How To Write A Rock Anthem


On the eve of the biggest Foo Fighters gigs ever, Dave Grohl explains how he penned some of the most explosive rock songs of all time.

The band - LA 2006 Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl is a happy man. Not that we don't usually find 'the nicest man in rock' in good spirits, but today he's so chilled that - despite the temperature outside nudging 90 degrees - you could stick him in your drink and call him an ice cube. Band rehearsals at the Foos' 606 studio in Los Angeles have just finished for the day, Dave's new Harley Davidson Road King sits gleaming outside to take him home and, as it turns out, he has a particularly good reason for wanting to go there.
  "I had a baby girl," he beams with pride. "Her name is Violet Maye Grohl, she was 61bs 15 oz, she's got blue eyes, dark hair and she's fucking cute. She's six weeks old and she's already smiling and laughing.
  "I spend hours upon hours just talking to her," he continues, unable to stop himself. "It's kind of embarrassing, I think she's gonna look like her mother and act like me, which is fucking trouble!"
  Is it weird being a father?
  "No it feels completeiy natural," Grohl smiles. "I've wanted a child for a long time. I can change a diaper in fucking five seconds, but the first couple I was fumbling and got shit all over myself!"
  So other than getting covered in baby poo, what else has you been up to?
  "Basically just rehearsals for our acoustic tour. It seems like I've joined a new band because it's very different to anything we've ever done. Plus we have an extended band, including a keyboard player, a violinist, and Pat Smear (Foo Fighters founding member and one-time Nirvana touring guitarist) playing guitar. It's like our own little mini orchestra. The few times that I've played acoustic by myself it's been really moving and we're trying to capture those moments throughout the set."
  But before they go all quiet on us, there's some serious rocking out to do. This weekend Foo Fighters play the biggest shows of their career. The first of these Kerrang!-sponsored mega-gigs, at London's Hyde Park, will be witnessed by a staggering 85,000 people - that's 20,000 more people than were at Download last weekend. It promises to be a rock 'n' roll party of epic proportions. So we thought it'd be cool if Mr Grohl gave us the lowdown on some of the classic songs they might be playing and exactly what they mean to him.

A lot of people regard this as your best song. Where were you when you wrote it'?
"We started working on our second album, 'The Color And The Shape' in October and November of '96. We recorded at a studio just outside Seattle that was a converted barn and you could stay in the house. Behind it there was this creek that had salmon jumping in it. It was beautiful but you were really isolated, outside town by about 45 minutes. So I was staying out there and while I was there my ex-wife and I split up."
So Everlong' came together at that point?
"Not quite. We took a break for Christmas, so I went back to Virginia by myself. I took the rough tracks of what we'd done and it didn't seem right. The album had something missing. But I had this one riff that I originally thought was a Sonic Youth rip off, but I decided it might be good to turn it into a song. When I brought it to our producer Gil Norton, he said, 'That's greatl Let's put it on the album!'"
Did you know it would be a classic?
"I knew it was a cool song, but I didn't think it would be the one song by which most people recognise the band. And I think it was the first time people had ever quoted lyrics to me, like, 'That song is beautiful! That line where you say 'Breath out so I can breath you in .. .'' Chicks would come up and recite that to me. That song's about a girl that I'd fallen in love with and it was basically about being connected to someone so much, that not only do you love them physically and spiritually, but when you sing along with them you harmonise perfectly."

This was your big comeback single last year.
"'Best Of You' is funny because we demoed so many songs for 'In Your Honor', I'd kind of forgotten about 'Best Of You'. I thought we could do better. So it was shelved and it was our manager who came in and said, 'What happened to that 'Best Of You' song?'. So we pulled it out and worked on it a little more. A lot of the songs just start with riffs and melodies and the lyrics come last, but the lyrics came pretty quickly on this one."
What's it about?
"I'd just come off the John Kerry campaign trail (the Presidential candidate defeated by George Bush in 2004), where I was playing acoustically at his rallies, so I started writing all these songs about breaking away from the things that confine you. Most people think it's a love song but it's meant to be more universal, which I think is one of the reasons so many people sing along when we play it.
  "That's another song that I was like, 'Yeah, that's all right I guess', but it has a rhythm that we'd never really used on any of the other albums and that's the kind of thing that breaks up records for me, the sequence of an album."

It's one of your most anthemic songs. How did it come about?
"'All My Life' was originally an instrumental and it went through a few different versions. At first it was really dissonant and noisy. The middle section sounded like 'Wipeout' (The Surfaris). It was just nuts! We recorded the instrumental and I had no idea how I was gonna sing it. Again, that was another one that our manager said, 'That's the song!'. And we said 'Really? You think that's the one people will like?'"
It's pretty heavy.
"We'd always wanted to get a song like that on the radio because up until that point we were coming out with 'Learn To Fly' and 'Next Year' and other songs that had middle-of-the-road melodies. The funny thing is that as a band I have mountains of riffs that are reminiscent of everything I grew up listening to from Black Sabbath to Mercyful Fate or whatever. I grew up listening to that, but the rest of the guys didn't and a lot of the time I'd take a riff and I'd think, 'That's fucking bad ass!' and try to turn it into a Foo Fighters song and it wouldn't necessarily work."
A lot of people assumed it was inspired by your time drumming for Queens Of The Stone Age.
"Not really, because the song was written a long time before I was with Queens. But having played with Queens, my love of aggressive music was intensified. I was like, 'Fuck, let's take things a little further!'."
What's it about?
"Well, the middle section is about eating pussy and the verses are kind of vague. That's all you've gotta know!"

