Melody Maker 1995
Few bands can have been formed in more difficult circumstances than Foo Fighters. Few can have been more anticipated, scrutinised, resented, willed to succeed, willed to fail. Until now, Dave Grohl hasn't talked to the UK press about how he's coped with the last 18 months. When Everett True met him in Madrid, it was hard to discuss, impossible to avoid. The conversation turned to Kurt, to grief, to keeping on keeping on, and finally to Foo Fighters themselves.
The Foo Fighters Melody Maker interview takes place in the lobby of some swank hotel in Madrid, Spain. Outside, gun-toting cops keep the hookers at bay. Inside, a pianist plays tasteful versions of Frank Sinatra classics. Dave's tired, weary, already having spent the best part of three hours fending off questions from Spanish interviewers like "How come your band sound like Nirvana, only not so good?" and "What do you think about the rumour that Courtney hired someone to kill Kurt?" ("What the fuck do they think I think about it?" Dave asks bitterly afterwards.) This is only the second time I've spoken to Dave Grohl since the day Kurt's body was discovered. Since then, I'd gotten drunk, tried to wipe out my past. Shut down the memories. When the Foos played their debut UK show at King's College, London; I'd blanked Dave to his face, fucked up on confusion and alcohol and resentment.
The only other time I met Dave was in Texas three months later, when I mumbled an apology for the review I'd written of that selfsame show. He smiled, and told me not to worry. That made me feel worse. "Go speak to Dave Grohl," Kim Deal had told me in Brighton. "He'll make you feel better." I had. I felt like crying. What the fuck is the point in trying to reclaim strands of your past life when they seem so unreal?
The last time I interviewed Dave was on Nirvana's ill-fated tour of Scandinavia. Then, the interview began awkwardly, in silence, as we both sat and grinned at each other, slightly embarrassed at the circumstances that had brought us together. This one is similar. We both know what the primary topic of conversation is gonna be...but neither of us want to be the first to touch upon it. Eventually, I start by repeating to Dave Kim Deal's advice to me.
"You shouldn't have told me that, laughs Dave "Cos now I feel this responsibility, like I've got to give you a little tap on the arm and send you on your way."
It's the reason I'm interviewing you now. I originally refused to do this interview when it first came up. Not cos I didn't like your band - I like your band! Just cos it seemed kind of lame. I had no intention of dredging up the past, something which an interview with you would almost certainly entail.
"Well it's hard," he begins, "because, like you said the other night, you should never interview people that you know because...because it's hard to write about someone you know, that you've been through certain things with, because everything's so personal. It's difficult to be objective when there's emotions involved. It's easy for me to go talk to some Spanish journalist who I've never met before, because when they ask questions about the past I don't feel like I'm avoiding the core of the question."
I thought the explanation you gave that TV journalist who'd disparagingly commented on the similarities between the Foos and Nirvana, where you said that this is the type of music you've always liked and that's why you play it, was spot on...you should'a punched him, though.
"The thing that these people don't fucking realize," he says, "is that this type of music has been around for years. Often, journalists don't even see the correlation, that Nirvana's music had snowballed from so many different things - it came from Flipper, it came from Pixies, it came from a lot of different punk bands, bands that were around I0 years before 'The Year That Punk Broke' [title of Sonic Youth video which referred to the success of 'Nevermind']. "So then they look at what I'm doing and wonder why I'm not Edwyn Collins, or someone," he continues. "They don't understand that when I was 15 and had 'Zen Arcade' [Husker Du], that's when I decided that I loved this music. For me to do anything else for the sole reason of doing something different would be so contrived. For me to put out a free-form jazz record to be as far away as possible from Nirvana would just be ridiculous.
"I knew that when I was recording the album, people would say 'OK, that song has some distorted guitars and heavy drumming and a strong melody to it, it must be like Nirvana.' The instant I realized that, I thought 'fuck it, I don't give a shit!' What else am I going to do? It's just what I love to do. The stuff I do at home on my eight-track, whether it's acoustic or just noise, is not the kind of thing I like to walk onstage and do. It's fun to bounce around to this kind of music in front of people."
