What's The Frequency... Dave?

Melody Maker 1999

Stop the clock! The new Foo Fighters masterpiece has just zoomed into pole position for Album Of The Year. We join singer Dave Grohl on a day of radio stardom in London to celebrate.

It's a sparkly autumnal London morning. In a back road off Oxford Street, a band is huddled in a radio production company studio recording idents for radio stations the length and breadth of the country.
  "Hi, this is David Eric Grohl from Foo Fighters," says David Eric Grohl from Foo Fighters, before adding the name of a local radio DJ and their station. The process continues for an age. Each time a different station, each time a different DJ.
"What's this? Li-sess-ter Sound?" asks Dave.
"Less-ter," helps the interviewer.
"Less-ter? OK...Hello this is David Grohl from Foo Fighters and you are listening to Li-cess...Shit! Hi this is Dave..."
And so it goes on.

David Eric Grohl was, in a previous life, the drummer from a fairly successful band. They stopped being a fairly sucessful band on April 8th 1994. Tip-toeing around it seems to be the go. We're certainly not going to mention it. Dave Grohl is, in no way going to mention it. Why? Sweepstake, that's why. A shiny pound coin from yer Maker, Mr Grohl, their tour manager Gus, and one each from drummer Taylor Hawkins and their new guitarist Chris Shiflett for the guess nearest to the total number of times interviewers mention that previously fairly successful band during today's umpteen radio interviews.
  Why all the interviews? Well, after a year out, Foo Fighters are back with, cue fanfare, a new single 'Learn To Fly'. In November, they'll be back with Album-Of-The-Year contender 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose'. In late November they'll be back to play a handful of live shows. Back. Back. Back.

Our first port today is Radio 1 for a pre-recorded record-playing session to be aired the following night on Mary-Anne Hobbs' Rock Show, then Dave goes it alone for a live interview on Jo Whiley's Lunchtime Social.
  "I woke up with so much energy," says Dave, pacing the subteranian studio like a caged lion. "Ther first thing I did was lie in the dark, smoke a cigarette and listen to Motorhead on my walkman."
  The whole time he's talking, he's fidgeting, illustrating his story by drumming a rhythm on his legs, singing lines from Motorhead songs. His eyes are everywhere. No-one moves without him clocking them. Nothing happens without him noticing. Surely having to sit still for an hour should put a lid on things?
  Nope.
  After an hour of chat and playing records with Mary-Anne Hobbs - herself no stranger to boundless energy and enthusiasm - Dave is still in full bounce.
  "She only mentioned it once man," he grins after the first show of the day is over.
  Bet's up and running then.
  With barely a second to catch his breath, Dave has flopped into Jo Whiley's studio.
  "Stop staring at me like that," Whiley laughs, live on air.
  "Like what?" asks Grohl leaning across the desk, bugging his eyes out. "Are you going to play another song from the album?"
  "We'll play something another time," she giggles.
  "Go on then play some Whitney Houston crap instead," beams Grohl. Having already played the single and used up her free play time with the album track 'Breakout', from here on in it's playlist only. Although, to be fair, the whole album would've got an airing if she'd had her way.
  "Oh, I know," she admits off-air. "It's so frustrating at times."
  Not nearly as frustrating as trying to tell Grohl what to do, though. His people insist that he can't announce the forthcoming tour dates. Moments after he goes on air he's announced them. In fact, he spends the rest of the day announcing them. Tsk, tsk.

