Riders On The Storm

Kerrang! 2005
'Aren't you the guy from QOTSA?'  'Almost.'

In the past three years Foo Fighters have survived bust-ups, doomed political crusades and the temporary defection of their singer, songwriter and founder. Now they're coming back with not one album, but two...

The band talk to K writer Morat The long white corridor at studio 606 has to be seen to be believed - and even then you'd probably stand gawping for half an hour. Admittedly, most reputable recording studios have a gold disc or two, maybe the odd platinum disc on the wall. But at Studio 606, there are literally dozens upon dozens of discs, both gold and platinum, from all corners of the Earth. Germany, New Zealand, Japan, everywhere And while they are dedicated to various bands (there's Nirvana, there's Queens Of The Stone Age, there's Tenacious D and over there are some platinum Foo Fighters discs), all of them have been presented to just one man - the man who is currently giving us a guided tour of the place. That man is jack of all trades, and, apparently, master of them all too. His name is Dave Grohl.
  "I've never had a place to put all this stuff because it always seemed funny to have it in the house," ponders Grohl as we pause in front of his favourite, the first Nirvana gold disc. "Most of the older Nirvana ones are at my mother's house."
As he explains when he continues the tour, his band Foo Fighters bought the 8,000 square foot building in the San Fernando Valley suburbs of Los Angeles about six months ago and have spent the past three and a half months turning it into their dream studio, even pitching in with the manual labour, getting their hands dirty.
  It's a work in progress and you have to employ a little imagination here and there, the lounge area being an empty white room at the moment and some of the sound booths being used for storage space. But they are rightly proud of their achievement.
  "I honestly think we've managed to make one of the top 10 studios in Los Angeles," beams Grohl. And when Dave says 'we' he means Foo Fighters as a band: drummer Taylor Hawkins, guitarist Chris Shiflett, bassist Nate Mendel and Dave Grohl This is very much the Foo Fighters' place; their baby. A long-term investment that is already starting to pay off.

Dave Grohl: the Homer Simpson years "WE'VE ALWAYS wound up recording everyone of our albums at least twice because we fuck it up the first time usually because we're not ready to go into the studio," confesses Grohl. "The second album was recorded twice; the third album we recorded three or four versions of every song before we settled on the final ones and the last album was recorded twice. So we basically thought we'd make the new record here..."
  ".. And save a million dollars!" laughs Hawkins.
  "But of course," adds Shiflett, "you'll never know if it isn't the first version.. because it's our studio, so we can just pretend."
Not that Foo Fighters aren't prepared for their fifth - as yet untitled - album. Where previous records have been written in the three or four months between tours, this latest opus has been a year in the writing and will, when it's finished, be a double CD, one rock, the other acoustic. There is even talk of doing separate rock and acoustic shows.
  "One of the things we're trying to do with this album," says Grohl, "is keep things simplified and keep some sort of spontaneity. It's not rocket science, but there's a lot of songs on this album that could be over orchestrated. We've got 19 songs to finish before Christmas before we start on the acoustic record and I almost look forward to the acoustic record as the next Foo Fighters record because the rock stuff is something we've done before"
  Given the unusual nature of their record deal (Foo Fighters record for their own label and licence the recordings to other labels) Grohl insists that he feels no weight of expectation.
  "For me, the biggest pressure is to make the shows better and have better songs so people will have a better time," he insists.
  But do they aim for a specific 'Foo Fighters sound'?
  "Well, we have a lot of different sounds, which I think has been the foundation of all of our records," counters Grohl "But then you start wondering, 'What is Foo Fighters? Is it just one thing or should it be any kind of music made by any member of the band?'. And I kind of lean towards that. I used to get caught up with worrying that something shouldn't go on the record because it doesn't sound like anything we've ever done before, but that kind of runs you into a rut and you end up getting trapped in one particular sound for the rest of your life.
  "The idea of doing a double album sounds pretentious, but one of the ideas behind doing that was to cut out that middle ground We have songs that are loud and obnoxious, and we have songs that are beautiful acoustic ballads and trying to fit those two things on the same album is tricky. I thought I'd make it easier on everybody so we can go further in each direction without it sounding strange"

