I'm Still Standing

Kerrang! 1999

This year Dave Grohl has split from his record company, seen long-time friend Franz Stahl walk out on his band and endured far too much rock star bullshit living in Hollywood. Not that any of this has stopped him from making the finest Foo Fighters record to date....

Dave Grohl is hung-over, Not just slightly groggy hung-over, but full-on mouth-like-an- Arab's-sandshoe-l-want-to-die-now hung-over, Today starts with a sigh, a groan and a babbled explanation before the stark realisation of how much Maker's Mark whisky the Foo Fighters' frontman consumed the previous evening kicks in, In his own words, Grohl was "fucking loaded last night", But hangovers don't stay around for ever, and as the warm late August Los Angeles morning gives way to a clear, humid day, the previous night's excesses gradually begin to dissipate and the 30-year-old Capricorn flashes a shit-eating grin that serves to illustrate that things are back on track in the Foo Fighters camp, The grin turns to a chuckle, and suddenly the day doesn't look so bad after all.
"Fuck it, I still feel like shit," he shrugs, "But, y'know?".

There's a perfectly good reason why Dave Grohl feels like he's just been turned inside out through his arsehole. Hell, he couldn't do this every night: too many days on the road - first with Virginian hardcore band Scream in 1987, then Nirvana in 1990 and his own band a half-decade later - have taught him that much.
  No, the real reason that Grohl is feeling as rough as a badger's arse is because he has just completed work on the Foo Fighters' third album, 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose'.
  It's a record that was written and recorded during a time of great upheaval for the band. First, Grohl packed up and fled from LA to his native Springfield, Virginia to build his own studio and escape the fake rock 'n' roll world that he'd already seen far too much of thank-you-very-much. Then guitarist and childhood friend Franz Stahl deserted the ranks after just 18 months with the band, leaving Grohl without a guitar player for the second time in the Foo Fighters' career. But now their best album yet has been completed and ceremoniously unveiled at a playback night held at the band's manager's house here in California to an assembled crowd of industry types. Hence the hangover. Hence the bleary eyes. Hence the burgeoning sense of excitement once again. The Foo Fighters are back and - hangover aside - rock's Mr Nice is feeling happier than ever.