Earlier today, I was discussing with your Press agent the review I wrote of your debut London show, which certainly upset him, if not you. He couldn't understand why it had such a nasty tone to it - after all, we had been friends! and I didn't understand why either at the time. Now, I think that there was a large element of resentment behind it, almost like, "How dare Dave get on with his life!"
"Well. . . I know what you mean." Dave sighs heavily. "Well, it's strange, because...I mean, you have to...for me, I can't sit on my ass and do nothing, and I had almost a year of sitting on my ass and doing nothing, and I realized that I had to get out and do something now or else sit on my ass forever. I can look back at the past and think of all the good things that happened ...and I think of the bad things that happened too. . .but there's nothing you can do, there's nothing that you can do to change that happened and that's the bottom line. "Doing all these interviews it's hard to think about the future sometimes. People will ask me about the future, but only after 17 questions about the past, and it's sort of like-well, how do you expect me to get on with the future when you won't let me out? And you really have to look forward to things - there are still so many things to look forward to, there are - and shit, I fucking think about Kurt every day, every fucking day, every day, everytime I get onstage, and, you know, it's difficult, but it's the kind of thing which you have to force yourself to deal with, you really have to keep going, because..."
Something I noticed from briefly hanging out with you over the past couple of days is, that you're willing to talk about (good) things that happened with Nirvana which involved both of us which seems like a good thing to do, they're good memories and everything, but also seems strange...Y'see I haven't spoken to anyone about Kurt, to be honest partly cos I'm a journalist and partly cos I still think about Kurt every day, but I always cut the thoughts off, boom!, like "I'm not gonna think about that!" It's refreshing to see the way you deal with it.
"Sometimes," Dave says carefully, "if you think about the good things that happened and take comfort in them, it sort of eases the pain of the bad. Nothing lasts forever. Sometimes...I'll talk about Nirvana and remember things openly about Kurt, and I think it freaks people out. They think it's really strange I'm like that - I think Dave might be about to lose it. He's talking about Nirvana, what's going on?' "It was a big part of our lives, and to start thinking about it and then cut it off is not right, because it's five years of your fucking life that you're cancelling out you can't do that," he muses. "And I can understand when you start thinking about something terrible that happened, or some of the bad times that happened, an argument or whatever, and try not to think too much about that... I can understand that, cos then you're just asking for it, but I think looking back, listening to bootlegs, watching videos - just going through a scrapbook - sometimes can be nice. And you better do it now, cos you don't know whether you re gonna be here in two weeks to do it again."What you're saying is that you deal with your loss in the same way that Anton (Brookes, Nirvana and Foo Fighters press agent) deals with his. It's interesting. Kim Deal told me that she still can't listen to a Nirvana song on the radio (gotta turn it off!), or watch a Nirvana video (gotta switch channels!). She hasn't played a Nirvana song since Kurt died. I'm exactly the same...
I don't know what point I'm trying to make here. I'm just observing.
"OK," states Dave firmly, as if he's just made his mind up about something. "I'm not a very emotional person, but - and this is a terribly stupid example- but, if I'm watching a movie and there's this mushy goodbye dialogue and there's no music, it means nothing to me. If there's some Steven Spielberg fucking ET music, then I'll be in tears. Music is one of the few things that can spark that kind of emotion in me. After Kurt died, I couldn't even listen to a fucking Cornells song, I couldn't listen to any music for fear that the refrain would have some minor chord in it that would make me bawl...I remember I went to see that stupid fucking "Backbeat" movie shortly after Kurt died, and I knew that when Stu Sutcliffe died I wouldn't be able to handle it. I knew.
"Why? Why did you go to see that?" Dave laughs.
