Lucky Man

Metal Hammer Presents...Foo Fighters, 2005

Taylor Hawkins; My Story

Metal Hammer Presents....Taylor Hawkins YOU know about the multiverse theory, right? It's the model of existence that says for every decision anyone makes, a new universe spins off from our own where a whole new reality unfolds. Well, in a universe very much like our own (in fact it's almost exactly the same) you haven't heard of Taylor Hawkins; and neither has anyone else unless they happen to be obsessive fans of Canadian singer-songwriters. So we should be thankful in a small way for the tiny fluctuations of fate that conspired to make Taylor the drummer in one of the world's best rock bands rather than just a jobbing muso on the payroll of horse-faced irony misunderstander, Alanis Morissette.
  If a chance bonding session between Taylor and Grohl hadn't have happened backstage at a Neil Young- headlined festival in Europe, not only would Taylor, by his own admission, probably be selling drums in a music shop somewhere, but the whole nature of the Foo Fighters would be enormously different. Taylor, the chipper and likeable rhythm keeper, is probably the second most famous member of the band, you see, which would seem weird if the story of this group wasn't already so strange and convoluted. The tub thumper, put simply, is Dave's best friend: the frontman sees a lot of himself as a younger man in the young Hawkins. This quirk of fate has been both fortuitous and unfortunate for him, however, as he admits himself. Taylor loves playing in the group - and is obviously still to this day in love with being in such a cool band - but it almost led to his death a handful of years ago when he slipped into the grasp of painkiller addiction. But his journey began with a childhood obsession with music that his other school mates didn't understand.
  like Nate and Chris, Taylor says that he almost fell into picking up his instrument by accident. Sitting in his house in LA, he explains: "There was always music playing in my family house. It always struck me emotionally, and I'm sure a lot of people can say that, but some of my earliest memories are of music. I remember being three or four years old and we had a record player out on the back patio playing music. I mean, who remembers being three? We listened to the Jackson 5 and the hits of the 70s. But it all hit me emotionally, even soundtrack stuff like.Star Wars. It had an impact on me; I don't know why."
  Through the tried and tested route of an elder brother and sister's record collection, the young Hawkins learned to love the 70s greats of mainstream rock such as Queen and Boston. It was this childhood love that made the fact that, he played with Brian May on 'One By One' and played live with Roger Taylor all the more special years later: "I've hung out with those ! guys quite a lot and it's pretty awesome. I would I say if there are two bands that have influenced I me the most, then they are Queen and The Police, I'll always carry them with me. It was a treat to work with Queen, It was ridiculous, It was far beyond a childhood dream: you can't even believe it's happening,"
  He admits he 'pulled' a Roger Taylor on the new album. Back in the day Taylor had been eager to flex his muscles on 'A Night At The Opera' and got to sing 'I'm In Love With My Car'. And this year Hawkins gets to do likewise on 'Cold Day In The Sun'. He says: "I do have a song on the acoustic side. I swap places with Dave. I don't know how often I'd usually get the chance to do that. I guess I got lucky because it's a double record," he laughs. "There was room this time, and if we don't do another double record then I don't know if I'll be able to do that again. The truth is we don't really plan stuff, it just happens, and we didn't plan that to do that song. It was just this simple pop song that I'd had lying around for some time and it was sort of acousticy and it just fits. It didn't make me nervous swapping places with Dave, because I've been recording stuff for years so it was fun. For the first time in my life I had this really good studio and a really nice producer and a great session drummer! All in all it took maybe three or four hours."
  But the transition from being a suburban kid who loved soft rock to being an accomplished drummer was not so much down to Roger Taylor or Stewart Copeland so much as his childhood neighbour in California. He continues: "When I was 10 years old, my next door neighbour Kent Kleater had a little crappy drumkit and a couple of acoustic guitars in his house; he was a musician and not a bad one either. I knew I loved music and after while, when the other kids would go to play ball, I was more interested in the music. It's funny that when you're a little kid and you don't really have anything that makes you special, especially when all the other kids are cooler than you because they're really good at sports or whatever, you can find something like this that is special. So I would go over to a friend's house and try to learn guitar but it was very hard for whatever reason. I'd never thought about playing the drums because that was for idiots! You know; no-one notices the drummer sat at the back. But he said, Why don't you sit down and I'll show you this simple rock beat?' And I picked it up really easily and within a week I was playing along to my favourite records. And then my life just became drums,drums, drums."
