"I Fucking Hated Hollywood"

Metal Hammer, December 1999

... snarls Dave Grohl who has since moved back to Virginia for a more down to earth lifestyle. Sickened by celebrity bullshit, he, Taylor Hawkins & Chris Shiflett tell Metal Hammer how the Foo Fighters don't need that shit.

Foo Fighters, Metal Hammer 1999 Foo Fighters are that rare thing: a band where your relationship with them isn't fuelled by the distance between them and you, rather it's rendered more affectionate, warmer, cosier, by the sheer love you have for their music, by precisely the lack of barriers between you and them. It's not the heady loss-of-self that fan-worship usually implies, it's not the confused flash of pure idolisation: it's passionate because of the passion they demonstrate, intoxicating because of the sheer hook-laden unforgettable feel they cook up, it's infatuation cos once one of their hooks has latched on you're greedy for more. Always your love for the Foos comes back to one main thing: the music. And that's a genuinely rare kind of fan/band relationship these days: where the band seem just as wracked and affected by the sheer dreamy noise they create as their audience is. It's a love that'll get reinflamed in another two million-odd hearts this month as the Foos unleash their third LP, 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose' on us hopelessly enthralled believers. It's their best yet: a peerless crush between deliciously unabashed pop nous and ferocious punk squall that sees them extending and distilling their sound to something approaching perfection - for Grohl, sprawled around a Ladbroke Grove office with fellow Foos Chris (Shiflett, brand new guitarist & ex No Use For A Name) and Taylor (Hawkins, drums) it's all down to a new-found space and freedom the Foos found moving from LA.
  "We'd all been in Hollywood going nuts. What we did is we built our own studio in Virginia at my house, like two minutes away from my old high school," Dave says." And we had all the time in the world to record. Didn't have a record company, didn't have any obligations. There was no record company breathing down our necks for another album, so it was very easy to record because we didn't have to answer to anybody. The expectations were only our own. We were just by ourselves so the whole focus was on each song; the whole outside world didn't even come into it, not even the scenery, the whole focus was about making each song as good as it could possibly be. Doing it on your own time without any deadlines was great, everything was really comfortable and relaxed."
  Is this gonna turn into some Peter Gabriel situation? Lay down a couple of tracks before breakfast and then invite Phil Collins out to feed the chickens?
  "Heh, heh - it really came out of producing this band called Verbena. They were given a budget big enough to basically create their own studio and that gave me the inspiration. We kinda spent a long time looking around for the right set up and we picked up equipment from all over the place. Put it all in my house, then just recorded non-stop for about five months. It can be that easy, that's what too many people don't realise."
  Taylor: "There's just so much flabby waste in the music industry, people forget the stripped down bullshit-free way you record early on in your career when you really haven't got any chance to indulge or fuck around. We didn't use any computers or state-of-the-art stuff, we just got in a room and knocked some incredible shit out and we realised that we don't need to back up this band with any tricks or flash; we sound fucking huge as we are."
  Chris: "That's what so many people forget. OK, there are good things about being in a band that's massive but you also get lazy, you forget the lessons that coming up taught you. Bands are assholes a lot of the time, y'know. They come up with hardly any money and that keeps you disciplined, it keeps you focused on the music, and it teaches you a hundred differing ways to get magic out of nothing. Then they get big and it's just like, 'Hey, we don't have to try anymore, we can just turn this knob or buy that rack and that'll take care of the fact that we haven't written any decent songs recently'..."
  Dave: "We needed to prove to ourselves and every other fucker that you don't need any bullshit. You don't need an über producer twiddling things into fiddliness, you don't need ten grand's worth of NASA computers, you don't need to be near the industry to create something worthwhile. In fact, it's absolutely the reverse."
  Did being freed from your contract with Capitol (the Foos are now signed to RCA) mean you were worried that no-one would ever get to hear it?
  "Far from it, we didn't even care if no-one got to hear it. For us it was just a really enjoyable thing to do. A lot of bands are in the position where they wish they could release themselves from a contract. We kinda thought for a while that we'd broken up but we had written these songs turning us in a direction that we hadn't done before, Something really cool. You don't have to go anywhere to record the record, and you don't have to pay for it The record's free totally, and every record will be free from now on."
  Given the ad hoc nature of the band's beginnings, are you surprised that the Foo Fighters are still going?
  Dave: "No. Splitting up was never totally out of the question, but we were still having too much damn fun doing this to end it. That's why we're still here. We don't need the money, or rather, we wouldn't persist in doing something that wasn't working, and wasn't making us happy, just for the money. That's why doing this album was such a blast: we realised we were doing this purely for the sheer enjoyment of it, because we couldn't live without this. What's amazing is, that's the kinda thing that all new bands say but we're still saying it, we still feel like we'd have nothing to do if we didn't have this. That's why the album is called 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose': the title is really about capturing our collective mood as we were recording. We were fed up with everything, but we'd never believed more in music, so we gave up trying to wrestle the contradictions and just surrendered to our love for music. We weren't obliged to a company or a video, or a need for money or fame: we really didn't give a fuck about anything outside of the studio, and that was incredibly liberating after spending so much time in a town where it seemed everyone but us gave a fuck about nothing but celebrity. We're deliriously happy about the whole thing."

