Exhaustion. Insanity. Jail. Dave Grohl's Year In Hell

Dave onstage in Worcester
Kerrang! 2000

Being on the road for 12 solid months does funny things to a musician. Just ask Dave Grohl - the calmest, most easy-going man in rock. Until we mention Courtney Love, that is....

Dave The change in atmosphere is subtle, yet entirely palpable. In an instant, Dave Grohl has flipped from being tired and affable to tired and cranky, his sudden irritable demeanour suggesting that even the Nicest Man in Rock has his limits.
  "We exchanged glances,2 he sighs resignedly. "We made mean faces at each other and then we kind of laughed. talk about tired old bullshit though."
  The 'tired old bullshit' in question is his relationship with longtime bete noire, Courtney Love, who, if rumour is to be believed, was stalking the ex-Nirvana drummer at this year's Reading Festival.
  "Who fucking cares, anymore anyway?" shrugs Grohl. "It's so stupid...."
That's as maybe. Yet when Dave allegedly conceived the song 'Stacked Actors' as a coruscating attack on Courtney, only for the Hole vocalist to claim in turn that Kurt Cobain hated Dave around the time of his suicide, the feuding duo became rock 'n' roll's most unmissable soap opera. I suggest that the events at Reading seemed like a desperate attempt on Love's part to keep their antagonistic relationship in the public eye.
  "Of course," Grohl replies, his intonation a mixture of sarcasm and contempt.
  Can we take it that this is something he would rather distance himself from?
  "You know," he starts testily, "I never really think about it until I get stuck in an interview with the English press. I swear it's really the only place in the world where the whole thing seems to be alive and kicking. Nobody else really gives a shit."
  Attempting to diffuse the situation, I put it down to Britain's love of soap operas and then jokingly agree to skip over my questions involving the whole 'Stacked Actors' furore. The expression on Dave Grohl's face suggests that this might be a very good idea indeed.

To call Worcester, Massachusetts a one-horse town would, you feel, be greatly overstating its importance. Being not so much a metropolis as a mausoleum, the city's grey, lifeless thoroughfares seem to sap the very life out of the few residents that venture out onto them. Even on Election Day, with everywhere else in the United States anxiously waiting for the closest presidential contest in a generation to be correctly called, the only thing that appears to be gripping Worcester is the early throes of rigor mortis.
  In the midst of this torpor stands the Palladium, a once-stately old theatre that has not only seen but also likely long-since forgotten better days. Dwarfed by the neighbouring Centrum Center, its creaking stairs and neglected fittings are less than inspiring, yet, perversely, this unlikely setting is arguably the perfect environment in which to encounter the Foo Fighters. For as the band doggedly near the end of yet another American tour, they - like the venue and, indeed, the city that houses it - are knackered.
  All in all, it hasn't entirely been an easy year for the band. While the rest of the world grappled with their post-millennial hangovers, the Foos were bedding in a brand new album ('There Is Nothing left To lose') and a similarly unfamiliar guitarist (ex-No Use For A Name/22 Jacks man Chris Shiflett) on the travelling circus that is Australia's annual Big Day Out festival. Since then, the band have toured constantly, in the process enduring more ups and downs than a manic-depressive bun gee jumper, with their eventual nadir coming at the end of August, when the Foos cut short their European commitments - including a scheduled appearance at the Kerrang! Awards - and returned home, citing exhaustion. Now, however, the Foo Fighters are ending I the year as they started it - on the road. Following a tour of the States with pals I Queens Of The Stone Age, the band are returning to the UK for a series of Christmas shows. Rumour has it, though, that the physical and mental strain of 12 months on the promotional treadmill is threatening to take its toll on the quartet once again.
  When Kerrang! catches up with the quartet to relive the highs and lows of the past year, there's certainly enough evidence to support this claim. Slumped in the front lounge of their agreeably spacious tour bus, Grohl and Foo Fighters bassist Nate Mendel look completely shattered.
  The previous day's lengthy drive from Philadelphia hasn't helped, and as the duo gamely search for nice things to say about their antipodean adventure back in January, their speech is frequently punctuated with barely stifled yawns and both struggle to maintain their concentration.
  "I didn't really have that much fun on that tour - it was just a strange place for us to be a and a strange place for us to start the year," sighs Dave, his speech slow and stilted.
  "God, I don't know," flounders the softly spoken Mendel. "I got a tan..."
  "We wanted to do that tour because it was summer time in Australia," explains Grohl. "We had an offer to do Japan - where it wasn't summer time and you wouldn't get a tan - but we went and jumped on a festival bill, which was kind of the beginning of us jumping on a bunch of bigger bills for the next year. When I look back at it now, I think we probably would have had more fun and would have been better off if we had just done our own American tour at that point."