How has the recording been for you this time around?
"It's been great. We wrote a lot of the songs in the studio because, when it comes to recording, we're very quick. We get the basis of a song recorded in one day. I'm absolutely thrilled with the end result. It's the first record where I've ever felt like I don't want to go back and change a single thing. There's 11 songs: 'Stacked Actors', 'Breakout', 'Burn The Fly', 'Gimme Stitches', 'Generator', 'Aurora', 'Head Wires', 'Next Year', 'live In Skin' and a couple whose titles I'm just settling on. We recorded it in my house, so it was a very different process from the one that I'm used to."
Why did you decide to work from home?
"Well about a year ago I was working with a band called Verbena, who wanted me to produce them. I was like, 'I really don't know how to produce anything - but yeah, sure". I said that I'd do it if they got Adam Casper, who has worked with Soundgarden, to record it. He was also the last person to record Nirvana when we got together to do some demos. Verbena were given a budget to make their first record that was just about enough to build their own studio, so I said to Adam, 'I'm going to build my own studio too!'.
  "After that, we shopped around and travelled to different studios for five months until we found a mixing board from Nashville, a tape machine from New York and so on. We put it all in my house, which is about a mile from the high school that I went to. Once we had all the gear, we were up and running and recorded every day from March until July of this year - and here we are. The record is done, and the way we recorded was so real and natural. We didn't use any fucking computers, anything digital or any of that auto-tuning shit; we just went fo! a natural process and, altogether, it sounds absolutely fucking massive. It's amazing."
Does the record see you returning to your hardcore roots?
"We just wanted to prove to ourselves just as much as anyone else that you don't need to work with famous producers, you don't need to work with computers, you don't need to come to Hollywood to make an album. All you need are songs that deserve to be heard, a couple of friends and a genuine direction that you won't stray from. Moving back to Virginia and making this record was a direct response and result of me living in Hollywood for about a year.
  "Basically, I fucking despise this city. I think everything about it is just vile. It seemed like what I call 'the Hollywood element' had started to dominate a lot of popular music, and that greatly upset me. I hate rock stars just as much as when I was 13 years old and listening to the Bad Brains. I fucking can't stand it. Nothing seems sacred here. Music is something real and beautiful and it is fucking sacred, but it's just being dragged through a trench of shit right now. The whole thing here in Hollywood about fame and beauty and the glorification of the celebrity just made me want to go fucking crazy and kill everyone."
Was there a particular incident in Hollywood that drove you away?
"Well, every evening that you went out you would be surrounded by people trying to be something that they weren't. Every time I turned on the TV and saw a video or picked up a magazine and read an interview or went to see a band, I would see another jloating rock musician that thinks that they're omni-important or something more than a human being. Nobody is super-human, and it broke my heart to see people whose one desire was to be larger than life. You can't be. You just can't.
  "When you get the lyric sheet you'll see that the record has everything to do with these fucking fake elements. There's one song called 'Stacked Actors' and the lyrics go: 'Oh mirror, mirror, I'm coming unclear/I'm finally somewhere in between/I'm impressed, what a beautiful chest/You were meant to make a beautiful scene'. And then the chorus is: ' Stack the dead actors/Up to the rafters/Line up all the bastards/All we want is the truth'. I guess it's pretty clear what I'm trying to say."
On a different note, what were the reasons for Franz Stahl leaving the band?
"When we started rehearsing we were in a tiny practice space, and in those few weeks it just seemed like the three of us were moving in one direction and Franz wasn't. It's a hard thing to talk about because we've known each other since we were teenagers and it didn't work out. It was entirely a musical decision, whereas with Pat (Smear, the Foo Fighters' first guitarist) it was just that he didn't want to tour. I guess Pat was getting older and didn't want to spend the rest of his life on aeroplanes, which I can completely understand. With Franz it was a musical decision. I was in tears. He was one of my oldest friends and we wanted it to work so badly, but it didn't. Instead, we just recorded the album with the three of us. I played all the guitar parts. If Franz isn't already in another band, he will be soon,"
Would you say that you are difficult to work with?
"I don't think so. Nate (Mendel, bass), Taylor (Hawkins, drums) and I have a wonderful relationship. I usually come up with a song and I don't have to tell Nate anything; and Taylor and I have respect for one another because we're both drummers. I let him pull me in one direction because he's great at arranging music. He always takes a song from A to B because I think he's spent so many years listening to Queen! I usually just give suggestions. "I think the problem with Franz is that he couldn't find his place within the three of us and... it just didn't work out."
There's a rumour that Tracii Guns from '80s giam rockers LA Guns offered his six-string services. Is that true?
"Yeah! (laughs) He gave us his phone number. Fuck him. I haven't talked to him and I think I've lost his number already. let's just leave it at that."
Why have you chosen to call the album 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose'?
"Well, I was talking with a friend about when you experience these emotions after you've been through a long, difficult period and you finally give into this feeling that, quite simply, there really is nothing left to lose. It can seem both positive, desperate and reckless. Everyone has felt like that at one point or another- when you're fed up and you've decided to lose all of your reservations and just say, 'Fuck it'. Actually, I like hat - maybe we'll just call the album 'Fuck It'.
  "At the time of recording, Foo Fighters didn't even have a record label. We'd left Capitol and hadn't joined RCA, so we just did it all ourselves. There was a point where we thought, 'You know, we could just stop this band right now, We're not obligated to do anything or be responsible to anyone',"
Was splitting up the Foo Fighters ever a serious consideration?
"No, but knowing that it was an option and we still chose to continue says a lot about us as a band. We could just take our winnings and get day jobs, but we chose to stay with each other and make these songs. It made us appreciate everything even more and realise how great it is just to make music for the sake of it and for no other reason. We need to do it. This new album has nothing to do with anything outside of the studio, It's not about a record company or a video or an interview or celebrity or fame or Hollywood or power or money. It was just Virginia and the three of us.
  "That's why I'm so pleased when I play the record, because our intentions were absolutely genuine and it's a wonderful thing to feel so proud of honest expression. It's not like we need to make any more money or want to be any more famous; it's like we really don't f' 'king care, We just have to prove things to ourselves."
The new single is 'Learn To Fly'. What's it about?
"lt's about the search for some sort of inspiration, the search for signs of life in things that will make you feel alive. 'Learn To Fly' is actually one of my least favourite songs on the record. A song like 'Stacked Actors' just fucking kills, man! I'm so glad that it's the first song on the album. It opens the record with a sledgehammer. It's us saying 'fuck it' again. Yeah, a blast of feedback and then a tuned-down Sabbath-on-speed type riff before blowing into this really weird calypso type thing with vocals that sound like Steve Miller. Then there's 'Aurora', which is trippy and beautiful and with a huge build-up at the end. That's probably the greatest song we've ever written because it makes everything else just look like shit - in a good way, of course."
So what do you do outside of music?
"Nothing, man, If I'm not writing and recording then I'm listening to stuff. We're all huge Queens Of The Stone Age fans. They're the great white hope of American rock - there's something about Josh (Homme, QOTSA mainman). They make music that's the perfect place between getting your ass kicked and being asleep. I've also been listening to the last couple of Frank Black albums and this compilation of a DC band called The Obsessed. They're fucking amazing and we've covered one of their songs for a B-side."
When Nirvana ended, did you anticipate the kind of success that the Foo Fighters have achieved in a relatively short space of time?
"No, it's an insane surprise. Of all the demos and silly things that I'd done, I never imagined that more than 10 of my friends would ever hear it. The first album was basically a demo. After everything, I just expected to play clubs and universities and just feel like life was going on and that I still served a purpose on this planet. But it became a little bigger.
  "We're not that popular, though we're at that level where we feel comfortable with the size of the I can't imagine that we'll ever get a bigger. We're not a cartoon boy band, we just like to make people get fucking hot and sweaty and, well, we just happen to have a nice relationship with a couple of million people..." .

Words: Ben Myers

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