Foo Fighters are back with a new single, 'Big Me', and a fresh determination to not let adulation force them into a Nirvana-type corner. Melody Maker goes to Seattle to meet the most approachable guys in rock.
"If you want heroin, go that way. Speed, amphs, barbs? Go east from here. If you need acid, go anywhere. If you want yer dick sucked by a six-foot docker in a dress, head down past First. If you like to watch, go to the club where it says '49 Beautiful Women And Two Ugly Ones' and my friend Heather will have sex with another woman while you sit in a booth and jerk off. Oh, yeah, and if you need crack, just go wait by a bus stop."
Will Goldsmith (drums) is giving me a rough guide to the bright lights of Seattle from our sectioned-off section of the bar where we're doing the interview. He's a drinker, is Will, eyes twinkling from behind his Jagermeisters. And he's a looker, boys and girls, make no mistake; out of all the Foos (and who would object to starring in a Rock Band Daisychain video with these guys?) he should be the one you wanna fuck the most. He's certainly the one I wanna fuck, especially as he sounds like he'd be well up for it after a few babychams.
"Did you ever fuck Heather?" asks Dave Grohl (guitars, you know).
"Nahh, I sucked off her boyfriend, though," replies Will, the flirt.
"Well, I half did. It was kind of a joke," offers Will, apologetically.
"What, like, 'Hey, I got a real good joke for ya! [simulates choking fellatio]. Hey d'ya get it? Am I funny or what?!' Or like, 'Hey, I got an even better one for you, but for this one you have to fuck me up the ass! [starts riding a cockhorse in his chair]. Hey d'ya geddit?! Jeez, this is funny, huh?! Yer killing me!' Was it like that, Will! Was it, was it??"
Pat (Smear, guitarist) is laughing. Pat doesn't do interviews (he should have that printed on a T-shirt). Pat is a fucking sweetheart, who this weekend is gonna go cheer on Tyson as he slays some old pantomime failure in three. He says if Tyson loses he's gonna cry all the way back from Vegas. Pat could charm the foundation garments off a whole order of long-dried sisters.
"Hey, Will, tell us that OJ joke you made up today," he says.
"OK. Knock, knock."
"OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR, YOU BITCH, I'M GONNA CUT YER FUCKING THROAT OUT!!!!"
Dave Grohl is smiling. He seems to always be smiling, or laughing, his pigtails jiggling. He, along with the rest of the Foos (including Nate Mendel, bassist) endures the rigours of Foos business with an enthusiasm that belies the enormous success of the band (1.9 million sales in the US alone). His behaviour as frontman for one of the biggest breaking bands on the planet is admirably naive, endearingly unconcerned. It's as if the garage he started making noise in as a teenager has just got bigger and bigger.
"It's hard, though, man," jokes Dave. "I've got this leash around my neck constantly dragging me back to reality, and one of these days it's gonna snap. And then I'll start wearing dark glasses a lot more and put down a deposit on the Perspex bodyball."
"It's already snapped," whispers Will into my tape recorder mic.
But it must be tough, c'mon all those people after you all the time. How long before, intoxicated by success, you just become this big blue-veined arrogant rock star dick?
"But it's FLATTERING, and it should be considered flattering," says Grohl. "I think it's sweet when people come up and say, 'You're in a good band.' It's nice. How could it be anything else?"
"I've never taken compliments well," says Will. "You just sorta think, 'Well, I don't necessarily agree.' It's this weird Catholic guilt thing, where you think if you take a compliment something bad is gonna happen to you. So you appreciate it but take it with a grain of salt."
"OK, then. I love you, baby," says Dave.
"Hey, this is just me," volleys Will. "I was only able to masturbate and not to worry about it about a year ago."
"I think maybe once it becomes a burden," adds Dave, "once you consider it a burden, like, 'Godammit, someone else just came up to me and told me they think I'm good,' then it's time to wear shades and check into the clinic".
And you can't envisage that happening?
"No, I can't. Not me," he says, emphatically.
But Dave, can you see a point where the public will be able to see you as equally or even less important than the other members of the band? Some still see you as The Dave Grohl Experience.