  He laughs when we suggest that he might have had better luck with the ladies over the years if he had stuck to learning the guitar: "I don't regret learning the drums. God, I've had enough women!" Before adding quickly: "And anyway I'm wlth a really good woman now,"
  He ums and aahs good-naturedly when we ask him what his favourite drummer joke is. (There is a murderously long pause before he settles on this: "What has three legs and an asshole on it? A drum stool,") And then he claims that the Foo Fighters were his first ever serious band; a claim he amends slightly when we ask him what his first ever paying gig was. He says: "I was in this - God it was an awful band - called Sylvia. Sort of like an early-90s Jane's Addiction thing. But we were struggling along when this guy told me about this Canadian lady, Sass Jordan, who needed a drummer because she was going to tour Europe. So straight away I was like, 'Yes!' Going to Europe sounded good to me. And we got to play with Aerosmith. I had never even expected to get that far. I thought that would be it and I would be able to say that I had been on tour when I was older and working in a music store selling drum kits. And then the same guy told me that there was this other lady from Canada trying to put a band together called Alanis Morissette. At that point it was just like work: I loved playing drums and playing for her, but it was just work. He sent me the record, and it wasn't The Police, but I was getting paid to play the drums. I met her and we got along really well and I thought she was a really clever songwriter, especially at the time there weren't any other people like her around. And then she became the biggest thing since sliced bread. So when we were over in Europe playing a festival that's when I met Dave and the Foo Fighters. It's really weird how you can go from playing in a band called Sylvia with your numbskull mates and then a year and a half later you're hanging out with Dave Grohl and opening up for Neil Young. Eventually they needed a new drummer and I said 'I'll do that! I love your band!' You know, I loved the first foo Fighters record so much."
  It all sounds so simple, doesn't it, dear reader? But obviously this was still a leap of faith for Hawkins as Morissette, even though it seems hard to believe now, was a much bigger draw than the Foos, all over the world as well as at home in the States. He admits this much is true: "After I said that I was interested he said, 'You're with Alanis Morissette; she's sold 30 million records - why would you want to be in our little band?' And I said, 'Because I love your music. And I want to be in a band that plays rock!' I thought the Foo Fighters were just amazing and I wanted to be part of something like that, not just part of this machine supporting someone else. So he said: Well, let me come by your pad and drop off the new record: So he did and we got along great and the rest, as you know, is history."
  Of course, for the briefest of times, the Foos had already had a drummer, ex Sunny Day Real Estate sticksman William Goldsmith: this relationship had proved too fractious for Grohl, who obviously wanted his own drumming expertise to play the main role in how the rhythms were laid down. Goldsmith couldn't handle this and left the group acrimoniously. Given his departure, we wonder out loud, there must have been a lot of pressure on Hawkins to pick up the sticks behind, arguably, the world's most famous drummer. He shakes his head dismissively and says: "It wasn't really a problem for me so much as it was a problem for other people. Some people would be like, 'Oh, you're drumming for Grohl now, you've got to be like this and you've got to play like this' People are hard on you when you're in the public eye, and you have to let it not affect you because it can destroy your confidence. And that's what happened to William Goldsmith, the first drummer. It really beat him down. The hardest part was when I first started writing and recording, not knowing how to fit in. You know; do I play like you? Do I play like me? Do I play like us? It was just an adjustment period, you know, and after a while we finally i came across what we needed to do. He's a big part of the process of putting together the drum parts, because they are his songs' and he knows where he wants them to go, but, then he also gives me leeway to add. It's more of a collaboration. And that's how it should be and how it is with all the instruments in the band - drums, bass and guitars. It did take a while to adjust and figure out who I am in this band but it was a natural progression. I think it Was helpful to me to come on board just after an album had been recorded, because that gave me the length of a tour to get used to playing with the band before I had to worry about recording anything. It would have been a bit weird to come straight in and try and do the drums on the second album straight away, because I had been doing a different type of music up until that point. It does take a while to meld together, but now it's all there, do you know what I mean?"