"So...then it took a little time, because...I guess it's different for me, I guess it's different for everyone. Nirvana's music meant something different to each person. Like, with my wife Jennifer, there was a time when we weren't together, and the song 'Come As You Are' reminds her of that period, so if that song comes on the radio, she can't listen to it. I don't prefer to listen to Nirvana music on the radio - if a song comes on, I'll search for something else. And it seems like there's times when it's four o'clock in the morning, everyone's asleep, and I'll go down and pop in a bootleg and listen to it. It's strange. Emotionally, music can do different things to different people, and it's not that you should force yourself through it...you shouldn't walk out of this interview and go home and put on 'Nevermind' and drown yourself in sorrow- it's not going to happen. . but I just think it was such a good thing, it's a shame to try to forget it."
I know that you must have had this a million times worse than me, but...I get so fed up of going to concerts and being asked "So what was he really like?"
"Fuck" the singer agrees. "I get it everyday, three times a day you know - and it's almost like I have a rubber stamp answer now. Fuck you if I'm going to tell you exactly."
Nowadays I just tell people I never met Kurt.
"I wish I could do that," Dave laughs. "But...This is one of the reasons I didn't want to do this interview. It was obvious we'd talk about Nirvana. "Well...if it wasn't you, then I wouldn't sit here and talk about this kind of thing," he replies. "Ultimately, I don't want this to be the big Dave interview...but it's fine, because at least the conversation won't be so shallow as to ask 'What do you think about the rumour that blah blah blah?'
"I don't know, he continues "Maybe I'm so naive and stupid and childish to think 'duh, life must go on', but if that's what's going to get me by, then...shit, I'll take it. There are times when I think all right, here I go, this is it, today is going to be the big freak-out', but it's kinda gradual, and you have freak-outs once in a while and then you feel lucky in many ways. Sometimes I feel jinxed, sometimes I feel like the rest of my life will be spent. . . I do."But on the positive side, there was that band Joy Division, who still mean a hell of a lot to a hell of a lot of people. Obviously they weren't in the same league as Nirvana, but New Order do fine for themselves. "Right," agrees Dave. "That's true. So how did you feel when New Order started?" I really fucking resented them. We both laugh. It's not fair that so much of the first Foo Fighters UK interview is taken up with the past, but what can you do? Pretend nothing happened? Sometimes, it seems like Dave is determined to keep the flame of Nirvana burning singlehanded - the way he infuses his live performances with such passion, energy. Sometimes, it seems like none of us will ever escape the shadow of the past- not me, not you, least of all Dave. Especially when there's people like me around who refuse to even acknowledge the past, and in refusing to acknowledge it, can't let go. It's unfair. Already, Foo Fighters mean something to a new generation to whom "Nirvana" were just another rock band. Witness their tumultuous performance at Reading, when they set the whole weekend alight. Witness the chart positions for their albums and singles (higher than anything Nirvana achieved, I believe). Witness their live shows in Spain, where fans queue for hours afterwards just for a chance to claw clumps out of Dave's hair. Already, Foo Fighters are reaching out, touching people in their own peculiar way. Reaffirming their desire to survive. Taking pleasure in the sheer thrill of being alive. Reacting against all the shit that went down back then. Back then, no one could have suspected that Dave Grohl would turn into such a great songwriter. (After all, he was only the bloody drummer.) But then, no one expected a lot of things to happen. So this is the first Foo Fighters UK interview. It won't convert anyone to their cause. It's not designed to. It's just meant to give a glimpse behind - a blurred snapshot of - the mind of someone who now means a hell of a lot to a hell of a lot of people. For whatever reason. The mind of someone who's still growing, still learning. The future will follow, as it always does. Back to the interview. For years, you were the drummer- now you're he singer, thrust into the spotlight. Does it feel weird? "Well, yes, it does." Dave laughs. "It's strange because it was almost like I felt, 'the fuck I'm going to become drummer for hire.' There's no way...I'll wait until I have six mouths to feed and Jennifer throwing an iron at me. I don't know. In many ways I try to deny the responsibilities. People ask me what I think of being the band leader, and I think, 'Well, the fuck I'm going to say I'm the band leader' I guess I just imagine the band leader to be this handsome, charismatic glamorous sort of character. I'm not."