AS YET, still, there is no finished music. A chart on the wall with a column for each track shows only the drum parts completed But since the first version probably isn't the one you'll hear on the record it would be pointless to offer an opinion yet anyway Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dave gets the final say on which version comes out.
 'They've seen to much.  Sieze them!''   "It's all Dave," says Taylor "They're Dave's songs so really he has to have the final say. I can't have the final say on a song that I didn't write, but we all work on the song together and help arrange it."
  "I don't think there's ever been a time, at least as long as I've been in the band, that there was ever a strong feeling against using whatever final version came about," adds Chris.
  "It's usually pretty obvious," agrees Dave. "I mean, if you were to listen to the original version of our last record we wouldn't be sitting here talking about a new album right now When I go back and listen to that original version it just sounds wrong. I'm sure there's a lot of bands who go into the studio and magic happens right off the bat, but I think with the new music that we're doing here we've proven to ourselves that we're at our best when we've really worked and prepared something to its full potential. I can hear the album in my head now; I can imagine the album, whereas that doesn't happen with any record we've made before until it's almost finished.
  Like I said, it's impossible to comment on the new record without hearing any of it, but you can't help wondering if Grohl has been influenced by outside Foo Fighters, most notably with his side-project Probot and his work on Killing Joke's self-titled album: Foo Fighters seemed to suddenly get a lot heavier, particularly on tracks like 'All My Life', after Grohl had played drums for QOTSA.
  "I think with the last record the one thing that influenced me from being with Queens Of The Stone Age was just my love of sheer volume," allows Dave. "So that came up on the last record a bit more than it may have had I not done that. With this album, with us having toured for a year and a half with a set-list that were screamers every night, it made me realise that that's what I love to do and sometimes that's what we're best at. This album's a collection of music that we wanna play every night and we tried to do that with the last record, but it only happened with five or six songs."

SPEAKING OF Queens, there were very strong rumours that Foo Fighters were over and that Dave would be joining QOTSA on a permanent basis Anyone lucky enough to witness Grohl playing for them, as I did at the one-off Troubadour show, could see that he was in his element. It was his first time behind a drum kit since Nirvana and he was enjoying every moment of it. Maybe a little too much... How worried were the rest of Foo Fighters at that point?
  "There was a moment of like, 'Oh well, that's over'," admits Hawkins. "We'd done that first version of the last record and it didn't work, so we were like, 'Do we have another good Foo Fighters record in us?' "But the moment for me, when I knew it was gonna be okay, was Coachella festival - Dave got up onstage and was just the best front man in the world. He has to play drums because that's what he is first and foremost in a way, but as soon as we played that gig I knew Dave had to do this, too."
  Shiflett: "Yeah, at the rehearsals for Coachella we had a big argument blowout.."
  Hawkins "Well, me and Dave did!"
  Shiflett: "Yeah, but we got to sit and listen!"
  Grohl: (To Kerrang!) "Have you seen 'Some Kind Of Monster'?"
'Those? Oh, I keep meaning to take them to the car boot sale''   Shiflett: "I think the only person who didn't think it was gonna be the end was Dave!"
There is a brief expectant pause, the merest glimmer as all eyes turn to Grohl.
  "Welllll.." says Grohl, and then it all comes out like some weird confession Grohl speaks slowly, but barely pauses for breath.
  "There was a moment when I thought 'Well, that was fun and we've had a good run at the thing' I've always thought that bands shouldn't last forever, there's always an expiration date. So, yeah, for a minute I thought we should call it quits and end it on a high note But there's a lot more to being in a band than just being in a band. It's such a big part of your life and at that time the band was our life and it had been my life for eight or nine years. I know it's a clichéd analogy, but it's like a marriage, an unspoken foundation, and it's something you know you rely on Even if you're not there doing it every day just knowing it's there in the back of your mind sort of props you up and keeps you going.
"When I was out with QOTSA I felt like I was losing some of that and it didn't feel right; I didn't feel solid or balanced," Grohl continues. "To met the band is more than just making records. The studio represents what I love about the band because we can hide away and shut ourselves off from the outside world. Even if we don't go out on tour for a year and we don't see each other every day, I really feel like some of my closest friends are the guys in the band. I don't go looking for new friends or new family because I have them here. Playing with Queens was great and I've known those guys for a long time, but if there's any band that you can dip your toes into and then run away it's QOTSA."
  Clearly the rest of the band are hearing this for the first time.
  "It's always funny when we do an interview because these are the times when we get to actually hear what people felt about things," says Hawkins finally. "I mean, we talk but you don't say, 'So, how did you feel when Dave went off to do Queens?'. It's almost like therapy!"
He pauses Smiles.
  "Do you wanna be our life coach?"

