Kerrang's 50 albums you need to hear in 2011.
"Would you like a tour?"
Dave Grohl opens his front door and guides us into his Los Angeles home. At the end of the hallway to the left, Dave's wife Jordyn is reading the couple's four year old daughter Violet Maye a bedtime story: 19 month old Harper Willow is already asleep in her own room. A doorway to the right opens into one of the property's two garages, where Taylor Hawkins' drum kit has temporarily displaced Dave's beloved Harley Davidson motorcycles. Upstairs is the guest bedroom, Dave's office until a few months ago, when Jordyn informed her husband that Harper would now be needing her own bedroom downstairs, meaning that the guest bedroom would now need to move upstairs, meaning that Dave better clear out his shit pronto before the builders arrived to make the necessary alterations.
Past the guest bedroom is Violet and Harper's playroom, a riot of soft toys and colourful crayon drawings and Disney princess dresses. In the room next door, lounging on sofas and picking at take-away food containers, Dave's bandmates Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear are chatting about LA traffic and mountain biking and TV documentaries with Butch Vig, sitting in a swivel chair in front of a 24 track mixing desk. And it's here that Dave and his best friends are making the new Foo Fighters album.
Dave bought this tasteful 1950's villa, nestled in a quiet street in Encino, overlooking the San Fernando Valley, for just over $2 million in April 2003: four months later, he and Jordyn got married on the tennis court at the rear of the house. Today that tennis court is dominated by a huge catering tent, set up for the comfort of the film crew documenting the recording of what will be the Foo Fighters' seventh studio album. The band have been here for 11 weeks now, recording without digital technology to analog tape, an 'old school' recording process which isn't without risks: push the wrong button at the wrong time and whole tracks can be wiped clean. With a rueful smile, Butch Vig admits that there have been one or two mishaps in the past two months, but on the date of our visit, just three songs for the as-yet-untitled album remain unfinished: a whiteboard in the control room lists White Limo, Dear Rosemary, A Matter Of Time, These Days, Bridge Burning, Miss The Misery, Rope and I Should Have Known - on which the Foos are joined by Dave's former Nirvana bandmate Krist Novoselic - among the completed tracks. By the time you read this, Alan Moulder, famous for his work with Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and Depeche Mode among others, will be mixing the tracks in a Hollywood studio. But right now, there's still work to be done...
When did you officially start work on the new album?
Dave: "We actually went into the studio right after we finished touring the last record [2007's Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace]. So the first session for new songs was in 2008, at Grand Master studios in Hollywood, in the Fall. We wrote a lot of music in soundchecks while touring the last record and rather than just forget about them or letting them sit around until we were ready to make another album we thought 'Let's go in and put them to tape now'. Then I had this idea that we should release an album of all new stuff but just not do anything for it: not go on the road, not make a big deal about it, just record the music and release it. I thought it'd nice just to silently put it out. But it didn't really feel like it was ready and we wouldn't be able to just sit around at home if we had a new album out, and ultimately we just want to go out and play, so rather than jump back in to another cycle of things, it felt like a good idea to stop. So we recorded that shit and stopped."
And how much of that has survived from those sessions?
Dave: "Word Forward from the Greatest Hits record came from that, and Wheels, and a new song called Rope. There was some good stuff in there. But after all that touring we were burnt out. After doing some of those bigger shows like the Wembley show and the Manchester show, it seemed like a good idea to get away from it so that a) we didn't get too used to those big stadiums and b) we didn't come home and just break up."
Taylor: "We didn't want to overstay our welcome in people's faces. It just felt like maybe people needed a break from us too."
You've all been busy with your various side projects for the past year, so was the time off from the band refreshing for everyone?
Dave: "I think so."
Chris: "Without a doubt."
Dave: "Pat, was it refreshing to go out to Germany with The Germs for three months?"
Pat: "I was just thinking 'Hmmm, I wouldn't call it refreshing for me...'"
So when did you start again properly?
Dave: "In January I called Taylor and said 'Okay, let's start working on some ideas'. I had maybe 20 or 30 rough ideas. And albums usually begin with Taylor and I, we'll go in and work on tempos and dynamic and rough arrangements of riffs, and then after we've narrowed it down to 20 song ideas we ask the other guys to come in and the ideas actually become songs."
And was there a noticeable change in energy when you came back together?
Dave: "I think so. Every time we go out to do our other projects it makes us appreciate a lot about this band that sometimes we forget when we have been on tour for three years. So it's exciting. Everybody pulls from all of their different projects and brings their energy back to this. Going out and playing drums for a year with the Vultures, made me write music like a drummer again. And I think everybody came back a little bit stronger."
You have your own state-of-the-art recording studio [Studio 606] a few miles from here, so why work at home?
Dave: "It all came together as one big idea. Let's work with Butch, but let's not use computers, let's only use tape. Let's not do it at 606, let's do it in my garage. And let's make a movie that tells the history of the band as we're making the new album, so that somehow it all makes sense together in the grand scheme of things. What we're doing here is in some ways making sense of everything we've done for the last 15 years."
Has it been more comfortable making this album at home?
Taylor: "I think it's the most fun record I've ever made with this band. I don't really want to go back to a recording studio again. You show up and go 'What do we have to do today?' And then it's like 'Okay, well, you're not going to need me for three or four hours, so I'm going to jump on my mountain bike and go up into the Hills for a few hours..."
