The past 12 months haven't been easy but Foo Fighters mainman says that he's happier than ever.
"For the past three weeks I've been telling people - close friends, family, girlfriends - that I'm the happiest I've been for as long as I can remember," says Dave Grohl. "I'm the luckiest person in the world. I can't imagine being more fortunate than I am at this moment."
Dave Grohl dominates a room. Thin and perhaps smaller than you might imagine, his eyes fire with humour, warmth, and no little intelligence; beneath a matador moustache his perfect teeth smile wide and often, his clothing - tight striped jumper and jeans - appears at odds with the announcement (delivered with as much grace and humility as the sentiment will allow) that in two days' time he's about to take delivery of a $75,000 battleship grey BMW M5 motorcar.
If talking were a sport then Dave Grohl would be in its Hall of Fame by now. He comes bounding into the kitchen area of Conway Studios offering warm greetings and even firmer handshakes. He tells a libellous and eye-wideningly scandalous story concerning Creed's Scott Stapp. He then tells a story concerning money and Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro. In the mixing room of Conway Studios he plays an answer machine message from Eddie Vedder - thanking Grohl for his hospitality at a recent barbeque - which, according to the Foo Fighter, "goes on for 10 minutes". He then explains how, for this new album, the band are using the Pro Tools computer system for the very first time. Pro Tools is a computer programme that allows you to place music onto a hard drive and then alter any mistakes synthetically. Some call it cheating; some call it progress.
"I remember when Pro Tools first came on the scene," he says, speaking in one of Conway Studios many annex rooms. "It was when we were recording 'Nevermind' in the Valley. I remember being there and this representative of the company coming in and doing demonstrations for the producers who were working in there. When I think about it now it feels like the drug dealer in the playground giving you your first hit of crack.
"What happened over the years is that Pro Tools has made music sound better. But it didn't make music better. If anything it's made music more homogeonised. Bands no longer want to sound dirty. They want to sound clean because it's their only chance of getting some kind of exposure, of getting some radio play. And Pro Tools has spread like a virus and made things safer. So you could take a band with a singer who always sings flat, or a band who has a drummer who always speeds up - and they all do anyway - and put them into Pro Tools and make them sound great. It's just frightening how much can be done with it. You can be the worst singer in the world, but with Pro Tools you'll be able to record...." - pause for dramatic effect - "...Celebrity Skin'".
Grohl, though, is keen to stress that for the Foo Fighters their approach to this technology was one of caution and care. It wasn't employed to cover any deficiences the band may have, rather it was used simply to drag his band into the modern age.
"I remember coming into here and wondering where the tape machine was," he says. "I didn't realise that bands don't record to tape anymore, they just dump it onto a computer. We were the first band for eight months to have used tape! So what we've tried to do for this album is to take the best of the old technology and the best of the new and turn it all to our advantage. You know, we've been doing this a long time and I'd like to think that we know what we're doing. That we're not about to get sucked in to anything stupid."
Watching him, listening to him, it seems that Dave Grohl could well be auditioning for a role in a sitcom. It's like being in the presence of Robin Williams, though without the slight air of desperation. But understand this: Dave Grohl isn't doing this to win you over. Dave Grohl is doing this because instinctively, fundamentally, naturally, Dave Grohl is a Very Nice Man.
The reason for our meeting, of course, is both the upcoming Foo Fighters record and the band's appearance on the soundtrack to the movie 'Orange County' with stomping, glam-infused new track 'The One'.
"I think the Foo Fighters are finally comfortable as a band," says Dave Grohl. The singer is sitting on the sofa in one of the many rooms inside Conway Studios. Expensive black audio and television equipment is banked on the walls. Outside platinum discs commemorating a million sales of albums such as U2's 'Rattle and Hum', Marilyn Manson's 'Mechanical Animals' and - for it is true - Hole's 'Celebrity Skin' are mounted on the walls. "What I mean is that the two years of touring we did for the last record (1999's 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose'), which is an awful lot of touring, was the best thing we could ever have done. It was hard work and it was gruelling work, but because of it we became so much tighter that we finally became comfortable as a live band. We had never felt like that before. The last show we played in England - Leeds, I think it was - we were up in front of 50,000 people and I wasn't nervous at all. I was completely at ease. And that two years of touring is why I felt that way.
"That's the process we've tried to bring into this album. We want to bring the qualities we have as a live band into the studio. We're doing that in quite a laborious way, recording one instrument at a time, but that's what I hope the end result will be. The last album was loose and melodic, almost as a response or a reaction to the aggressive and tight metal that was all over the place at the time. On this record I think you'll hear more energy."