Foo Fighters, Metal Hammer 1999 Moving from the biz-frenzy of LA back home has evidently mellowed Grohl out nicely. Was it merely for your own sake or do you feel resistant to the current LA-centralisation of rock?
  "A bit of both. The allure and focus of rock 'n' roll has shifted from the music to the glamour; moving back home was a scheme I had for a long time. Having lived in Seattle, living in Hollywood always seemed transitional to me. Truth be told, I fucking hated Hollywood, hated that whole life, hated most of the people we met, and I realised there was no fucking way we could create anything of worth in that environment That's what I'm saying in 'Stacked Actors' [blistering album opener]: 'Stack the dead actors/Up to the rafters/Line up all the bastards/All we want is the truth'. I guess that makes it pretty plain."
  Taylor warms to the theme: "People go to Hollywood now for all that bullshit glamour and they form these uniformly awful bands. It's not about making bad music, it's about not having any good music to make, so they have to concentrate on all this other bullshit to latch the music on to. It's a way of filling out something essentially empty. Marilyn Manson had nothing to say on his last album, so instead of having nothing to say, he goes to Hollywood and does a bunch of fucking cocaine with a bunch of assholes, and got an album out of it. Courtney fucking Love had nothing to say... so let's go to Hollywood, do a lot of Hollywood bullshit, and boom-bang, that's what the album can be about. You've got to have something to say or you're fucked. The fact is, there is no substance in Hollywood, so they still end up saying fuck all."
  Dave: "The focus has shifted from the music to something else, what's happened in the last four years is that people started coming out with records saying, 'Man, rock 'n' roll has gotten so fucking boring, I am here to save rock 'n' roll, I am here to make it exciting again'. But rather than save rock 'n' roll, (which never really went anywhere), rather than save it with some decent music, they decided to save it with their personality, or save it with their fuckin' glamour or charisma, or something which is besides the point. Then another person comes up and says, 'Nonono, hold on, I'm coming to save rock 'n' roll, because that last person wasn't working it'. And it just doesn't have anything to do with good music. People aren't taking the music too seriously, they're taking themselves too seriously."
  So no plans to join the current rock elite then, Dave? Any movie deals or sponsorship deals struck up yet? He grins. Then thinks. Then bares his teeth.
  "These people, and you know exactly who I'm talking about, all they want to do is be able to say, 'I am a rock star, I am a personality, I am a unique original being'. You look at these people on the TV or in a magazine and they seem to be from another planet, not in a cool way, but in a way that suggest they know nothing about reality anymore, only about some kissy-face fucking popularity contest These people genuinely think they're superhuman, genuinely think they're some kind of celestial being, and speaking as a human being I find it difficult to relate to that.
  "None of that has anything to do with the music. Being a rock star has nothing to do with music. It has to do with being a product, a personality or an asshole. How could anyone consider themselves a star. Are you a musician or a star? Are you both? It's fucking ridiculous and Hollywood is just full of it. Being surrounded by fake people, by people pretending to be something they're not - it's kinda funny for a while, then annoying, then depressing, finally it gets terrifying because you start wondering if these people are rubbing off on you. It's like one giant frenzy of aspiration and lies, so living there is really tiresome. I can't bag on it too much, I had a nice house, neighbours, nice barbecues. As far as playing that whole game which a lot of people do, and a lot of people aspire to, that's the goal for them -we can't do that cos we know we're just little farts. We came out of it with our best record because we had nothing to do with that"
Foo Fighters, Metal Hammer 1999   So will Virginia be the new base for the Foos forever? An awful lot of There Is Nothing Left To Lose' is about escape, about getting the fuck outta Dodge and never looking back. Final fade track 'MIA' (a gorgeous epic to rival 'My Hero') almost seems to be flipping the finger at the rest of the world as it disappears. Any danger of becoming a recluse?
  "Umm, we're in London man!! I don't call that reclusive!! We still want to take the album to the world, we still love travelling, we still love meeting new people and hearing as much new music as possible. It's just that wherever I end up it sure as fuck isn't gonna be Hollywood. I needed to remove myself from that, we just needed to get away from all that shit, close the door on all that shit and get the fuck out, and do what we did so there could be something pure and honest about it So we could honestly say 1000 per cent that this album is fucking pure..." .
  Taylor (in best redneck bellow): "HOME-GROWN AMERICAN RAWK!! ..."
  Dave: "Nothing touched it, no-one fucking touched it until we said, 'OK who wants to hear it?' Then we Started looking for labels. The greatest concerns out in Virginia were; 1. What are we gonna put on the grill tonight? 2. Is it Coors Lite or Budweiser? 3. What time is Tenacious D on HBO?"
  Are you pessimistic that the current showbiz choke-hold on rock 'n' roll will ever be lifted? There'll be kids today who don't know any different and once Disney start moving their money in we're all history my friend...
  Dave laughs: "Nah, see, that's bullshit cos rock 'n' roll still has to touch down in reality basically because anyone can start a band. Whenever the gap between the bands who have made it and the bands who haven't had a chance to grows too huge people just don't buy into that bullshit anymore, they're gonna be the fuckin' enemy. There will always be a resistance. Everything happens in cycles, everything happens in response to what happened before. What happened in the early '90s was, 'Oh my god these people look like my neighbours and they sing these crazy fucking songs with all this energy and they don't look like Cheryl Tiegs - this is amazing, this is fucking real' and all of a sudden what Bruce Springsteen was to New Jersey, Seattle was to America. Turned into this - REAL PEOPLE REAL MUSIC NO ROCK STARS NONONO!! mantra and after three fucking years people were thinking, 'I'm sick of seeing the same fucking people I see when I go to work I wanna see something fucking weird. Smashing Pumpkins are from outer space - Cool!! Marilyn Manson worships Satan - WOW!!' Hell, I was exactly the same. Whenever anything gets too samey people won't stand for it anymore. I found that sort of escape in The Prodigy but there the music backed it up. When you haven't got the music right, whether you're some grunge bar band or the biggest rock 'n' roll band on earth - it's gonna look hollow, no matter how gritty or alien the stage flash and bullshit is."
  Chris for one, is a lot less optimistic: "All of a sudden you don't know who to fucking believe in anymore: a lot of rock musicians have become cartoon strips. You're watching a soap opera, you're not watching something that comes from the heart, or that's real, or is made for the sake of it just being. What happens if you're a pop fan is that you have to search for what's righteous and worthwhile these days, you have to get immersed in the real shit to even forget about all the bulishit that 'The Entertainment Industry' calls rock 'n' roll. Gimme Royal Trux, gimme Wheat, gimme anything than all that starry shit All that shit about image is really reflective of where American culture is at right now: materialism, instant gratification, nonsense. There's a whole load of shit to be talked about there, but first and foremost the only problem is that all these shiny bands are writing really shiny songs. That's the only problem. That's not gonna change. I don't see our culture getting away from Jerry Springer."