Dave: "I have to say though, tonight I had both kids in the bath, and Violet keeps on smacking Harper, and Harper is scared of the towel that looks like a duck's face, and Violet knows that, so she kept putting it in Harper's face, and then I went to get it from Violet and she wouldn't give it to me and then she started screaming and crying, and Harper starts screaming and crying and I'm yelling at Jordyn going 'Babe, will you get Violet out of here?' And as all that was happening, I'm thinking 'I'm never fucking making another record here...no way'."
Why did you decide to work with analog tape this time around?
Taylor: "For me, personally, I'm just fed up with the way a lot of rock 'n' roll is made right now, because it's not true to me, to my ears. I don't really know what happened, I don't know how they really played it. I know how they kinda played it and then how someone else manipulated it in a computer, to make them sound a certain way, but that's not the same."
Dave: "You have trust issues."
Taylor: "Yeah, I have trust issues with music. I miss rock 'n' roll being kinda pure in that sense: that's why I'm stoked we're doing it."
The vibe seems pretty relaxed here. And I read somewhere Dave that you're not stressing so much over lyrics this time around...
Dave: "Well, some of the lyrics on the first Foo Fighters album were written as I was at the mic with [producer] Barrett Jones saying 'Okay dude, come on, we have 20 minutes, let's go!' and I'd just write nonsense. And then with the next album someone said 'You know, you should maybe work on your lyrics a little more' and so I did. There are times when you're inspired to write something that's a little more meaningful than fucking Weenie Beenie or whatever, and so I kinda started feeling that responsibility for every song. And then Nate sent me an email that said 'You know, don't feel like you have to write Imagine everytime you sit down with a pen and paper, I like some of the more light-hearted songs that you've written too.' And it was nice to hear someone say that. That's not saying that it's all nonsense...it's not like a Murphy's Law record."
Nate: "Do you think anyone will get that reference?"
Dave: "That's one for the old school Kerrang! readers..."
Being at home, have you sneaked the kids in on backing vocals anywhere?
Dave: "No, but I thought about it. But there's days when they're in the playroom and they're screaming so fucking loud that you can hear it in the vocal mics, so I'm sure some day if you separate the tracks you'll be able to hear them."
One guest who is officially doing vocals is ex-Husker Du frontman/punk rock legend Bob Mould: you recently said 'No Husker Du, no Foo Fighters', so it must have been a thrill to have him here?
Dave: "Absolutely. The 9:30 Club [legendary Washington DC rock club] had their 30th anniversary over the Summer, and I'd been asked to play and Bob played. I'm a huge Husker Du fan, and he's a legend, an American hero, so I met him and said 'I just have to thank you. I know you realise I've been ripping you off for 15 years, but I just have to say that you've influenced me so much and I consider you a hero'. And he was really cool. So we swapped phone numbers. And then I just texted him and said 'Hey, I have this song I think you should come down and sing with me on'. And it turned into a duet and it works perfectly. He was a pleasure to work with, he was a pleasure to hang with, he's incredibly talented and it was awesome."
Were you surprised just how much has been made of Krist Novoselic's guest spot on the album?
Dave: "No, I'd have to be pretty stupid to think it would go unnoticed! When we recorded [Word Forward and Wheels, for the Foo Fighters' Greatest Hits album] with Butch last year I had so much fun just being in the studio with him again, and it reminded me of making Nevermind in 1991, not the music, just the experience of being with Butch. We'd talked about making an album together for years, and after recording those two songs I thought, okay, it's time. And then I realised that it's also going to be the 20th anniversary of Nevermind. But making this album with Butch in this way and having Krist come down and play on it is all for the sake of not being scared of that. Does that make any sense? Ultimately what we're doing here isn't meant to recreate what happened 20 years ago, it's more of a reminder that we're here for the same reason, and we've all survived and we still love making music the same as we did 20 years ago. I know that when the album comes out a lot of the focus will be on the fact that Butch and I are working together again after 20 years and that Krist Novoselic is playing bass on one song, but it's a Foo Fighters record, it's not a Nirvana record, and it's important that people realise that I'm here to make a Foo Fighters record and not a Nirvana record. Krist and I are still great friends, we talk all the time and see each other a lot, and there's no question that this year will be a big year for Krist and I because of that anniversary, but what we're doing here isn't about that."
You've talked up this album as the heaviest album Foo Fighters have ever made: is that still the case?
Dave: "It is, there's no question about that. We haven't made a really heavy, full-on 11 song rock record in a long time. There are a few bands that later in their career have made one album that kinda defines the band: it might not be their best album, but it's the one people identify the band with the most, like [AC/DC's] Back In Black or the Metallica Black record. It's like you take all of the things that people consider your band's signature characteristics and just amplify them and make one simple album with that. And that's sorta what I thought we could do with Butch, because Butch has a great way of trimming all the fat and making sense of it all. And I think that's what he's done with this shit. We have a tendency to over-complicate things, and with the last album too we were too concerned with being musical."
So this time around you're happy for the Foo Fighters to be just a rock band again?
Dave: "Well, it's hard to know what's going to happen in the next 18 months because when we go out to do gigs there's 97 songs to choose from, so we could be one band one night and another band the next, and it'd be perfectly okay, I think. But now it's time for us to go out and be a rock band again: someone has to do it, right?"
Words: Paul Brannigan     Pics: Lisa Johnson
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