The latest Foo Fighters record is nearly finished, but not quite. Grohl has decided to take two weeks to write more songs, songs that will encompass a "dark, dissonant, creepy, romantic" side of the band that will add a balance the author feels is missing from the 14 tracks recorded so far. Inside the mixing room Grohl plays three finished songs at cranium denting volume. Two of these songs, 'All My Life' and 'Have It All' are first listen attention grabbers. 'Walking A Line', featuring background vocals from one Krist Novoselic, doesn't quite grab the ear in the same way. At least not with Grohl stood at your back, intimidating the bones from you.
Although Dave Grohl is correct to point up the energetic and combo effect captured in these new recordings, each song still offers the definite Foo Fighters feel. That is, honesty and melody.
"Sometimes I think, 'God, what am I doing?'," says Grohl. "I grew up listening to Black Flag and Motorhead and King Diamond and Trouble and Napalm Death and I just wrote this song full of melodies. It's weird, in the studio we can come up with a song that sounds like a Voivod tune and I'll still write a melody that makes it sound pretty. I just can't help it. I guess that's what we do."
Dave Grohl speaks of the time that Pat Smear was in the Foo Fighters. Smear, you may remember, was also a member of the LA punk band the Germs, whose singer Darby Crash died of a heroin overdose on the day before the murder of John Lennon. Grohl tells of how he never felt comfortable asking Smear about those days, partly for fear of making him feel old, but mostly out of awe and respect. Occasionally though, Pat Smear would tell a story about the old days, a story to which Grohl would listen with wide eyes and open mouth.
Well, what a coincidence. And what similarity. Dave Grohl does speak of Nirvana, but he glides into the subject of his own accord. You get the impression that Grohl will speak on the subject only if he chooses to, and that to wade in with a direct and obtrusive question would cause his mouth to snap shut like a mantrap. On this occasion it comes from speaking of his work with Queens Of The Stone Age. Grohl played drums on the band's forthcoming third album, 'Songs for the Deaf' - an album he describes as being so good "it will change the face of music" - and two weeks ago played an already legendary set with the band at the tiny and famous Troubador club, two miles west and one block north on Santa Monica Boulevard. It was the first time that Grohl had sat at the back of the stage for eight full years.
"That show was so important to me because it was the first time I'd played in a band since Nirvana," he says. "Because of the way that band ended, anything to do with Nirvana has now become somehow legendary. So people think of the studio where we recorded 'Nevermind' (Sound City in the San Fernando Valley) and consider it to be legendary. Which is stupid, it's just a fucking studio. But everything becomes spoken in these hushed tones. Like Kurt. Kurt's become a legend, but he was just a man."
"Is that strange for you?"
"Well, the way I relate to it - because I was the drummer in Nirvana, and because everything related to it somehow becoming legendary - people seem to consider me a legendary drummer. Let me tell you, I am not a great drummer, not by a long way. And so the gig with Queens was the most pressure I've felt in a long time. It was like I was playing in a great rock band with the weight of having been the drummer in another great band weighing on my shoulders.
"You know, the reason I didn't just join another band after Nirvana ended was because of the feeling I had a week ago playing in Queens Of The Stone Age, which was just the greatest feeling. And that's the feeling I needed. All of that bullshit that has to do with the urban myth of Nirvana," and here Grohl begins to speak in hushed, 'scary' movie trailer tones, "the band that imploded, the band that broke down, the band that ended in tragedy and despair. After going through all that chaos and misery and pain as it happened, having to go into a miserable situation again would have been a bad idea."
Dave Grohl, along with Krist Novoselic, is presently involved in a legal tussle with Kurt Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, over the rights to unreleased Nirvana music, a tussle which does nothing justice, least of all the music. It's a topic he's reluctant to broach.
"I don't know if I can talk about that," he says.
Not even in general terms? For example, are you tired of this dragging on?
"Well, I'm not a lawyer, so I don't deal with it on a day to day basis. But there are a few things that are a burden to me. It's unfortunate that the music is being held hostage..." and here Dave Grohl pauses "... to somthing..." and here Dave Grohl pauses again "...as dirty as..." and here Dave Grohl pauses again "...business and lawyers".
Are you tired of this feud?
I suppose it's past the point of calling Ms Love up to say, 'Look, this has gotten silly...'?
"Yes it has," he says. "But what are you gonna do? It's kind of out of our hands. All I can do is show up in court when I'm asked to and tell the truth. Krist and I have done nothing wrong. But there's stuff on the box set that's absolutely killer, and that's what's a drag. The people aren't getting to hear that stuff. The last song we ever wrote, 'You Know You're Right', is a trip, it's a fucking weird song; it's both beautiful and disturbing. It doesn't really give you a sense of closure. In fact, it makes you feel worse about the whole situation, which is weird... So I wish this box set would come out. Plus, there's stuff on there that I haven't even heard. I'm sure that when I hear it I'll be like 'What the fuck was that?'."