Much of the press speculation surrounding the Foos recently has focused on the seemingly high number of personnel they seem to go through: rumour has shifted from Dave's apparent difficulty to work with (he's actually one of the loveliest chaps you'd ever meet! through to the band being permanently on the point of splitting. After the departure of Pat Smear and Will Goldsmith (the band's first guitarist and drummer, respectively) rumour had it that the Foos were merely Dave Grohl's solo project, something the frontman is always keen to dismiss.
  "Yeah, I always say that's bullshit, and this album will prove it's bullshit When Franz Stahl [guitarist, who stayed in the band for 18 months and then left just before the recording of the new album] didn't work out there was all this bullshit flying around. It was upsetting to me personally because Franz is one of my oldest friends and we both really wanted it to work out I mean, Jesus, we'd known each other since high school. It was different to, say, Pat Smear, who really didn't want to tour anymore which I can totally understand. But when you part company with someone you love because of musical differences, which is how it was with Franz, that is a lot more difficult.
  "To us, we're all friends, including Franz, and it's no big deal, it's just one of those things that didn't work. From the beginning, given the band I used to be in, we were always gonna do our growing up in public."
  Is it also down to the weird way you really shot to fame? A hit album without a band to play it?
  "Absolutely. The great Nate (Mendel, bass, sick as a dog and absent today) once said: 'Most bands have gone through what we have gone through before they even put out their first record' and that's so fucking true, man. The idea is, you get together, you try out some songs, feel it out, maybe get another guitar player: once you feel comfortable with the line-up, then you present yourselves to the world. The thing is, we already had our first record out, this shitty little demo tape I'd done which somehow turned into this band that had to tour and record, so we were always in the position where tweaking and alterations were gonna happen. So we've almost always had to work ass-backwards even though it's always been really cool.
  "I think now we're really settling into the kind of feel and consistency that most bands have to develop before they even go near a record company. Luckily since the beginning all the people involved with the Foos have been 100 percent into it and I don't think I've ever felt like we're not a fully developed band. Besides, which, we're talking about a few people. It's all been amicable so far, and now I think we've really arrived at a line-up that's gonna last And anyway, I don't think it's that unusual for a band to go through a lot of members. There's.. .can you think of a band that did that?"
  Taylor: "ELO!!"
Foo Fighters, Metal Hammer 1999   Dave: "See!' So we're in good company!"
It's typical of the general good humour that permeates the Foos camp at the moment. With 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose' threatening to be the Foos' biggest triumph yet, Grohl's wondering when all this good fortune is gonna run out.
"We're lucky fuckers," he admits, smiling. "We really are. Every step of the way every time something happens. I don't know anyone who's this fortunate. I don't know anyone who does a demo tape which become an album, that becomes a band and people start digging it. all of a sudden it's Platinum and I just can't fucking believe it. Then we make another record when we're just supposed to go away - no-one's taking us seriously - then THAT starts happening and I'm like, 'No fucking way, I can't believe this shit I felt for sure that it would be much harder than this'. Then we get let out of our contract No fucking way! So many bands would die to have that happen. Then we're in the studio making an album we're all in love with thinking this is fucking great. Then we sign a fucking crazy-ass deal with another label - I just don't think this could get any better."