Radio 1 duties done for the time being, it's off for lunch in a delightful Italian eatery. Between slurps of spag, we chew over what the Foos have been up to on their year off. Seems change is the dish of the day. After having lived in Seattle and LA, Dave has moved back home to Virginia.
  "I never intended to leave," he explains. "I just wound up in Seattle because, erm, services were needed! It's so nice being back. I'm near my family and all my best friends. It just feels like, 'OK, life begins again. this is where it all starts'."
  And start it did.
"We really took everything into our own hands," he smiles, "It was taking a chance, but we thought we could probably make an album by ourselves; we decided to build a studio in my basement, which was something we didn't know how to do, and we decided we were going to kind of produce the record by ourselves...which was also something we'd never done before. I think everyone was like, 'Oh my God, a band producing a record on their own, it's going to sound like shit!'."
  Needless to say it doesn't.
  "It was a challenge because we really wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do it on our own. We'd just left our label so we had no deadline, we could spend as much time as we wanted. We started talking to people before we'd finished the record: when we signed to our new label they'd only heard two songs. Just knowing you've done something yourself makes you feel all the more satisfied."
  "Once it hits your ears, you'll know that, yup, they can do it all on their own.
  "You know what's kind of nice?" Asks Dave sipping a red wine. "Those most-anticipated albums of 1999 lists .. we weren't in any of them! Your initial reaction is, 'Everybody's forgotten about us!' then you start thinking, 'Hey, that's great because that means there's no expectations."
  So how does 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose' compare to the previous two Foo's albums?
  "I'm not yanking my chain, but I look at the others and think they're like term papers from the 10th grade," he beams. "I look at those records and listen to what we've done and think, 'God, we were fucking... simple."
  The only thing left now is to get out there and do it all live isn't it?
  "The hardest thing about these promotional tours," sighs Dave, "is you fly from city to city talking about how much you love the music, how much you love being in a band, but the one thing that makes it all worthwhile has to wait. We were anxious to come back, we've had a lot of time off."
  In a nutshell that's everything everyone wants to know today. They're going to get asked all that over and over again. Don't they get sick of answering the same questions?
  "The funny thing is," begins Dave "once you've done a few interviews, you kinda know which questions you're going to be asked. We've learnt to answer the first question and the next eight all in one go. You can see them crossing them off as you're talking!"

Next stop, Xfm. Despite having a car to ferry us around, Dave still has the energy to spare.
  "I wanna walk" he says. "Can we walk?"
  We can.
  "You know what?" he says as we cut through the London bustle heading for Xfm's Liecester (That's Less-ter, Dave, Less-ter) Square HQ. "Before I got a house and built a studio I almost bought a farm. Then I realised I don't even have time to comb my hair let alone farm anything. I figured I could grow something that wouldn't take up too much of my time. Maybe Christmas trees. All I'd need to do was remember to cut them down each December and sit by the road selling them."
  At Xfm Dave sees the video for 'Learn To Fly' for the first time ("The music at the beginning was supposed to be a lounge version of 'Everlong'," he frowns. "It didn't sound like it did it? We'll have to get that changed!"). As is traditional with Foos videos, it's laugh-out-loud funny. Won't spoil it for you, but you get to see what Dave looks like as a girl. And who is that mincingly convincing air steward? Like I said, wouldn't want to spoil it for you.
  There's two jobs to do here. Paul Anderson is recording an interview for a forthcoming Foos weekend and there's a live chat on Robin Bank's drivetime show. Sprawled across the rather comfy sofas in the reception area, Dave picks up the conversation where we left off at lunchtime. 'Nothing Left To Lose'? Is that how you feel, then?
  "We recorded this album to make ourselves happy," he says. "Just taking the risk, making an album on our own and feeling like, 'let's give the world the finger. Fuck everybody because this is all I'm concerned with, right now'. There was nothing left to lose."
  Despite the years behind them, despite the multi-million selling albums, the Foos still get nervouse climbing onto a stage. Amazingly, they are still unsure of the reaction their records are going to get. Sweet.
  "Yeah," guffaws Dave, "It's really, really nice to want to vomit before every fucking show we do. But I don't know how anyone can lose that passion and drive, how anybody can think they're going to be huge no matter what... Sheesh. It'll be interesting to see how people take this record. It's not as in-your-face. As you come through it, it's quite mellow. Quite restrained."
  "Well, sort of. You know, as restrained as... well, just wait until you hear opening track, 'Stacked Actors'...