You're fairly handsome. "I don't think so. If I hadn't have been in Nirvana then I probably wouldn't have been considered the leader of this band, I'd be one of four people. But the fact that I was, tons of people at first pegged it as a solo project and that fucking drove me nuts, cos if I'd wanted that it'd have been Dave Grohl And The Fabulous Four, or whatever. That's weird, difficult - and I get all the hard questions...do you always wear your socks inside out?"
One of the reasons my review of your London show was like it was, was because I felt there was too much sympathy being extended towards your band, and I felt that was wrong. Give someone pity and they become less of a person.
"That's true," Dave agrees. "Well, it's hard. It's hard for me. . . (clicks teeth)...I don't know. I don't take a lot of the sympathy because...I read somewhere recently that you should never ask a man if he's OK. It's true. It's so belittling. It makes you feel like nothing, peed on. But it's hard, because a lot of the times when people write about the band, there's always some personal interjection, and people do feel really sorry for Chris and I.
"And I don't feel sorry for myself," he continues. "I'm sorry that a lot of things happened that did, but I'll never ask for anyone's sympathy. I know it's there though..." Isn't the thing with suicide is that it makes everyone who's left behind feel guilty however rightly or wrongly?
"That's true. . . and it's really difficult for me sometimes to think about going on in music because I'm constantly being dragged into the past."
I'm hopeful that it might fade away.
"Uh-oh." Dave shakes his head. "I'm looking forward to it not fading away. And when it does fade away I'll think, 'Jesus Christ, I thought that would never happen!' My expectations are like, OK, every day for the rest of my life, I'm going to have to answer this question, I'm going to have to try to suss this out for someone who can't."
"I don't know, he continues. "Often, I'll sit around and try to deny all the personal influences, like 'Oh yeah, these songs, a lot of the lyrics are just nonsense.' When I write them, it's usually just before stepping into the vocal booth and Barrett [sound engineer] will be going, 'Cmon, we've got five minutes, you've got to write something - so I write some stupid words and the syllables fit and it rhymes, so I go in and sing them. "Then, three years later, I'll look at them and think, 'Oh my God, I think I actually meant something.' It's frightening. And it's not like the album is some bleeding heart for 12 quid, either. But it's helped. It really has helped. "It's a shame to try to forget about it, because it was so, special, and everyone should be able to. . . I don't know. I guess when I first started listening to our music again and remembering it, it was really difficult. I didn't feel like I had to, but there was a feeling like I wanted to. I didn't want to throw away the things I'd gathered over the last five years. Is "I'll Stick Around" really not about Kurt? (The line "I don't owe you anything", etc. Dave was quoted in Rolling Stone, saying how upset he was that people - ie me-could have misconstrued it to be about his past.)
"Well," he hesitates, "it's weird. It's hard to deny that the personal experiences of the last four or five years haven't made their way into any of these songs, so... like I said, I don't set out to write about anything although it has to be in there. It's even difficult for me to find it in there sometimes. So when people first started asking me these questions I was like, 'piss off, you fucking sod.' I would totally deny if, but I wasn't lying when I denied it. I just didn't realize it. I've gotta tell you now. My favourite Foo Fighters song is the out-and-out love song to Jennifer, "Big Me".
But all the other ones. . .
"Yeah, they're fucking shit!" he laughs. "It's strange now too, cos we have eight or nine new songs and I'm kind of paying a little more attention to the lyrics. I kind of got the impression, from when I did that initial news story on your demo tape, that you were trying to mask your lyrics by putting that weird effect on your voice. "Well, no," Dave states. "I just think that I have a really shitty voice. I thought, 'OK, how much ketchup and mustard can I put on my voice to make it seem palatable? One of the coolest things about vocals sometimes is, when someone has such terrible enunciation that you can't understand one word, but the phonetics of everything sound good, and you don't remember the words but you remember the vowels.
