The Quiet One
Metal Hammer Presents...Foo Fighters, 2005
Nate Mendel; My Story
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
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
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
"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."
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