We Have Lift-Off!
Foo Fighters are set to bounce back with a new album. We pull up a sunlounger with Dave Grohl in California to discuss Kurt Cobain, drugs, selling out and his very metal side-project...
Its not as if the fourth Foo Fighters album and bouncing like a ponce on a trampoline have been the only thing on Dave’s mind. He’s been actively in a number of other projects, from the upcoming debut album by Yank comedy duo Tenacious D, to the long-gestating Probot project. The latter is a hoot, finding the drummer-turned-guitarist collaborating with a who’s-who or, to many of the Foo Fighters’ mainstream fans, just, who? - of obscure underground heavy metal singers.
"It started in Jan of 2000," Dave says of the Probot’s beginnings. "I’d called Adam Kasper, who produced and recorded our last record, to come to Virginia, because I wanted to record some heavy stuff."
He says heavy with a certain glee. Early that same year, Grohl had been on a promotional tour of radio and TV shows, endlessly strumming his pleasantly lightweight song ‘Learn to Fly’ on an acoustic guitar for days and weeks on end. Something had to give and it was Dave’s patience.
"It was the song on the record that I liked the least, our most middle-of-the-road song," he sighs. "I like the song, its fine, but after four fucking months, I was thinking, ‘What am I doing with my life?!?’ I just felt like, goddamn it, I gotta get back in the studio just to prove to myself that I can do something else other than AM-radio, alternative McDonald’s pop."
"So," he continues, "I started writing these things. I didn’t know what I was doing they didn’t sound like Foo Fighters song to me."
After 7 of these heavy, dark and very fast metal songs had been completed, Dave was invited to sing on Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi’s self-titled solo album. Seeing how Iommi had recorded 12 tracks with different singers, much like Carlos Santana on his smash-hit album ‘Supernatural’, Grohl decided to put his own spin on the Probot project. The album would only feature singers from underground metal bands circa 1984 through 1990. Phone calls went out to the legendary and the semi-legendary, from King Diamond to Danish headbangers Mercyful Fate to Wino, of Maryland’s The Obsessed and Spirit Caravan.
"I went about trying to choose my favourite vocalists who happened to be from that genre at that time," Dave says. "I love people like King Diamond and Snake from Voivod."
With the aid of his friend Matt Sweeney- of the alt-rock band Chavez Dave started to send out the songs to his heroes.
"The first people we sent them to were Snake and Eric Wagner," Dave recalls with a shy smile. "I was expecting both of them to say, ‘No way. That guy from the fucking airplane video?’. But every person we have contacted has said, ‘Sounds great, give us the tape’. It was easier than I thought it would be."
Dave then developed 5 more instrumental songs, for a total of 12 prime cuts.
"It’s been just a field day for me to do that, he says. Because I’ve never played music like that in a band before. I was either in a hardcore band, or I was in a trippy, sort-of-Dinosaur-Jr band, or I was in Nirvana. Or this band. I was never in a band that went chu-chu-chu-chu-chu, you know?"
There is no release date planned for Probot nor does it have a label yet. Grohl has yet to finalise the tracks sent to Soulfly’s Max Cavalera, Slayer’s TomAraya, Philip Anselmo of Pantera or Lemmy of who else? Motorhead. But he does play Kerrang! Three songs over Taylor’s living room stereo. ‘Ice Cold Man’ is a seven-minute doom opus led by the howls of Cathedral’s Lee Dorrian. The drums are authentically Dave Grohl, but he’s playing metal no two ways around it.
Likewise ‘Access Babylon’ finds Corrosion Of Comformity bassist Mike Dean screaming his way through 2 mins of thrash, and the third song, ‘Sweet Dreams’, is simply pure evil. On that one, King Diamond screeches around the jagged, old school riffage like a drunken vampire bat.
"I didn’t tell any of them what to do," Dave explains, after the music subsides. "I left it up to them. But King Diamond did exactly what I thought he would do. He told me he’s singing about creeping in your dreams at night to steal your soul, so that he can pay his way out of Hell."
Dave Grohl, acclaimed rock superstar, rolls on his back giggling like a little kid.
