Dave Grohl contemplates his place in the overblown world of music biz superstardom, and his happiness with the band's new album 'The Colour And The Shape'.
With The 'Colour & The Shape' being the first Foo-creation as an actual band, would you say you have just entered phase II?
Oh, it almost seems like it is phase I, because the first album was recorded in a studio down the street from my house in five days by me. I played everything, I wanted it to sound good, but I didn't want to make an album. When I think of making an album, I think of really taking time and putting everything that you have into the recording. And with the first Foo Fighters record, you can kind of hear it, the guitar sounds are prety much the same, the drum sound is the same to the whole thing, the vocal sounds. It was almost a game to see if I could finish this in five days. Once it was finished I just made cassettes and I gave them to friends. And then everything snowballed and turned into the band and the album. When we first started rehearsing with each other, we started writing new songs, so some songs date back to the first rehersal.
And the songs on the first album date back like three or four years ago. while you were in Nirvana...
Yeah, some of those songs are really old. I mean, I lived in a house with my friend Barret, who recorded the first record and we had an eight-track studio in the basement. And so, if ever someone came up with a song, if I was sitting on the couch playing guitar and watching television or I came up with a cool melody, I went: "Hey Barret, let's go downstairs" and record this song. 'And so the first Foo Fighters record was basically a collection of all the songs I had written on the couch, or written on tour in a hotel room.
This time you followed a different approach...
Well, this time we definitely spent more time on it and I paid more attention to the lyrics, I felt like I actually had something to say, whereas before I think I was too scared to say anything, because I didn't have the right to say anything, or something like that.
Would you say the lyrics are more personal than on the last album?
What is 'Monkey Wrench' about?
'Monkey Wrench' is...if you feel ike your the monkey wrench, you're the source of the problem. You know, the only thing to do is to get away, and to keep from causing this person any more difficulty... two people love each other, but you realize that you are the source of all the problems. And you love the person enough that you don't want to cause any more pain. That's kind of what the song is about.
Other lyrics seem to concern your career, like 'Wind Up'.
Oh yeah. 'Wind Up' is about the press. It has to do with me reading about people that... I mean there's certain musicians who have nothing better to than complain, People, that can't feel fortunate for what they have been given, and if you don't want it, then fucking just quit and get away from it. St h.:st dnves me insane when I hear musicians that don't understand how fortunate they are that they don't have to go and pump gas for twelve hours a day. They can sit on their couch and smoke pot, and complain to their friends that they hate it when someone comes up and says that he likes their band. And it also has to do with... I mean there are two sides: there's the reluctant rock-star, and then there is the prying journalist that almost lives for the reluctant rock-star, it's just talking "about the hand you've been dealt." Every time I hear about "the hand you've been dealt," it drives me fucking nuts, spare me your confessions. And paramania is the joy of complaint, like if you're a pyromaniac — if you're a paramaniac, you love complaining about everything. I don't want to complain about anything, I want people to know that I'm happy doing what I'm doing. I've had so many fucking bullshit jobs for the half of my life - you know, working in furniture warehouses and planting trees, painting houses - and it's a lot more fun to play music.
How come you have such a cynical view on the whole showbiz thing? I mean, truthfully, aren't you a rock-star yourself?
It is strange to be just another guy in a rock band and seeing all of these other musicians and rock-stars acting differently. I can’t be anybody else. I can't just stop and turn into the man in the limousine with a pound of cocaine in my nose, complaining about everything. Sometimes I feel weird, as if I should be acting like a fucking rock-star, or that people want me to act like that. I mean, I can't do it. Maybe, going through all of that stuff, and seeing things go from the garage to the arena, I still felt like the same person, because all I did the whole time was laugh at everything, I just thought: "This is insane, it doesn't make any sense and isn't supposed to happen to me, I am from Springfield, Virginia, I am a geek, this doesn't make any sense." You meet rock-stars, and they are charismatic, interesting people. But I just look at these people and go: "OK that is a rock-star, but I am still a geek." I feel like I did when I was 16 years old, in high school. So I look around at all these famous rock-stars, and I know that they were children, they went to high school, they grew up maybe the same as me, but I wonder why I don't feel like the all-powerful rock star man.
But it's not that you're feeling uncomfortable as a celebrity?
I don't think so. I just enjoy being in a band and being able to be in a magazine, and to go play a show, where people actually come to see the band play. That's cool, but I guess I just don't feel like I am interesting enough to be a celebrity. When I was young, I didn't have sports-heroes, probably my first hero was this man that I would watch Sesame Street with every day. This guy that I knew, he was so cool, just a normal guy, but he was a friend of the family and I wanted to be like him. And then later on there were certain musicians that I considered heroes and still do. But I guess it just has to do with idolization; it is hard for me to worship someone like a god. I just would rather pay my respect to someone that's a respectable, normal, strong human being.
