Virgin Mega-zine 1999
The Foo Fighters seemed to do things backwards when they recorded their third album, 1999's There is Nothing Left to Lose. Most bands wait until they're signed and then start recording in a studio. But the Foos were between labels so they decided to do it all on their own, and only when the album was finished did they look for a label.
"We were kinda happy with ourselves doing that," admits bassist Nate Mendel. "It was a 'Look what we're doing!' and a 'So there, take that' to the industry." A bold move and an attitude that has made this band stand out in the short amount of time they've been in the music scene. The Foo Fighters formed in 1995 when former Nirvana band member Dave Grohl stepped out from behind the drums and up to the mic with an album he entirely played on and produced. Putting a band together, he got signed and headed for the road. The debut album Foo Fighters went platinum and the hugely successful sophomore The Colour and the Shape followed.
"So [Nothing Left to Lose] wasn't actually any different than the albums we've done before," says Nate, "because the first one Dave did all on his own and with the second one we didn't have an A&R person or anything." What the band did have was a licensing agreement, which gave them carte blanche to produce whatever type of music they wanted, without a label breathing down their neck and telling them what their sound should be for a commercial market. It's the stuff most bands only dream about.
"I don't really realize the full extent of it," admits Nate, "as I haven't had to do it any other way. Maybe that's why so much music is so terrible ... When you're forced to start playing to a target market ...
"You know that's why punk rock was so amazing," he says, referring to the Nirvana/Seattle grunge days. "There was a distance between popular music and what we were doing. A lot of great bands were able to come about and be successful on their own terms. Now it seems that the tide might be turning back towards a traditional way of creating product."
Product. That's a horrible word for a musician to use about music. "You talk about music," says Nate obviously warming to a favorite topic, "And no one's happy with it. People who have to deal with it for a living - musicians, journalists, people who aren't just casual listeners - are upset. Apart from that new Creed record that knocked my socks off, you don't hear music any more that gives you that kind of reaction."
For this very reason he hasn't been listening to much music lately. And that's reflected in There is Nothing Left to Lose which is full of '70s influences like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foghat and ZZ Top. The album is very much a back-to-basics sound. It's less angry and more melodic. All the lads in the band were listening to classic rock acts while in the studio. But Nate is quick to point out that he didn't grow up listening to these bands. "I loathed it all," he says with a grin, "'Cause I was listening to punk rock." "My girlfriend says you end up becoming the thing you hate," he continues laughing. "But we're still the punkest!"
The album was mostly recorded in Dave Grohl's basement studio in Alexandria, Virginia - a deliberate departure from both Los Angeles and Seattle, where Nate lives. One of the songs on the album, "Stacked Actors," has an incredibly anti-Hollywood sentiment. (And rumors abound that the song was written about Courtney Love's Hollywood sellout.) "I love that song," says Nate, "It's kind of clever and very heavy." And he agrees with the sentiment. But aren't the lads by default part of that glittery paparazzi life just because they're in a famous band? "People are constantly comparing you with a cliche of what a Rock Star should be," moans Nate. "But we're just really normal, normal people. Thankfully."
Another favorite track of Nate's is the slow ballad "Aurora." "I like songs that have that heavy emotional thing to them. I don't really know how to describe it, but they have a feel. They can pick you up and carry you along to some place. And I think that song really does it. You can just get buried in it and I love that about it."
Other songs showcase a twangy pedal steel on "Ain't It The Life" and range into guitar pop (same riff for chorus and verse) on "Learn to Fly," a track which delves into Grohl's discovery how much friends and home matter to him, after a horrible divorce and a miserable year in Los Angeles. Continuing the theme of his recent split, "Gimme Stitches" tells the tale of being in a damaging relationship but being so in love you're unable to leave. "Headwires" gets a little more romantic and "Generator" is fast, rhythmic and reminiscent of Peter Frampton but with a Foo twist.
It's definitely a very personal album, which doesn't dwell on the past but looks to a bright future. The album artwork exemplifies what the disc is about. The cover is a picture of the back of Dave's head with a simple FF tattooed on his neck. Inside there's three single photos of each band member playing their respective instruments. Explains Nate, "It's just us at night out in the middle of nowhere playing. And that's something we were really excited about. The fact that we just did it ourselves. We were in this house and not in some studio somewhere and so we were able to have fun with it."
Despite not being quite as daring as the album title suggests, this is the Foo Fighters' best effort yet. They've reached a melodic maturity and they seem very comfortable with this progression.
"I want people to like this album," declares Nate. "And just respect it and the effort that went into it. We were trying to do something a little different but still make it good. I want people to think 'Man, these guys are onto something! They really make a good record.'" "I guess it's a kind of egotistical thing," he concludes, "but that's how I feel."
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