'Tear these down, we need more gold discs, mwahahaha' BUT IF one thing is abundantly clear it's that Foo Fighters are in no need of therapy or a life coach. Sure, Dave is the most talkative of the four and there's a natural tendency to aim questions at him, but you always get the feeling he's putting across the collective viewpoint rather than just his own. For instance, when Dave talks about supporting the John Kerry campaign in the recent disastrous US elections, he is very obviously speaking for the band as a whole.
  "I went out on the John Kerry campaign and tried to help them out because I really believed in getting Bush out of office." says Grohl. "And it was really inspirational because you'd see tens of thousands of people gathered together with the common idea and will to make things better. We did a lot of stuff with the campaign, just travelling around through Middle America and seeing people who really needed to be rescued."
  In what way?
  "There's hundreds of ways," says Grohl. "From trying to get their kids home from war, to figuring out some sort of healthcare system, to trying to get married But rather than focus on the specifics it's just that simple need or passion to make change and make things better I'm not a political person, but I was moved by a lot of what's happened in the last year and a lot of the lyrics on the new record have to do with passion and courage and fighting the good fight, standing up for things you believe in. But in a roundabout way It's not a political record It has more to do with human reaction to what happened before and after the election. It's more personal politics"
  Naturally, Foo Fighters weren't exactly chuffed on November 3rd when they discovered that Bush had just been given another four years in office.
 'What's over here then?  More gold discs you say?  And they're all mine? Fan-fucking-tastic!'   "We were all pretty upset," says Grohl, frowning. "That was a bad day. One of the things I thought was that if Bush gets re-elected the first thing we'll do is riot, smash shit up and make a big statement and that our songs would be angry Rage Against The Machine ballads.
  "But then I thought that if there's anything people would want to listen to then it would be songs with some sort of message of hope or positivity. Pissed off as I am, you have to deal with what you've got"
  "It's gotta get a lot worse before people realise that they've got to put aside their religious beliefs or whatever for a better life," reckons Shiflett. "When your children can't breathe and you can't eat the fish out of America's lakes and you don't have a job, then maybe you'll realise how bad these people are!"
  But do they think music can change anything?
  "Some of my fledgling political ideas came from music," says Mendel quietly - it's the first and only time he speaks during the interview "I learned a lot of my philosophies from punk rock when I was growing up or I felt a solidarity with them because there was a sense of community there I learned a shitload from Crass."
  "Maybe it's not music changing something," shrugs Hawkins, "but younger people are far more tolerant. If you look at the breakdown in this last election, the youth of America were the only ones that voted in favour of Kerry by a pretty wide margin. So as those people grow up, in 20 or 30 years it will be a very different culture we live in."

FOO FIGHTERS seem to exude this kind of optimism and confidence. Perhaps it's because Hawkins has recently got engaged and Shiflett has had a baby (well, his partner has...), but everything about them seems to be forward looking right now In March 2002 a Kerrang! cover story quoted Dave Grohl saying he was happier than he had been for as long as he could remember. And now?
  "I'm happier now than I was then!" he beams. "Because with every record we've ever made I always imagined that it would be our last album! I always thought that would have been enough Having done the whole Nirvana thing, gone out and done Foo Fighters records and played with people like Queens and done all the things that I've done, I thought it would be enough and I could then begin a normal life."
How did you figure that one?
"I don't know!" he laughs - one of those, 'What was I thinking?' laughs again.
"I thought one of these days this is just gonna stop and everything will be fine and I can look back on everything I've done and be really happy I wouldn't stop making music, but I'd stop playing the game and stay at home!
  "I've always imagined that," Grohl says, slipping back into that weirdly intimate confessional mode he has" And I've almost even wanted it like, 'When is this just gonna fucking end?' I mean, when you go to a festival and the headliners are 22 years old and they come up to you and go, 'You were my first concert!' it's a weird feeling! One of the reasons I felt like that was because the band was my whole life and I was trying to have a life outside, but in the last couple of years we started to figure out how to make the band a part of your life rather than your entire life.
  "I think that's what can make it last, so now I can imagine making albums for a long time to come."
Something tells me Studio 606 is going to need a bigger corridor...

Words: Mörat   Pics: Lisa Johnson

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