Have you ever met some of your own musical heroes?
David Bowie's birthday party: that was pretty scary. It was funny, we had this dressing room that everybody shared. It was Robert Smith and Frank Black, Fred Schneider from the B52's, Sonic Youth, you know, all people that I have so much respect for. I was standing there in the middle of this room, and, like, my mother is on the couch talking to Billy Corgan, and over in a corner Robert Smith was sitting on the floor by himself and looking very lonely, it was so perfect. I've never met him before and I have never been a big fan of The Cure, although I think they have some really great songs, but I just wondered when he walks off stage does he comb his hair down, put on his business suit, and drive his BMW home? And I walked into this dressing room and he was sitting in the corner, he looked so sad and so alone. I thought, "He's real, he's genuine."
Have you ever felt disappointed when one of your heroes turned out to be a total asshole?
No, I have so few. One of my heroes is John Bonham and he's dead, so I don't have to worry about that. And Jimmy Page is definitely a hero too, but I don't know if I could ever sit down and talk to him. He's just amazing. Or Prince. Could you imagine sitting down and talking to Prince? Why, what would you say? I remember one time when we were all at the Grammies and Little Richard walked in. I love Little Richard, I just think he's insane, out of his mind, he's so weird, just in another reality. And Pat went like: "Wow, there's Little Richard, let's go up and say hi." And I was like: "No, no I don't want to." "Come on, he's really nice." "No, I really don't want to talk to him." And I am glad I didn't, because I still think he's cool.
What's the title 'The Colour And The Shape' all about? Well, that was just this noisy song. It was supposed to be on the record, but we decided not to put it on, which is funny, because the album is called 'The Colour And The Shape'. The title is kind of like an inside joke that we have with the band. When we were on tour, our tour manager was always out shopping every day before the show and buying really weird stuff. He'd come back with these really huge candles from 1947 and the next day he came back with a lamp with Jesus on it. I started saying, "Peter, how are you gonna get the stuff home? You're buying furniture and stuff, what are you doing?" So one day he comes into the dressing room with this bowling pin, a red one with white stripes, and he said, "Look, what I bought today." I said, "What the fuck are you doing? Why would you buy a bowling pin?" — "Because I like the colour and I like the shape." And I just thought it was the most ridiculous thing and it has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Because if we wanted to give the album a name that referred to the mood or the attitude of the record, then it would be called 'My Therapist's Couch' or something.
With you being the Foo Fighters' founder and creative head, to what degree are you the band leader when it comes to song-writing?
Usually, what happens is that I will have a melody and just the basic foundation of a song and say: "Oh, I think I came up with this thing" and sort of strum it to them, and play the verse and then play the chorus and then they'll look at the chorus and start figuring it out. A lot of these songs are so different than when 1 first wrote them. And Pat and I are totally different guitar players. I am simple bar chords, while Pat's fingers are stretched all over the neck. He plays really weird chords and he never plays the same things as me. And he'll spend an hour trying to figure out something that goes along with a song. So if I have a basic idea, Pat comes and wraps his ideas around mine, and makes it bigger. And then Nate comes in with an entirely different melody, a bass melody, which is something that blows me away. So the song is actually layers, there's the vocal melody and then my guitar and then Pat's guitar and then Nate's entirely different sub-melody. If it wasn't for the other people in the band, the songs wouldn't be as good. They'd be a lot more basic and I think they would not be that interesting, just one-dimensional.
What's your lyric writing process like?
Some of them were finished, but for the most part I had to write the lyrics and I think that the album chronicles most of what was happening to me at that time, last fall That's why you have three different kinds of songs — ballads, up tempo, a combination of both, because there were three emotions prominent, those were three emotions that I felt when I wrote them all, and we recorded them and then put the songs in sequence for the record, it is interesting, because the first song 'Doll' is about feeling scared and entering something that you don't feel prepared to do, 'Doll' is the feeling I have every time I stand up on stage with the guitar.
You mean you get stage fright?
Hell, yes, I am not a guitar player. I mean, I fee! a lot more comfortable with it now, but I experienced stage fright and I put a lot of pressure on myself. If I have accomplished something for myself and if I think it's good, then I feel like I have succeeded. I am really happy with our record, we made the album that I wanted to make so badly. When I listen to the album in years from now, I can put it on and I'll remember the last four months of my life.
I heard you plan to tour extensively on this album, like up to two years.
I just think as a band and as musicians, you just have to keep the feeing alive. It can't be stale, it can't get boring. If you do something long enough, it is gonna get boring. But when we come out and play live, it is a different story. We've been rehearsing with our new drummer, writing up set-lists. And when we come out and play live, I am not gonna step on stage with an orchestra and an acoustic guitar, and then the next song do like an Angry Samoans cover. When you come out and play live, I want there to be as much energy, like seven songs that just pound people in the face, before I can say, "OK, we are gonna take a break for a minute and play 'Big Me'", so that everyone can kiss their girlfriend, or whatever.
