The Quiet One

Metal Hammer Presents...Foo Fighters, 2005

Nate Mendel; My Story

Metal Hammer Presents....Nate Mendel It's odd that Nate Mendel is probably the least well-known of the Foo Fighters. Given their first album was a Dave Grohl solo project in all but name, Nate, a veteran of the Washington hardcore/punk DIY scene of the 1980s, has been right there since the genesis of the Foos as a band proper. But it is his quiet dependability and unflappability that has seen him weather several stormy line-up changes and some long, dark nights of the soul - not least from their frontman. Regarded as the anchor of the band, he was once described as 'shy, the voice of reason'. When Nate picked up his bass to help Dave take his vision on the road there was no way he could have foreseen how far the group would come and how much they would progress musically.
  When we complement him on the achievement of 'In Your Honour' and tell him how surprised we are at the strength of the 'acoustic' album, he responds graciously, saying: "Thank you. I think a lot of people are having the same reaction to the quieter disc. It seems to have really struck a chord with people who have heard it. That stuff was great to record. It only took a matter of days."
  We have to voice one doubt though - and that is, we thought it seemed an odd thing to do, like some kind of stunt,to put it on two discs.
  "But you don't think that now?" he jumps in. "You don't think that now you've heard it?"
  We have to concede that he is right. If you're going to make such a bold statement (and it is a bold statement for a heavy rock group), as releasing 10 rock songs on one double album, then it wouldn't make any sense to have it any other way. Even if it does initially come across as the group wanting to have their cake and eat it.
  "I liked it," Nate continues. "We got to do twice as many songs as usual and they've been split up into loud and quiet. I don't see why that's a bad thing. It's an album of two extremes. You can play one disc when you're in one mood and the other when you're in another. I don't think the album would have been improved by us mixing up the tracks."
  Like his band mates, the reticent bassist developed an over-abiding passion for music at a very early age. And like many bass players, he had other ideas at first.
  "I always fancied playing guitar, it looked way cool. So when I was in high school, about 14, we decided to form a rock band, but my friend was already playing guitar so I said I played the bass. Up until then I'd loved rock, but as soon as I picked up that bass guitar I went on a 20 year detour into punk. I'm still on it."
  Nate describes his small hometown bordering the desert in the east of Washington State as "a weird place to grow up". Its sole industry was servicing the neighbouring military base where they tested nuclear devices.
  "It wasn't," he says. "One of the most cosmopolitan places you could imagine." It did, however, thrust him into the DIY of the state's hardcore scene. "It wasn't one of those places where bands came. The only bands that came were the ones we booked. A lot of punk bands came through, one was Scream, Dave's first band, and that's when I met him before Nirvana. That was fairly early on, probably about 1986 or 1987. All I remember about that gig was the bass player Skeeter.
I cut in front of him to go to the bathroom and I thought he was going to kill me. He looked like an angry bastard. But it was a brilliant gig.
  But, even then, the young Mendel realised there was something special about Grohl and his bandmates: "They were different. They were on a reggae label which was an odd thing, and they were one of the better hardcore bands around. It was an interesting time. Music was so much fun and integral to your life because you were sorting it out, booking bands, and venues and learning how to promote it."
  By 1995 Nate was living in Seattle and was friends with Dave's then wife, Jennifer Youngblood. His own band, the now legendary Sunny Day Real Estate, had hit the rails after their singer found God, and Dave asked him to try out for the Foos - not that he had always been a fan of Nirvana. "I was part of the hardcore scene which had an inbuilt contradiction," says the bassman. "It was supposed to be about individualism, but really it was very restrictive. I was hearing this record 'Bleach' everywhere and this grunge stuff coming through, but I didn't really rate it. It seemed to be people a bit older, a bit more old- fashioned sounding, playing in bars - which seemed to be a step backwards to us, because we were putting our own shows on and the whole sound was diffPirent to what we were doing. Well, that's what you were supposed to think if you were into that kinda hardcore music - until I realised that basically it was just a really good record."
  William Goldsmith, the drummer from Sunny Day, also joined the Foos but left acrimoniously soon afterwards.
  "Dave wasn't used to dealing with situations like that. I think now, given his experience, he would deal with it differently. He was learning to be a leader. It put a lot of strain on mine and William's relationship. ,But things are different now, were talking agaln."

back to the features index