  But despite enjoying his time playing with the band (he has fond memories especially of recording 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose) it wasn't all sweetness and light, and he recalls one particular time when they came very close to splitting. He says: "I love all the records we've done, but I think maybe less so with the last one ('One By One) which is half a good record and half one that is a little bit shoddy. It was probably not the best outing. But it is a picture of that time. We nearly broke up. We didn't know what we were going to do. I wasn't surprised when we binned the demo: I was thinking, 'Should we even be making records?' It was such a disorganised, unfocused time. I don't think Dave was sure of what he wanted to do and, you know, he is the leader. I think he was still in love with the Queens Of The Stone Age stuff; he really wanted to go and play with them. I think he really missed playing drums, basically. But when he came back I think he also realised that he didn't just want to play drums for someone else. Now he's learned to balance it out so he can play drums on all these great records, because everyone wants him to play drums for them. So he can do that and then he can come back to the Foo Fighters, so he's happy."
  Of course Taylor, like everyone in the Foos, has his own little projects to keep himself occupied musically in the downtime from the band. His own neo-prog band, The CoatTail Riders, have an eponymous album coming out early next year, but for the moment it's all hands to the pump promoting 'In Your Honour', an album he describes as, "the most cohesive and interesting stuff we've done in a long time."
  But of course, the truth of the matter is that he is lucky to have been able to contribute to this record at all. In August 2000 he collapsed and nearly died after taking an overdose of drugs, which ironically turned out to be prescription painkillers. It took this life- threatening incident to persuade him to kick the narcotics to which he had become addicted. It is a subject that he is, understandably, very reluctant to talk about, but when we mention the fact that we recently talked to the US alt.rock band Wilco about their singer Jeff Tweedy's addiction to Vicodin (the heroin-like painkiller that has blighted the lives of Matthew Perry from Friends and Jack Osbourne among others) he relaxes a little and says: "I definitely think that the US government should take better steps to regulate its pharmaceutical industry. First of all, it's common knowledge that I had a pretty hard time with that shit a few years ago. Well, it wasn't just painkillers, it was lots of other things that weren't just drugs, but where I was in my life and things like that as well. But I did have a hard time with that shit. I've been to the doctors over the last few years, once recently with Jlower back pain because of all the mountain biking and drumming I'm doing and not sitting . properly. They're just so eager to give out these really strong painkillers, and it's overkill, man, because it's just legal heroin. It has become such a party drug in a way. They should clamp down on it and they should ask questions,"
  He is curious to know more about Tweedy's attitude to painkillers, and when we say that the band see it as part of a larger conspiracy (the junk food industry keeps people ill and the pharmaceutical industry sells them drugs to make them better again), he concurs, but warns against seeing it as just an American problem: "I agree, and I have researched it in some depth. I'm not sure what it's like in Europe, but in America... Is it our fault? Well, yes to a certain degree it is, but at the same time there are drugs everywhere. If you want to take drugs, you can. Come on, man. If you wanted drugs now, you could get them. England's a snowstorm. I hear you and I agree with you, but at the same time if people want to get high there's always going to be a way for them to do it. I've headed down that path, and if people don't get it from a pharmacist they'll get it from a drug dealer."
  Luckily, Hawkins lives a clean lifestyle now and is enjoying a quieter life of sorts with his wife in California. The fact that he and Dave are both married now means that they don't see as much of each other as they used to, but their bond is still as strong as it used to be. He concludes: "We're like brothers. We don't really see each other that much socially any more; you know, we've got separate lives, Dave's married; all that kind of stuff. Eight years ago we were hanging out all the time, chasing chicks and all that   We laugh and say we won't ask who takes the woman's role, but he says, very emphatically: "No, no, no. It's not like that. Well,! suppose it is in a way, but without the romantic side of things. Out of everyone in the band, we probably have more difficulties. It's not even that we argue more, but Dave can say things that can hurt me way more than the other two - and I can probably say things that hurt him way more than the other two. But on a good night it really comes through on stage. We have this kineticthing anq I think it has$omething to do with when we first met .each other."
  Long may the partnership continue.

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