And you toured for almost 19 months for the last album...
I don't know, we just loved playing. As tired as we were and as much as we felt like: "OK, it can't go any farther, until we have another record," it was to give people more music and if we didn't feel like that, we'd probably be stiil touring. If we felt like we could play these 16 songs for the next five years then we probably would. I don't know what to do when I come home from a tour. I don't mind doing interviews, because that is just what I am supposed to do.
But for the last record you hardly did any interviews, right?
Yeah, and I am sure you can guess why. With this band taking off so fast, didn't the Foo's career develop exactly the way you didn't want it to? Well, I don't mind the band becoming hugely popular. That's not what would disappoint me. What would disappoint me would be if the band became hugely popular and I didn't feel like the band was good enough. That's why now, instead of the four of us standing on stage playing these songs, I want two drum sets next to each other, so Taylor and I can do double drums. I want the mood of the show, instead of it being just one fine line, I want it to be as extreme as possible, I want to be able to go through ten songs without stopping. And just killing people until finally we give them a breath of air. I don't want it to be predictable.
In between touring and recording the new album you also did a soundtrack for a movie called Touch, right?
It's weird. It doesn't sound like anything that I have ever done. It has, like, country songs on it. There's three songs with vocals. There's Louise Post from Veruca Salt, John Doe from X sings on one, and then I sing on one. The other stuff is instrumental. And the thing that's interesting about it is, you know, the music was intended to be for the movie. Like it there's a scene with this redneck woman and her white trash trailer-park home, then you don't want a song that sounds 'ike Gary Numan, you want a song that sounds like Hank Williams. So you just make music for the movie. I mean, there's keyboards on it, and I have never played keyboards before. It's like one finger on this key, one finger on that key, but I don't really know what I am doing. It stars Tom Arnold and Christopher Walken, who is my favorite actor in the world, Bridgett Fonda, and this new guy named Skeet Ulrich. And it is just the story about this man who can heal people with his hands, he experiences stigmata and he can heal people. And then all of these people discover that he is this miracle faith healer and they try to exploit him by selling the movie rights and the book rights.
Are you going to continue doing soundtracks In the future?
I hope so. I mean, I don't have any time to do it now. But it was so perfect at the end of that 18 months of touring, where I just thought. "I really wanna find a way to be creative and make music and make albums, and not go to Paris five times a year. I wanna find a way, where I can do this when I am 55 years old and can't tour for 18 months" And then someone asked me to score a movie. It was a liberating experience to feel like I wasn't confined to this one format - Like I could make the fast, sort of surf-rock song and I then could make a country song, or something with keyboards, just things I don't necessarily want to do with the Foo Fighters. Just other avenues I'd like to experiment with.
We heard you're obsessed by the X-Files and also starred in one of the episodes?
They film X-Files in Vancouver, Canada, in British Columbia, And that's like two hours away from Seattle and so I was talking to the director and producer Chris Carter on the phone and he said: "Yeah, you should come up and visit us and watch us film the show." I thought, "Cool," and so I drove up to Vancouver and watched them. And they asked me: "Hey, do you wanna be in one of these scenes?" and I went: "OK, sure." So, it's like, I don't say anything, I am just standing behind the lead actor. You know, if you blink your eyes, you'll miss me, You're just watching and all of a sudden there's my face and then it's gone. But it was really fun and I told all my friends, "Yeah, I was on the X-Fiies"
But you're not gonna start an acting career anytime soon?
No, I'll save my acting career for later. Another life.
X-Files, Roswell Records... how come you're so fascinated by aliens and UFOs
It is just so interesting. I just love the idea of there being somewhere else and there being something else, and not just a bunch of human beings, working-class, traffic, highway, city. It's nice to think that there's something else out there. I am not obsessed with it, like I don't go home and pray to the aliens and hope that they come and abduct me and that I can be one of their experiments. I am not that crazy about it, but it is sort of nice to stare into the stars, and to think that there's someone staring back at you. To feel like anything is possible, because life would be so bland if it was just this.
You mean, like, this can't be it?
I hope not, I mean this is Los Angeles. It is just interesting to feel that anything is possible, just as people believe in God. There just has to be some mystery, something bigger or more to life than this. Some people have religion, angels and their guardian angels, and some people have dreams. It is an escape, just like dreaming there's more to life than just getting up in the morning, coming to the Capitol building, doing an interview and going back and writing it, and the next day you fly to London and see another band. It is just nice to think, "I really wonder if in the year 25 we'll be invaded by some alien force."
