaction when his manager hands him the tour schedule. "You want us to play where? Sudbury? Kitchener??!!"
The big difference is, as a veteran of music business hype; Grohl has learned to keep success in perspective. "You know, people ask us all the time, 'are you surprised by the success the band has achieved?' Of course I am, but people don't realize we're not a big, big band. We're at a great level. It's really comfortable for us to go out and play in front of two or three thousand people. It feels weird when we have to do festivals where there's, like, 50,000 people. We're opening for The Rolling Stones for two shows in New York and I'm kind of freaked out about it."
Grohl has also had to deal with the seemingly never-ending line-up changes within the band. After basically recording the first record on his own, The Colour And The Shape was done with the entire band. Shortly after its completion, drummer William Goldsmith left and was replaced by Alanis Morissette's stickman Taylor Hawkins. Then, during the recent MTV Music Awards, guitarist Pat Smear announced his departure. Smear can now add Foo Fighters to his resume of former bands, which also happens to include Nirvana as well as legendary L.A. punks The Germs. His interests currently lie in hosting MTV's fashion show House Of Style.
"We had known for almost four months that Pat was going to leave the band," Grohl says. "He told us early on this year that he didn't want to tour anymore and he doesn't like doing press and he hates flying, tons of stuff. Of course we were totally shocked. Then I remembered, when Pat joined Nirvana, all of his friends were placing bets on how long he was going to last in that band. Some friends bet a week, or a month, or two months. This is the longest he's stayed in a band since The Germs.
"He just wants to do more MTV House Of Style stuff and make a record on his own. He just wants to enjoy life. There's a side of me that's really envious because I'm really looking forward to sitting down and enjoying life someday. I mean, I love going out on tour and I love playing. But not sleeping in your own bed gets me down."
Luckily for Grohl, finding Pat's replacement was no challenge. Franz Stahl was the guitarist in Grohl's pre-Nirvana band Scream and someone who continued to be a close friend through his rise to fame. "I've never lost touch with anyone from that band. That was the first band I'd ever toured with and it was the band where I learned pretty much everything I know about living on the road, trying to make it on four dollars a day, and just about how to handle yourself when you're playing in a squat in Poland to two people.
"Franz is like a brother to me. Even before I knew him I'd go see his band and a lot of the way I play guitar comes from Franz. When I joined Scream we started writing songs together and even on this album it shows. Songs like 'Monkey Wrench' or 'Enough Space.' they sound like Franz's songs. He would have originally been the guitar player in the Foo Fighters but at the time he was in a band called Wool."
Grohl sounds as gregarious over the phone as he does on stage, which says a lot about how Foo Fighters are perceived. Even though The Colour And The Shape is a more introspective work than the debut - with references to the break-up of his marriage and the thinly-veiled Kurt Cobain tribute "My Hero" - it's clear that many more kids would prefer to have a few beers with him rather than Cobain.
"I think people thought Nirvana was such a dark, serious band because a lot of the lyrics were that way and Kurt was very much that way. He could also be the most hilarious person you've ever met, but I've always been the way I am. I think of myself as the same person who was 18 ten years ago and working at a furniture warehouse. I don't feel like I've matured at all. It's kind of sad, but true. I think one of the reasons why the Foo Fighters seem a little more optimistic or a little more light-hearted is just, that's the way we are. There was no calculated decision to be that way."
Grohl has also worked hard to put himself in the public eye in order to get the message across that he's his own man. The band has found a comfortable niche on video channels - and become international spokesmen for Mentos - through consistently witty clips, as well as making more personal appearances on Much Music than Rick The Temp can count.
"The last record we didn't dive into the press because we knew right off the bat the whole thing could be easily exploited and turned around to be something that wasn't as real as it was. But toward the end I was doing five interviews a day with every newspaper in the world. At times it can be tiring and sort of grating, but you can't complain."
Doing interviews also gives Grohl a chance to mention what's currently in his CD player. I bring up Treble Charger, one of the openers on this Canadian jaunt (the other being the Stone Temple Pilots side project Talk Show), and he immediately recalls a recent show they did together in Detroit. He apologizes for Rush being the only other Canadian band he's into and instead goes off about a band from Alabama called Verbeena. "They're so good, they're like a really heavy, tuned-down, distorted Rolling Stones with this girl and guy singing, so it kind of sounds like X.
I ask if he's heard the new release from former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic's band Sweet 75. "Of course I've heard Sweet 75. I think they're awesome. They sound like The Byrds would have if they were a hardcore band."
Grohl speaks with a genuine love for the music he and others are doing. The Foo Fighters aren't his first ride on the rock and roll-ercoaster and he has come to enjoy every aspect of his job, without expecting too much from it, "I think whatever happens, happens and it's best to go with the flow. I would love to be so widely respected and world-renowned. That would be wonderful. It'd be so flattering and I'd feel so lucky.
"I do feel lucky, but at the same time, with all the stuff I went through in Nirvana, we became a really popular band really fast. I just sat back and laughed at it. I thought it was really hilariously funny. I mean, I loved being in the band and I thought we were really cool, but I couldn't believe that that many people liked our band. Most of them had never seen us play live. So, for something like that to happen twice in a lifetime, it's like, no way. You wouldn't really want it to, because it would almost trivialize the first time it happened."
With the novelty worn off and the ties to Nirvana truly severed, Dave Grohl should feel proud that the Foo Fighters are now (and from now on will be) taken seriously as his vehicle of expression, even if they never sell another record. There will never be another Nirvana, and maybe someday we'll be able to say there will never be another Foo Fighters.
back to the features index