"It’s fucking awesome!"
CHRIS SHIFLETT and Nate Mendel have gone home for the day. Taylor and his female companion are debating whether they want Chinese food or Pizza. Yesterday, the entire band hired a limousine to take the 200 miles up the California coastline to Santa Barbara, where they caught the reformed Jane’s Addiction playing their first show in 5 years.
Dave has mentioned his dislike of LA before. He lived here for a while, moving down south from Seattle after his first marriage dissolved. But he allows the Topanga is actually pretty nice, saying that one doesn’t "feel like your in Los Angeles there".
"When I lived in LA, I lived in Laurel Canyon right of Sunset Boulevard," he says. "And I had a great house, and I had my nice little world there, but I was really kind of close to all of the bullshit."
He says that being at the Jane’s concert unearthed some of those unpleasant feelings.
"I hadn’t seen them play in 10 years, and I was so excited.... and there was a lot of fucked-up shit surrounding that scene the other night. They’re beautiful people, and a great band, but..." He pauses. "But there’s drugs and the scene, and... I don’t know."
As a kid raised in Washington DC’s hardcore punk scene, Grohl finds it hard to accept the pre-packaged bands he sees crawling out of California. Now that he’s based in Virginia, close to the scene he left in the early ‘90s to join Nirvana, he feels rejuvenated.
"When I’m there in Washington and I see little local bands playing there, I feel really good about music. When I see Rocket From The Crypt play in Washington, I go home mesmerised. There’s something about LA where the music is beside the point."
We discuss how he was lucky enough to have been a witness to two of the great American rock cities of the last 25 years; first, as a youth in the nation’s capitol, then as a drummer in the Seattle scene’s most famous band. He agrees enthusiastically detailing how such DC bands as the Bad Brains and Rites Of Spring was electrifying to him, though he never felt part of the city’s famed ‘straight-edge’ movement.
"I took mushrooms and drank oil cans of Foster’s every weekend!" he grins. "I had never really intended on moving to Seattle."
Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins had informed him that Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana were looking for a drummer, and had been impressed by his performance at a show by his band, Scream.
"I had no idea what Seattle was all about," Dave confesses. "But then I went up there to see a Nirvana show, and they had drawn like 1500 kids or something, and it was really like a Fugazi show. Fugazi were the only other local, small band that could draw that many kids. It was amazing, and you could tell something was happening."
DOWN IN Taylor’s studio, a piece of paper taped to the floor bears a few temporary Foo Fighters song titles: ‘Tom Petty’, ‘Knucklehead’, ‘Spooky Tune’, ‘Full Mount’, ‘Lonely Is You’, and ‘Tears For Beers’. Dave says that there aren’t any lyrics written for any of the new songs.
"I was talking to Taylor today about how I think it’s a good idea that we really take our time on this record," says Dave. "But we’ve been on a roll. We’re trying to figure out when and where, but it’s just coming so quickly that we’re all really satisfied."
He says that the new songs are coming out louder and heavier than previous efforts.
"All of those songs on the last album were written on acoustic guitars, even ‘Breakout’ and ‘Stacked Actors’. A lot of this stuff that we’ve been writing now has been written with everything on 11!"
Chris, who joined the Foos after ‘TINLTL’ had been completed, is swiftly finding his niche in the band.
"We have guitar leads on our songs now!" Dave laughs. "And that’s Shiflett, not me! We have this new fast song that we decided to give to Shiflett for a lead break. We were recording live in the room down there, and I can’t really hear Shiflett’s amp. When I went back and listened, he was shredding this fucking ‘Yngwie’ lead!"
Dave shakes his head in bewilderment.
"I was like, ‘Oh my God! Who are you? I didn’t know you could do that!."
TALK TURNS to the recent death of punk pioneer Joey Ramone. At 32, Dave Grohl is an older punk rocker than many, but the heart that beats inside him still pumps with an uncompromising pulse.
"The last famous rock and rollers you’d expect to live long would be the punks," he reasons. "But I had no idea that Joey was 50 years old. To me, he always seemed to be still at ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll High School’, you know?"