"See, you guys made it like that," he says, and he's probably right. "You should have seen all our backgrounds before you saw THIS. Having seen where Nate and William and Pat came from, having seen where Pat came from, definitely - he should be the leader of the group. I just don't understand why once you put someone in front of the microphone he immediately becomes the leader of the band. I just don't subscribe to that."
Yowsa! Democracy in action!!
"Y'know, Jim Morrison was just some stoner poet on Venice beach writing like..." Will switches to an uncanny Lizard King drawl: "THE CHICKENS ARE FLAMING UP THE BUTT OF A HORSE, OHHHMMMM."
"Yeah, exactly," says Dave. "He meets Ray Manzarek and it becomes a band with him as leader. Take away the music and it becomes just this bong-babble. Fuck all that I'm the Leader Of The Band bullshit."
But it may be a position you wind up being forced into. I saw you in Wolverhampton last year and kids were fainting, screaming, looking up at you. Don't you feel a certain responsibility to be "messianic"? It's expected of you, man.
"No, I just think they think we're real handsome," deadpans Dave. "Kids fainting, screaming, it's more of a Beatlemania thing than looking up to us as role models or elder brothers. It's just...we're a good-looking band."
"It's not like we go out and urinate in people's mouths," says Will, apropos of nothing.
"That's true," says Dave. "I can vouch for that. No, I never think about that hero thing at all, or even entertain the remotest possibility that some kid might look up to us in any way whatsoever."
But they do, obviously.
"Yeah, but," he sighs, "I dunno. I might've had two heroes in my entire life. One was Jim Craig. He was the goalie of the USA hockey team when they beat the Russians in, like, 1980. He was like America's hero, I thought he was the coolest guy. He was just, like, ugly, short, fat, straight outta nowhere. He was the one, and that was it, really."
You said two.
"Oh yeah, and Barbara Streisand.
"When I was young I thought the people in rock bands were just weird. I mean, how could you possibly look up to Kiss?! How could you possibly depend on Kiss for motivation and goals?!!!"
The bar speakers suddenly burst out with Smashing Pumpkins. You're reminded that rock musicians are, as a rule, full-on stupid egotistical wankers and you mark Grohl and the Foos down as an interesting exception. Maybe even truly special. Especially when you consider the rest of whitepop America '96.
Dog's Eye View. Spacehog. The Nixons. Everclear. Bush. Silverchair. Never heard of them? Well, I have. Consider yourself lucky.
Honestly, people, it's grim over here. The most popular video on MTV right now is President Of The United States Of America's "Peaches", a song so transcendentally irritating Shed 7 start sounding like a viable alternative. When the monotony of the grunge-lite that follows me around Seattle is broken by the odd snatch of Busta Rhymes or Coolio, I breakdance round the room in sheer relief. In a record shop, drooling over a thousand hip hop LPs I can't afford, I hear Hootie & The Blowfish. For the first time I stagger out feeling used, cheap, unclean.
The US music scene is swamped by a million bands like Hootie: chirpy, singer-songwriter lyrics that make James Taylor sound like Method Man, ghastly, grunge-lite that the Spin Doctors would have dismissed as too weedily formulaic. Alanis Morrisette's dippy act sounds fresh in this sewer. A few years ago the year that punk rock broke, things seemed so promising. What went wrong, guys?
"It's kinda strange," begins Will. "I've noticed that a lot of popular music now that's called alternative isn't that much different from the way popular music was a long time ago before more guitar-driven bands started getting popular. It's like 1985 revisited."
Glen Frey, Foreigner, Huey Lewis, Hooters...
"Yeah, but now they're wearing Beenies and have a distortion pedal. They're all session men... Jeez, it's weird for the first time in years I look at the music scene and realize once again that I despise most of the bands I see," says Will, staring sadly at his drink.
Grohl's got the whole sorry situation worked out.
"If you look at the bands that are really popular in America now you've got Bush and you've got Silverchair. Why are these bands popular? I'll tell you: Bush sound an awful lot like Nirvana used to. Now Nirvana aren't really around any more, but hey!! This band sound like Nirvana and they tour!!! So you can go see 'em live and relive the Nirvana glory days!!!