Have you seen Mars Attacks?
I haven't seen Mars Attacks, I haven't any time. I've wanted to, and there's so many movies I'd like to see. I saw Independence Day six months after it came out.
Why did William Goldsmith decide to leave the band?
I think it was after the album was finished, in February. But he felt like he wanted to go on and play with other bands and maybe not tour as much. That's kind of it. We're still friendly and it was an amicable split, but it's weird going through the last year and a half with someone and we are a really close band and enjoy being with each other. So after a show if there's a big party, there can be 250 people yelling around, there would be the four of us sitting in the corner playing and laughing with each other.
There is this rumor that he left because he had discovered you were re-doing some of his drum parts without his notice...
That's sort of the popular rumor and the album is mostly me playing the drums, but it was a decision made by the band to do that.We recorded some stuff in Seattle and we had a really difficult time when we first started recording the record. I dort't know if we were ready to do it. We spent a lot of time trying to do it once and it kind of didn't work the first time. So we came down to Los Angeles and started recording some more stuff and it just turned out that we were doing different versions of the songs.
Is Taylor Hawkins a permanent replacement?
Yeah, Taylor is definitely the best drummer I have ever played with in my whole life. He's fucking unbelievable. Last night at practice he got a new drum set and he was very excited and he sort of sat on it and played and warmed up for a while and he is so amazing. He's so incredibly good that it sort of freaks me out. Now I feel I can't tell him what to do.
How much control do you really have when it comes to Geffen wanting to release anything on Nirvana these days?
Well, Krist and I together have a lot of control, but me on my own, I don't know. I mean, it is strange to think about things like that, because I am so concerned with the future and I am so concerned with what I am doing that when something like that comes up.... it is usually that Geffen makes the call, and says, "Hey, this is what we are thinking of doing. What do you think?" And then Krist and I get together and try to make it into something cool. I think we can regulate what's going on, but it's so strange because Krist and I are both in new bands, and we are moving on. So it's strange when a Nirvana project comes up again, because it is like opening your high school year book, or your old photo album. It can be fun sometimes, but you wanna feel like you're moving forward.
Does the "guy who was in Nirvana" label still bother you?
No, because I am proud of that. I got to be the drummer of Nirvana and I am so proud of that. And to me it's not like the The Scarlet Letter, it's part of my identity. It is the person I am, so I can't deny that, can't be ashamed of that. And for the rest of my life I will be the guy who played drums in Nirvana.
What about the seven tracks you are said to have recorded just before Kurt passed away?
Seven? I think it was one. I don't know if it was seven, it is probably less. Actually, from when I joined the band there might be three, but I don't know, I can't remember. I know there's one that no one has heard before and it is actually a really amazing song, and it was the last time we ever recorded with each other. It is from 1994, I guess from January 1994, or something like that.
There were some critics who regarded the Foo Fighters' debut album as some sort of "Nirvana lite." Do you agree that some of the tracks would have been perfect Nirvana songs?
I don't know, it is strange. Usually they mention 'Alone + Easy Target'. The thing that was really strange about that, in all of the interviews, was that people would make the comparison. One of the reasons I was in Nirvana was because that was the kind of music I always loved to play. Since I was 13 years old, I loved to listen to Husker Du and The Smithereens, a sort of aggressive pop-rock. It was weird, because, as I was recording these songs, they came very natural to me. I knew that people were gonna say: "Well, it's got that big drum sound and it's got distored guitars, and there's a melody, so sounds like Nirvana." But I felt like, "Oh wait a second. Can't you go back five or ten years and listen to many bands that basically did the same thing? It is just a style of music, it's not Nirvana's music." So I felt like, what should I do' Do I make a Reggae record, so that people say, "Oh, that doesn't sound lik Nirvana." No, because that is not the kind of person that I am and it is not the kind of music I enjoy making. I like to feel the drums hit me in the back and I like to feel the guitars wailing, an I like there to be a melody. And I like it to be catchy. Look at Dinosaur Jr., fuck they have been doing it for years. Before they were Dinosaur Jr., they were Dinosaur. So it is not like Nirvana invented this music, it's been around for a really long time. Most journalists don't get that. When I say Husker Du, they go, "How do you spell that?" When I mention Dinosaur Jr., they go, "Oh, you mean J. Mascis."
You can't change the way you write and play just to escape the Nirvana comparison...
Yeah, and a lot of people don't realize that. A lot of the interviews last time were so frustrating, these people were just journalists, they weren't music lovers, They didn't know much about where I come from. They just knew that 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' came on MTV in September of 1991.
I heard you are into drummer jokes. What's your favorite one at the moment?
(Laughs) Okay. Why does a drummer always keep his drum sticks on the dashboard? So he can park in handicapped spaces.
Words: Marcel Anders
back to the features index