That, of course, was then, and this is now. At the top of this piece Dave Grohl claims to be as happy today as he has been for some time. But if there is a cloud in the Foo Fighters' otherwise blue sky then it may just come in the shape of Taylor Hawkins. Or maybe that cloud has passed, maybe the sky is blue and clear once more, and will remain so.
Last summer the Foo Fighters were booked into prestigious slots on the UK's festival circuit. These appearances were cancelled after Hawkins collapsed with what was then described as 'exhaustion'; a euphanism guaranteed to leave a vacuum in which questions will be asked and rumours will be built. Taylor Hawkins, sat on a sofa picking at spicy food which tomorrow will leave him with food poisoning, knows this. He also knows I'm going to ask him about last August and what actually happened.
"I don't party anymore," he says. "As I'm sure you were about to ask."
On this subject Hawkins dances like a pair of bare pink feet on furiously hot sand. He's willing to talk but he's uncertain. He's not blowing smoke in my eyes, just that he appears genuinely unsure as to how much he should reveal. This isn't something Taylor Hawkins has scripted. This is not something he's prepared in advance. He moves and fidgets like Woody Allen on fast forward picture search.
"I'm willing to talk about this," he says. "But there are some things that should remain private."
There were a lot of rumours whipping around at the time. Shall I tell you the one I heard?
I heard that you took three grams of cocaine, suffered serious heart trouble - this may even have been a heart attack - and that you were rushed to hospital. In hospital you were seriously ill for three days. About to ring death's doorbell, in fact.
"No, that's not true," says Hawkins, spilling the words in a weighted mixture of humour and contempt. "It wasn't cocaine, but it was drugs. I don't want to say what kind."
Was it heroin?
"It was not heroin," he says, irratated but not unkind. "I was addicted to painkillers. That was my addiction."
What kind of painkillers?
"Just fucking painkillers, okay? It doesn't matter what they were; all that matters is that I had a problem with them. It was a situation that had gotten out of control for me. That's all. And last summer I took too many of them and I went into a coma for two days. It was very serious. I've been into rehab and I've cleaned up. It's all in the past. It's over now and I've come through what happened. End of story."
Do you remember going into the coma? Do you remember any of this happening?
"No I don't," he says. "But, believe me, I'm not proud of what happened. I don't want to celebrate it and I don't want to dwell on it. I'm happy to clear up what happened but that's it. It ends there. I can see why you're asking me about it, because if the roles were reversed I'd ask you about it. It's something that people want to know about, and in other situations I'd want to know about it too. People love this kind of story. But it's such a cliche. Member of a rock band - the drummer of a rock band, no less - takes too many drugs, becomes ill, has to go into rehab. If you spell it out like that it's just so embarrasing. It's so obvious."
Half an hour later Taylor Hawkins is posing for photographs with Dave Grohl in the lavish greenery in the gardens and pathways of Conway Studios. I wander out to watch the shoot. Hawkins sees me, lifts his arm, points his index finger and yells: "Nosy bastard!"
Thank god, he's smiling.
And that, really, is that. Everything else seems to point to the future. While Dave Grohl may speak of his band as a combo, as a group, it's really his personality which tells the most fascinating story.
After the demise of Nirvana, Grohl, untested and untried, emerged blinking into the spotlight with a venture called the Foo Fighters. Behind him lay the wreckage and carnage of one of the finest rock 'n' roll bands of the last 50 years, a band who even in their own time were regarded with massive awe and volcanic acclaim. And Grohl - the drummer - unveiled his creation and announced his role in it to be the same as Kurt Cobain's in Nirvana; a man, again, who even when alive and healthy - that is, before the rot of romance had taken hold - had been regarded (correctly) as a creative genius.
It's testament not only to Grohl's courage but also to his talent that years later we're here in West Hollywood talking to the man in the present tense, a testament to his skill and identity that people like his music and sense the integrity within his personality. In Nirvana, Dave Grohl was in a great band; in the Foo Fighters he's in an extremely good one. But the signposts are pointing in a forward direction. And the shadow cast by his old band never spoils his day.
And this is something to write home about.
"After Kurt died I realised that you can't take anything for granted," says Dave Grohl. "The fact that you get to wake up tomorrow and experience another day. Regardless of whether that day may be the worst day of your life, you still get to have that day. So since Kurt died I've felt really fortunate, even in being alive. As in 'God, I'm lucky to be alive'. A lot of people don't think like that. A lot of people don't seem to realise that they're alive. But, for me, it could all end today and I would consider myself the luckiest person I know.
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