"Silverchair sound a hell of a lot like Pearl Jam. And whereas Pearl Jam don't tour, you can go see Silverchair live right now !!! It's like, I missed out on the Beatles but I went to see 'Beatlemania' and it was cool. The bands you mention are for a whole bunch of people who feel like they've missed out for some reason. Also, never forget, America is a big country. There's a hell of a lot of space between Frisco and New York and it's mainly full of people who'd rather go to a frat dance and hear Hootie & The Blowfish, than go to a local bar and check out Built To Spill. I think it's a fraternity conspiracy myself, with possible CIA assistance."
If that's the case, then the next wave of bands are gonna be even more lamentable. David Stubbs was right to describe America's mainstream music scene as worthless compared to Britain's fairly lively one. The only thing he got wrong was his assessment of black music. That's more feverishly inventive than ever.
But turn the spotlight on white rock and the picture looks massively grim. Oh, sure the underground rumbles on, throwing up fresh delights every other week: Chavez, June Of 44, Rex, Bedhead, Run On, Ui, Tortoise, Trans Am, Jessamine, Built To Spill, Shudder To Think, Drain - don't get me started.
However, in terms of people making populist rock, it's even worse than it was in those barren pre-grunge years, except now grunge's pathetic final flails are occupying the centre ground the Seattle explosion once destroyed. It's bands like The Presidents from sea to shining sea, too many bald heads and stupid shorts, too many lazily kick-ass lame-brain mediocrities.
The only exception are... Fuck!! The Foo Fighters ARE the only exception. The only band where you can't hear camera-gurns and over-exposed videos, the only ones not saturated with sideburns and sweat and bad beards and incoherence and kookiness and childish slacked-out emotional paralysis and too much snappily dressed self-indulgence and bad bad bad footwear and all those other things that spread like a virus from the MTV cathode nipple to infect the whole sick self-satisfied scene that's masturbating itself down a black hole into decay. The Foos are THE ONLY ONES WHO ARE FUN, y'dig?
At least, that's how it feels.
Cos the Foo Fighters are far from the '92 throwback image you may have formed of them. In fact, they're almost out on their own in rockist hell in creating glorious, loud, unashamed POP music. Not award-grabbing, desperate-to-be-liked pop music, but big, shiny, 10-foot hooks and stupidly cool POP MUSIC. As heard on the Foos' spanking new single, "Big Me".
"Totally," agrees Dave. "In England you have a better attitude towards pop than we do over here. I love that Oasis song, I love songs that make you wanna jump around, have a good time for three and a half minutes. Eight-minute songs drenched in feedback are cool too, but I just can't write them. I wanna write a song as good as that Supergrass thing, 'Alright', that's a fucking great pop song."
Heresy! Heresy! Hooray! Hooray!!
"Well, I've always walked a fine line between writing songs to express myself and justwanting to entertain people. I think I lean towards the latter."
People wanted the debut to be this kinda huge exorcism/catharsis LP but it wound up recalling that Kristin Hersh quote where she reminded a particularly intense interviewer that hers was mean to be music you dance to, y'know?'
"Well, why would anyone wanna listen to me going, 'Wah-wah-wah, my problems, mememememeME, la, la, la.'?"
"That's what my old band used to play," says Will to much laughter.
Some might say it's what YOUR band used to play as well, Dave.
"Yeah, but y'know, I'd rather see a band who looked like they were having a great time than just an evening out with their therapist. A night with the Foo Fighters should be a great night out, not this horrible confessional. This is POP MUSIC, like you said, and I don't want it to be any more than that."
If I had no inhibitions, I'd kiss them. (The Foos are a very tactile band, pussycats the lot of 'em). Because at last we have a US band confident enough to be modest and likeable enough to never call themselves "artists".