With the mentions-of-his-previous-band-O-Meter remaning firmly at one, it's high time someone mentioned it. Thing is the rules state Dave can't mention it himself. Not directly anyways. Drastic measures are needed.
  If the Paul Anderson interview were held in a courtroom our brief would have been up and down like a yo-yo. Witness...
  "I grew up in Virginia," sighs Dave to the assembled jury.
  "I never really intended to move to Seattle, I just wound up there..."
  Objection your honour! Leading the witness.
  "I stayed in Seattle for six years, then moved to LA..."
  Ojection!!!
  "That's the thing about bands from Seattle..."
  Your honour!!!
  "My previous band..."
  OBJECTION!!!!
  Next, it's Robin Bank's drivetime show. For those who are out of earshot he's your indie Chris Moyles. And he's about to meet his match...
  Dave explains how he was tricked into snogging Brian Molko, before talk turns to taking some time off. Dave goes skeet shooting when he's got a spare moment. As you do. "That's rock and roll," blurts Banks. "It's not, actually" replies Grohl. Quips continue to fall like lead weights. Drugs? Nope. Ozzy? Nope. Girlfriends? Not even a bite. It's time to move on.
  "Would you mind if I played your latest song?" chirrups Banks.
  "Sure," smiles Dave. "Actually, no. You know what? Don't play it. Playing it would do the record good so you might as well leave it off."

Safely ensconced in the pub next door to Xfm, Dave sips a Guinness and mulls over some, erm, how do we put this.... Interview hells?
  "There was this one guy who said, 'The first album sounds like Nirvana. Why is that?' I told him, 'You know, I got to thinking that I wouldn't mind buying another house, I'll probably have children at some point and I would want my kids to go to good schools, so I'd thought "hey, what the hell, i'll write another 'Teen Spirit'"."
  The best question we got asked recently was, 'How did you guys like Woodstock? You seemed a little nervous.' We weren't even there! We were like 'You know how there's an A stage and a B stage? Were on the R stage way over there'. She bought the whole trip, we went on for about five minutes about how Woodstock was a beautiful thing in our little corner. No fires, nobody being raped, the toilets were really clean..."

A flit across London and we're back at Radio 1 with two interviews to go; a news piece and another pre-recording session. Bizarrely, the news interview goes all around the houses purely, it turns out, to talk about a box-set which Dave's previous band will have out in the new year. Bizzare, if only for the fact that their name is never mentioned. Curses.
  Despite Grohl's admirable efforts, there's only been one mention of his previous band.
And with Dave himself staking claim to a mere three mentions, his guess is closest. Time to wheel out our secret weapon.
  All the Maker needs is a piffly five more mentions and it's show-me-the-money time. Steve Lamacq's Evening Session. This is a dead cert...
  "We're talking to Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters about what is possibly one of the best modern rock records of the late-Nineties," begins Steve Lamacq. Come on.
  "Hi, you put me off with that," laughs Dave.
"I'm all a-blush."
  "Has it been a learning curve for you since the end of Nirvana?"
  Ker-ching! Thirty seconds in and the Mention-O-Meter stands at two. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. And then not ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Scuppered. Not another fucking mention all interview.
  The fiver firmly tucked in the pocket of Grohl proves a point, though. It proves the Foos are finally a band in there own right. That they can now hold their own without riding on the coat-tails of, oh, what was that bands name again? That they're well on their way to becoming one of of the greatest rock bands of the Nineties. You think not? Grohl was in one of the greatest rock bands of the Nineties and today, nobody wants to talk about them. Yet it's not out of respect and it's not because it's a no-go area. It's because Foo Fighters have finally arrived. Proof? Thank you.

You'd think that, after a day like that, the only thing on your mind would be an early night. Especially seeing as more interviews are scheduled for the morning before the band catch a flight to Australia in order to do it all again. Well you'd be wrong.
  This is The Water Rats in London's King's Cross. We're here, oh Jesus, to see a band called Spirit Caravan. Of all the places, one of Grohl's all-time favourite bands happens to be playing tonight. Dave's admiration extends back to the days when main man Wino was in LA hardcore heroes The Obsessed (the Foos have covered an Obsessed song for a future b-side release).
  As our ears get kicked round the other side of our heads, it's easy to see why Grohl loves their lowdown dirty rock riffing. And as we dive for cover, what does Grohl do? Does he stand at the back chatting? Does he pop in and out catching a song or two between beers? Does he heck. He watches the entire set, gets right in there, right down the front. Exactly the position the Foos are in the grand rock scheme of things. And not before time.

Words: Neil Mason

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