"I just have an amazing insecurity about my voice," he explains. "There are no effects on the voice, well, on the song 'Floaty' there are, but everything else is double-tracked. And I remember you saying I have a very annoying nasally voice . . (laughs)... it's true! I do! It's absolutely true. I think Michael Stipe once said that his sinuses were a God-given gift and that's why his voice is so nasally and bizarre as it is. To me, it's more of a curse. I'd rather have them repaired so I can sing like Luciano Pavarotti...
"What's up, Peter?"
Foo Fighters' tour manager has been painfully hovering over us for the last five minutes. We're half an hour late for dinner. Time to start wrapping this up.
It's not fair. Nothing's ever fair. I shouldn't be discussing the past with Dave right now - especially not when faced with such a joyful abundance of life. I should be discussing. . . what the hell do I discuss with rock stars in interviews? Beer, prostitutes (I ain't joking about the proximity of streetwalkers to our hotel), tour jokes (Dave: "What was the first thing OJ said after the trial finished? Please could I have my hat and gloves back now"), stray bits of asparagus (flung by drummer William at guitarist Pat during the Foos' after-show dinner, blamed on the pissed journalist), architecture (the majority of the Foos' photo session takes place outside Gaudy's magnificently over-the-top, unfinished, cathedral in Barcelona), support bands (check out the awesome Built To Spill now!), live shows (for the Foos' Halloween performance, guitar tech Eddie wears a hockey mask and Dave's wife Jennifer dons a fluorescent blue wig. Dave himself is unrecognizable in black wig and beard, while William paints strange war- stripes over his bare chest), fans (the show in Madrid is like stepping back into 1990, where Tad is playing to the sound of bodies leaping off stage smack into the floor)...life.
Oh well. Whatever.
Back to the last part of the interview.
What fuels your music?
"That's a hard question," the singer replies. "It's weird, people often think 'teen angst, anger, I hate everything, I'm gonna beat it out of my guitar'...I just like playing music and I love creating it. For the sense of accomplishment. I love playing music, and there's not much else I know how to do."
Couldn't you learn a skill?
"Well, I could, but since I was 17, the only skill I've had to deal with is touring and playing music. It's different for everyone. For William and Nate [Foo Fighters' drummer and bassist, respectively], Sunny Day Real Estate [their previous band] meant something different to them - I think it was extremely emotional. For Pat [Smear Foo Fighters' and ex-Nirvana guitarist], he's been in 650) bands, so that'd be a good question to ask Pat - and I can't imagine any answer other than he loves to play music."
William looks possessed on stage.
"He's a fucking awesome drummer," Dave agrees. "That's really one of the reasons why this band is this band, cos I thought that I would never be able to be in a band where people enjoy playing and have the kind of intensity that I would expect. And I really cannot think of anyone else who'd be able to do it."
Seems like he's got a lot of inner demons to drive him.
"That's one of the reasons why I sometime say I'm the least charismatic member of the band - I spend every day with William! A lot of the time I'm scared to be too emotional, for fear that I'm just setting myself up to be shot down. There are a few people that I'll share everything with, but it's like, 'the fuck I'm going to spill my guts out to six million people!' "There are a few songs we play that every night I actually feel in my gut, and when I scream the chorus, I feel it, and I'm not thinking about being on-key or...cos a lot of the times I do -when I'm singing a pretty love song like 'Big Me' and my wife is standing on the side of the stage, I don't want to sound like a dog being kicked in the stomach...but there are some songs that really mean a lot to me, so to have someone shoot me down for baring my emotions, that's a big fear.
"Let's go to dinner, man."
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