Dave onstage While the pair will ostensibly talk about anything, they generally do so with an air of suffering, and an undercurrent of over- ~ tired tetchiness rears up whenever even a ~ mildly contentious subject is broached. When I ask Dave whether he's concerned that the Foo Fighters seem incapable of maintaining a steady line-up from one year to the next, he ' launches into a rant attacking the media for I portraying him as a control freak that's as ", unexpected as it is uncalled for. Similarly, the ~ mention of his arrest for drink driving back in 1] Australia is met with a decidedly diffident ! reaction. "Oh yeah, whatever," he shrugs dismissive- Iy. "Shit, you've heard it a thousand times I'm sure." Well, in case you haven't, it goes like this: while travelling back to his hotel on a moped, the singer was stopped at a police breatha- ' Iyser checkpoint. When the officer noted that ~ Dave was one drink over the limit, he was ~ arrested and locked up for four hours. Dave used his obligatory phone call to call an unsus- pecting Nate. "He woke my ass up at 3am... 'I'm in jail!'," recalls the bassist. "I was like, 'Oh my God, Iwhat happened? Did you get in a fight or something?!'." Were you disappointed to learn that Dave was arrested for an offence not quite so, umm, rock 'n' roll as that? "No," deadpans the bassist, "that was per- fectly in line." "Someone asked the other day, if we were to have our own VH-1 'Behind The Music' Ispecial, would we actually have the few key elements that it takes to make a great one?" chuckles Grohl, his mood brightening at the thought, "And we just don't! It would be a really, really fucking boring 'Behind The Music :,: Special'."
  "It would be like a Hanson 'Behind The Music Special'," adds Nate laconically.

Chris & Nate backstage After returning from the Big Day Out, the Foo Fighters hooked-up with the Red Hot Chili Peppers for their very first tour as a support act, taking in the finest arenas that North America has to offer. Playing to upwards of 15,000 people a night was undoubtedly too good an opportunity to turn down, yet the tour unexpectedly turned into a marathon, ultimately lasting some five resolve- sapping months.
  "The first half of the tour was probably the best, because they were all indoor venues, " remembers Grohl of the experience. "Usually by the last three songs, all the seats were full and we felt like it was our show. And there were a lot of nights where it really felt like our show, not like we were opening for anybody, and that was the best feeling. It was a challenge for us to do that - walking offstage every night and feeling like you actually stepped up to the plate and performed well and played to 15,000 people that had never seen you before.
"The second half of the tour was in sheds - or amphitheatres - and those are horrible. I never want to go on a tour like that again because you're playing outdoors at 7:30pm so it's light, it's all seated, and you feel like Steely Dan or something. It's just not conducive to our frenetic, energetic live show," he adds, half-sarcastically.
  "It was pretty 'Groundhog Day'-like too," adds Nate. "You play smaller clubs and they're always different, you never know what's going to happen. Arenas all look pretty much the same. Another locker room with sheets covering the lockers. It got to be pretty repetitious."

Repetitious and gruelling. The Chillis' preferred method of touring was 25 days on followed by 10 days off, and while the headliners would make full use of their break, the Foos found themselves committed to TV Dave backstage shows, radio spots and video shoots. With increasingly few opportunities to recharge their rapidly depleting batteries, it's little wonder that the sparks soon stopped flying. And so by the time the Foo Fighters rolled into England in August for the Reading and Leeds Carling Weekenders, the band - and Dave in particular - were really feeling the strain. Hence the no-show at the Kerrang! Awards and an enforced six-week lay-off.
  "You know, we're sorry, I feel bad," says a wearily contrite Grohl of his cancellation. "We had really gotten to the point on that festival tour where we were really just too fucking tired. We kind of realised that in Canada about a month before that. It used to be that we'd walk offstage and be exhausted. Then it got to the point where we were tired while we were playing. And when you get to that point, you realise that the most important thing is making sure that you perform well to the people who want to see you play. You just want to represent your records and your music and your band, and you just get to the point where you're too fucking tired."
  So what exactly had happened? Was it simply a case of the band taking too much on?
  "Absolutely. The schedule we had was fucking insane! We've never toured this much. Usually when we book a year-and-a-half tour we'd have three and a half weeks here off, a month here off..."
  "We got stuck doing things between all of our breaks that were unavoidable and it just snowballed," adds Nate. "There was some time off, but none during the summer. We had three or four breaks during the Chili Peppers tour and every one was taken up by something."
  "It's difficult too because we're approached with a lot of wonderful opportunities - things that are hard to say no to," continues Dave, visibly flagging. "The problem is that every time someone offers you something, they offer it to you like your career is riding on this decision. We were supposed to do this BBC session thing - we cancelled that, we just decided it was better that we went home. And it's difficult because you know that people will be disappointed. And we've always been pretty selfless but I think this year was the first time we ever really stood up for ourselves.
  "I think there's a side of me that fells like, hey we're still young! We might as well go at it now rather than prolong it another five years and stretch it out so that we're 37 years old playing 'I'll Stick Around'. But my well-being and the band's well-being is way more important than anything else - it's more important than the band, it's more important than magazines or festival tours or whatever."
  Did you get to the point where you were just carrying on out of some perverse form of masochism?
  "Yes, that's the only way to deal with it!" considers Dave, before the desperate irony of his answer hits him with all the force of a speeding Mack truck. "Fuck! I am so exhausted that this is fucking hilarious..."