So you're saved by your success but not strait-jacketed by it? If you sold any more, things could get difficult. . .
  Taylor: "It could, but we're really past all those illusions now and I don't think we'll ever get bigger than the nice little family we got now. I don't think we'll ever make an album that could translate over to ten million people. That's when you start wondering who you are, that's when it gets too big, too weird, too scary, unless you've prepared your whole life for being a star. We haven't, and we won't have to. Things are just right as they are."
Dave: "It was weird talking about the last record because we'd only just started as a band, and we had all these expectations on us. This was so much more relaxed, it's just like talking about one of your kids that you carry a picture round of,' Awww, he's so cute, he shat green fucking shit all over my shirt last night - and we laughed and laughed'..."
  Taylor: "We couldn't wait for this one to come out. GET IT OUT. Music to dance to that we love making. What a way to earn a living. See, we don't mind doing interviews, we don't mind doing MTV, we don't mind talking about the music, but we don't pretend to be anyone we're not"
  Dave: "I don't pretend to be fucking cool. I'm a dork, and I can't help it. I feel weird when I dress up. For the last MTV Music Awards, we all got up in suits cos we thought it'd be kinda cool. That was the last time we tried our hand at wearing cool clothes. We looked like idiots. I saw the photos the other day and... fuckin' jeezus. We look really really, really, really stupid. We tried to be all camp and cool, and we just failed so we're not even gonna try from now on.
  Taylor: "Damn right The point is that hopefully we're an example now of how you don't have to play that game. Just one example. It's just that we had to get away from what rock 'n' roll has become to rediscover what rock 'n' roll should be all about And that's what this record is about"
  We're currently living in a world where too many musicians want to be anything but musicians, so this attitude comes across as some refreshingly pure faith, and There Is Nothing Left To Lose' should be the gospel this winter for all fans of real music. So get blessed.

Words: Neil Kulkarnie     Pics: Mick Hutson

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