"We're just another band," Says Dave, then suddenly, as if it's just hit him: "THAT'S WHAT I DON'T UNDERSTAND!!! I just don't understand how anyone could consider their band anything other than just a band, for God's sake. I mean. there are a few exceptions, but for the most part I could never understand howsomeone's ego could just get blown sky-high by something as silly as playing music. I mean, it can be a serious outlet for some people but I just don't. . . what's he big deal?? I just don't understand the ego thing at all. We're just, I hope, a great night out. And you know exactly how totally irrelevant and infinitely important that can be."
I suppose at this point I should be asking Dave whether his current attitude merely came about on he rebound from Nirvana, who clearly though they were more than just a band, where egos and irritation at the trappings of fame were at their most acutely, and ultimately self-destructively, developed. But I really don't think Dave has ever felt any different. Dave is the sort of person who makes you feel better just for meeting him. And that's the point of the Foos. Like a good friend, they make you feel better.
There comes a point where music doesn't just answer or raise questions, it floods your heart with joy. That's when you have to forget the past, flick the Vs at the future and just surrender to the here and now in your headphones. Because life's too short. It really is. And if anyone knows this, if anyone expresses that in everything he does, including he sound of the band he plays in, it's Dave Grohl.
OK? Good. Take-off.
Hey, Foo Fighters, walking around Seattle yesterday, I'd thought I'd put my finger on why grunge started here, why you like this particular paradise surrounded by wilderness. Real three-mile-high snow-capped near-arctic wilderness. In the hotel lobby I saw three grizzly ol'boys set off for a hunting hip in a pick-up truck, all Burt Reynolds moustaches and chipmunk-garrotting hands.
Whereas NYC rock matches the insanity of the streets and LA rock mirrors the superficial perfection of cosmetic lives, in Seattle, however tortured the singer's psyche, the music has to emphatically WEIGH IN, kick ass and roar and ROCK as the stunning environs demand.
"We like the sound," says Dave, embarrassed, and the whole table looks at me in scorn.
I didn't want you to say that.
"Well, I know, but what the fuck, we do. That's all there is to it."
"We really don't think about it that much," adds Will, the helpful bugger.
But don't you feel like you're perfecting a form, don't you feel like you're the best ever?
"We just go in and knock it out," says Dave.
For a second I frown, then I realize that this is the correct answer. For them. And when I think about it, pretty much for them alone.
But does that slapdash spirit extend to the lyrics as well? There was a lot of anticipation for the first LP and it seemed that you wanted to head off simplistic misinterpretation at the pass via rendering your vocals inaudible or when they did sneak through, plain incomprehensible.
"Well, that's just cos I've got a really shitty voice," laughs Dave, modest to the end. "I fucked up the vocals, slurred them and scrambled them, in blind fear that people would hear my voice and realize just how dire it really is. As for the lyrics, I specifically left out a lyric sheet precisely to avoid people wasting their time microscoping my nonsense for hidden meanings that really aren't there."
Rock lyrics always work better as phonetic effect anyway, a contribution to the whole mood of a song rather than as direct narrative.
"Exactly. Also, I'm practically fucking illiterate. I mean, really. So lyrics have never meant that much to me anyway."
The Foos have to shoot off. They're Rehearsing every night in preparation for a US tour that will be kicking off as you read this. They're rehearsing in a concrete-encased warehouse with hardly any windows so the sound is "amazingly fucking loud", as Dave gleefully tells us.
I have some serious professional journalist questions.
"Really? Cool! Shoot."
Will you be playing new songs?
Have you written the new LP yet?
How's it shaping up?
"This next LP, and this is my cookie-cutter answer to this question cos I'm gonna get it so much, is gonna be such a natural progression. You look at the first LP and it was basically a studio album, recorded by one person, so you don't have the dynamics of four different personalities, you don't have the contribution of three other amazing musicians. So this album will probably take advantage of the live aspect of recording rather than sounding so studio-ish.
"Did you get all that?"
Shit, man, you've got that answer DOWN.
"I know, pretty impressive, huh? It's got a nice professional vibe. I could almost con myself into thinking I know what the fuck I'm doing."
They look like they do and it's gonna be fun finding out.
Words: Neil Kulkarni   Pictures: Steve Gullick
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