As Dave returns to the Palladium for a photo shoot and Nate drags himself off to his bunk for a brief sleep before the show, we join guitarist Chris Shiflett for an alternative take on the past 12 months. Unlike his colleagues, Chris exudes boundless energy. His seemingly indefatigable enthusiasm derived from his Cinderella-esque transformation from relatively unknown punk scenester to lynchpin of one of the world's finest rock bands.
  "This year has been incredible, my life has completely changed, personally and professionally," he considers, as if still taking everything in. "For the first few months we were going on these promotional tours because the album was about to come out. So we were doing TV shows and sitting in hotel rooms doing interviews all day long - or rather I'd sit while the interviews were hap- pening, but I really had nothing to add you know?
"It was like a Foo Fighters crash course. I'd never been in a band where everyone got their own hotel room before. I'm used to being in a room with two or three other guys at least, so that was really bizarre. Just little things like having my own room was fucking weird!"
  "I thought he was a knucklehead!" roars Taylor Hawkins, the Foo Fighters' ebullient drummer, having joined us following a rather revitalising massage in the venue's production office. "No, I liked him. He probably thought I was the one who liked him least. I gave him a hard time - he'd just joined and everybody else is too nice to give him a hard time, so I probably gave him too much of a hard time. He probably hated me the first couple of months."
  "Oh, hate's a strong word," chides Chris, perhaps only half-jokingly.
  "He was probably like, 'Why's that guy such a f"king dick?'. Something like that, right?"
  "Maybe just a couple of times!" the guitarist grins.

Taylor backstage It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to learn that Shiflett and Hawkins have a rather different interpretation of the past year's events than that of Dave Grohl. The wide-eyed guitarist considers the Big Day Out to be the craziest tour he's ever had the pleasure of undertaking, and fondly remembers recording 'Have A Cigar' with Queen guitarist Brian May for the 'M:i-2' soundtrack as like "living in a comic book, 'cos you always think of those people as super-heroes when you're a little kid". In fact, any suggestion of the notion that the Foo Fighters are a band in danger of running themselves into the ground is met with a startlingly abrupt mixture of incredulity and hostility.
  "That is so English! That is so much overblown press bullshit!" exclaims Taylor bullishly, exhibiting an irascible impatience remarkably akin to Grobl's. "It's just 'cos we cancelled and didn't go to those shows that everybody has got that feeling. Dave just reached a point where he thought, 'Is it really worth my sanity to do three more shows and be here for another week and a half? Or is it better for the group and me personally to go home and get the rest that we need?
  "You're always burnt out on the road, man," he continues exasperatedly, as if somehow the band's honour and standing has been called into question. "There's this book by David lee Roth called 'Crazy From The Heat', and in it he says that everybody starts out on a tour all hyped but then after about a week everybody is operating on 40 per cent less energy and you spend your whole day just going, 'Fuck,.. I'm tired', You wake up for the show and you have boundless energy and then you can't fall asleep until three or four in the morning. Usually you're a little bit sick because these tour buses are like travelling Petri dishes, If one of us has a cold then we've all got a cold. So it's physically demanding - and can be mentally demanding - but so is any job where you have to be there every day. How does anybody mentally cope with having to go to the same job every day for 30 years? I mean, I think five months on a tour of America with the Chili Peppers is not that hard to mentally cope with, you know."
  "Yeah if that's your biggest worry of the day then you're doing pretty good, you know?" adds Chris cheerily as if he couldn't even begin to comprehend the concept of something he loves doing having a negative influence. "It's a lot easier than going to work in McDonald's every day."
  As Hawkins, feathers still somewhat visibly ruffled, prepares to head back into the venue, Shiflett perceptively marvels that "the day that you come here to do this interview is the day after none of us got any sleep, we drove all day and we probably all look like shit".
  "He's going to go back and go, 'Well they denied it but it's there, they're about to collapse!'," he says, as his bandmate laughs.

A few hours later and onstage, the Foo Fighters have evidently found something to complain about. Midway through 'Monkey Wrench' they break the song down so that Dave Grohl can dedicate it to "the English press", pointing out that we only care about who is saying what about whom to an utterly bemused small-town crowd who are probably about as familiar with the United Kingdom as they are the moon.
  It would seem that the Foo Fighters are still as pointedly resilient as ever. Despite their readily apparent disillusionment with the media circus they've been trapped in for its duration, Grohl still holds that this was "the best year we've ever had" and that the Foo Fighters have grown immeasurably stronger and tighter as a result of it.
  "I'm proud when someone from another band comes up to me and says, 'Fuck, you guys are still on tour? You guys are crazy!'," says the frontman. "We have a reputation as a very hard-working, hard-touring band and not many people do anymore. People rely on other sources of distribution and promotion rather than just going out and playing. So I think in that sense it's been worth it. Mind you, I seriously doubt we're going to be fucking touring next year."

Words: Dan Silver     Pics: Scarlet Page

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