What kind of hero were you thinking of?
"Heroes are a funny thing. When I was young I had KISS posters and I listened to Rush and thought the Beatles were magicians. But the real heroes in my life were people that I was close to. Pete Stahl who was the singer of Scream (Grohl's pre-Nirvana band) was one. I was 17 years old when we hit the road and that guy showed me the ropes, so to me he was a hero. And family members mom's a saint. She raised two kids with no money and we managed to be a happy family, so she seems like a hero to me."
Did Kurt Cobain figure in your thinking at all?
"After Kurt died, the whole idea of hero worship or idolatry warped into something I thought was strange. You take a human being and you turn them into a deity. It's really bizarre. I remember I was driving around Ireland when I was trying to get away from that whole fiasco after Kurt died. I was in the middle of nowhere and it was beautiful. But then I was driving down a country road and I saw a hitch hiker with a Kurt Cobain t-shirt on so my perception of a hero kind of changed. If you listen to the lyrics to the song it's all about an ordinary hero. Just a regular person."

This was the first Foo Fighters track most of us ever heard What do you remember about it?
"It was written in my basement in Seattle just after Nirvana had finished. In that summer of 1994 I'd travelled a lot; I think I wrote 'This Is A Call' in Ireland. When I got back I booked five days in a recording studio, which seemed like an eternity, and I did the whole first Foo Fighters album in five days.
  "'This Is A Call' just seemed iike a nice way to open the album, y'know, 'This is a call to all my past resignations...' I felt like I had nothing to lose and i didn't necessariiy wanna be the drummer of Nirvana for the rest of my life without Nirvana. I thought I should try something I'd never done before and I'd never stood up in front of a band and been the lead singer, which was fucking horrifying and still is!"

It's probably the catchiest song you've ever written.
"I remember I had the riff for 'Monkey Wrench', but I didn't have the little jangly riff that goes over the top of it and I thought it needed something. So I came up with the jangly riff and thought, 'Oh my God, this is never gonna fly! Everyone's gonna hate it!' But I was really excited the first time I heard it on the radio.
  "A lot of people at the record company wanted 'Everlong' to be the first single, but I didn't think it was rocking enough and I didn't wanna make too much of a jump. We'd just come out of 'I'll Stick Around' and 'This Is A Call' and I thought, let's give them something upbeat first so that they know our feet are still planted in the same place. The first time 1 heard it on the radio was in the middle of a load of mid-'90's grunge shit and I thought it was so killer!"
Is it another song about your ex-wife?
"Yeah, well 'Monkey Wrench' is about living with someone and feeling like you're living in a fucking cell. A dysfunctional relationship that's bound to fail. And then I wound up getting a divorce ... "

You've been very dismissive about this track in the past.
"'Learn To Fly' is a funny phase in this band's history because I think the third record ('There Is Nothing Left To Lose', 1997) might be my favourite album that we've ever done. I'd been livi ng in Los Angeles for about a year and a half, just being a drunk, getting fucked up every night and doing horrible shit, and I'd finally got sick of that. I was like, 'I've gotta go back to Virginia or I'll fucking die in this place'. So I bought this great house in Virginia and told everyone I was building a studio in the basement. It was literally a basement with sleeping bags on the walls!"
It was definitely your least 'rock' album up to that point.
"At the time the nu-metal thing had become huge with Korn and Limp Bizkit so the dynamic of popular rock music had become so caveman! I thought, let's write some songs. I'm sick of screaming and I'm sick of my distortion pedal! So that album is a really clean record and it's totally based on melody. Lyrically it was all about just settling in to the next phase of your life, that place where you can sit back and relax because there had been so much crazy shit in the past three years. At that point it was me and Taylor (Hawkins, drumsl and Nate (Mendel, bass) and we were best friends. It was one of the most relaxing times of my whole life. All we did was eat chilli, drink beer and whiskey and record whenever we felt like it."
How do you feel about those songs now? "When I listen to that record it totally brings me back to that basement. I remember how it smelled and how it was in the spring so the windows were open and we'd do vocals until you could hear the birds through the microphone. And more than any record I've ever done, that album does that to me."

After Best Of You' this sounded like a return to the 'classic' Foo Fighters sound.
"I love that song and the record company wanted it be the first single, but to me it sounded too much like a Foo Fighters song. That song's kind of our signature sound and I was afraid that if we were to release that right off the bat then it was too safe and predictable.
Where did the inspiration come from?
"'No Way Back' is another song that I wrote right off the John Kerry campaign trail. It has a lot to do with feeling controlled by a government that you didn't elect. We got a lot of questions when we first released the record because everybody thought the title was dedicated to John Kerry, and it was influenced by that, but it wasn't dedicated to John Kerry. But I kind of denied a lot of the political overtones because I didn't want to step on Green Day's toes or have people think we were a political band and I didn't want us to turn into Rage Against The Machine. By leaving my perspective out of things it made it so general that other people decide their interpretation."

Words: Morat

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