"There’s a stubborn side to me. Once my mind’s made up, I can’t change it. From the time I was 13 years old, my love for music and its integrity has stood pretty strong."
He takes a drag on his cigarette and exhales. The sun is now fading from sight, behind a mountain.
This band is a weird example. We’re four people who came from hardcore bands, or from the underground scene. And it’s hard for us to say we’ve maintained every shred of integrity we had when we were 14 years old. But at the same time, I feel my passion is just as valid as it was then.
"We go play festivals for 40,000 people, and there’s beer tents all over the place. If I was at a Dead Kennedys show in 1983 and saw them, I’d think it was bullshit. But there are things that we will absolutely not do: We have been asked to give our songs to commercials, and although we sold one to a TV show (‘Next Year’ is the theme tune to the US sitcom, ‘Ed’), that was a real big deal for this band. We even waited 5 years before going on an arena tour, because we didn’t feel our ideas would translate."   It’s rare to find a rock star as down-to-earth as Grohl. He doesn’t seem to have a trace of arrogance, and his enthusiasm for his favourite bands knows no bounds. He loves the newest Sepultura album, ‘Nation’ ("They’re doing the fast stuff again!" he rejoices.) and when he plays his Tenacious D tracks, Grohl sits, cross-legged in front of Taylor’s stereo, like a teenager playing his records on his parent’s turntable.
He claims that when people on the street recognise him, they never seem to treat him or his band as so-called ‘rock stars’
"People usually just say hi," he shrugs. "It’s because, I hope, that they see us as people. Very normal, down-to-earth people."
When Dave was in Nirvana, he could practically walk around everywhere unnoticed.
"It was the greatest job in the world," he smiles. "I was in this band that was selling millions of records, but I could still go to a show and no-one would really recognise me. I never got hassled, but I had all the perks of being in a huge band."
There is another pause. He sighs.
"It was unfortunate that Kurt had to go through the exact opposite of what I did."
Nirvana is, and will always be, a difficult topic for Dave Grohl. He has always avoided speaking about Kurt Cobain.
"I think that for someone like Kurt, whom millions of tortured kids related to, it was difficult for him to live his own life," says his former band mate. "And going through that whole experience, seeing what he was going through, and being entirely on the opposite end of the spectrum, living in complete anonymity, fortunately, I got to stand back and spot the pitfalls: ‘That’s bad over there, and that’s bullshit’. I felt for him, and for anyone else in that situation."
He stretches his arms over his head.
"With the Foo Fighters, the whole thing has been so gradual. It’s been almost 10 years since ‘Nevermind’ came out, so it’s been 10 years of playing shows, and being on MTV, and making videos, and being recognised. Since it’s been gradual, I don’t really have a problem with it. I can see how it’s strange, but at the same time, it’s not really. What I do is almost like a job."
Does he think he’s immune to the darker ‘perks’ of the job? He nods vigorously.
"I don’t lead an extravagant life. I’m very simple and very mellow. There are people who became rock stars because they want to be fucking rock stars... and those are the ones who are really good at it, getting fucked-up and getting into fights.
"Like I said, I’m too stubborn to change my mind. I’m not going to stick my face in a pile of coke because I think that it’s cool, and it will make my band seem even more rocking." He allows himself a small grin at the absurdity of his thought. "That’s a ridiculous example, but..."
THE STUDIO that Taylor built is once again closing up for the night. It’s getting late, and Dave’s getting itchy to get going with the rest of his evening. Downstairs, someone strikes a snare drum, loud enough to jolt the dogs, who had been cosily sleeping on the living room sofa, to their feet.
The Foo Fighters are about to soar once again. Dave admits that he and Taylor are practically besides themselves in anticipation of working on the new tracks with an outside producer, and releasing the album this summer.
"Taylor said to me that this new stuff is the kind of music he’s always wanted to play in a band," says Dave. "There’s freaky time-signatures, it’s fucking fast, it’s loud, and some of it’s even tuned-down really low, but it also has a great melody to it."
Get ready for lift-off.
Words: Joshua Sindell
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