Puff Daddy. Prodigy. Pat Smear. Molly Ringwald. And a bloke called Chip Donaldson. Guess which ones are Dave Grohl's heroes and which ones are his villains. Het, kids, what a neat tie in to the Foos' new single 'My Hero' huh?
There's a New Foo Fighters single out this week, called 'My Hero'. It's a deceptively simple, churning, anthemic song, in the fine tradition of Foo singles like 'This Is A Cali' or 'Everlong'. It's sort of about Kurt ("Don't the best of them bleed it out/While the rest of them peter out') but it's mostly about not idolising people. Or not idolising the wrong people.
Who are your all-time heroes, Dave? asks NME, somewhat disingenuously. Grohl thinks for a moment about how best to deal with NME's idiocy (Have they not heard the single? Do they not listen to the lyrics?).
"The thing that I hold so dear when it comes to my heroes is, you wouldn't know them," he says, pointedly. "One of them is Jimmy Swanson. Another one is Pete Stahl. Another one is Chip Donaldson. These are people I've grown up with and gained enormous amounts of respect for, in being just very normal people: strong, solid, respectable people. I think that throughout all of this crazy music bullshit that has happened in the last eight years, I've needed these people as a foundation. They're very close friends. They're like family, 'basically."
Got yer. Is there anyone else?
"There's a few others ... " he muses. "Mike Watt (of seminal hardcore band The Minutemen and, latterly, Firehose). He's kinda one of my heroes, only because he has this military work ethic when it comes to making music. It's a very basic trade to him. (Adopts gung-ho voice) 'This is my bass! And this bass gets me food!' He uses it like a fishing rod!"
But surely there's some public figure you respect?
He stares at his knees for a bit. "Well… there's Stephen Hawking, that, scientist with cerebral palsy. He's managed without his body, with just his mind, to open up the edges of the universe and understand it. He's one of the few people in the world that seems to understand about time and... creation. And I think that's amazing."
Dave twiddles the tuft of goatee below his lip, places it between his teeth, and sucks on it. He looks up.
"But I think (ex-US President) Jimmy Carter was pretty cool, too! He's the only president that's ever admitted to seeing a UFO!"
As well as celebrating the heroic in ordinary people, isn't the single about being disappointed by those we look up to, too?
"Kind of. The dangerous thing about having heroes, the big let-down of having a hero, is finally realising that the hero is a normal person. And in aspiring to live up to that hero, or be like that hero, you're just trying to be someone else," he explains. "I've met a few people that I used to consider almost heroes. David Bowie. Um, Bono. And that awe, that star-struck feeling, it just went away. It was such a drag!" he laughs. "They were cool. But they were just ordinary people. And that kind of let me down. My expectations were a little too lofty. So that's why I always stuck with Chip Donaldson. He taught me how to use a buck-knife!"
Dave gets animated. "I mean, what heroes did I have to look up to when I was a kid? Kiss? Jim Craig, who was the US hockey team's golie that won the Olympics for us in 1980? (He punches the air sarcastically) 'We beat the Russians!' it was such a big deal. Or....Molly Ringwald?!"
Do you think celebrity is a bankrupt thing?
"well, yeh. Everyone's a human being. One of the things that freaked out Krist and Kurt and I when Nirvana became popular was that people were looking at us like we were supposed to be role models. Wait a second! Wait 'till have my own children, and then I'll try to be a role mode!!" He looks weary. "The thought of anyone looking up to me frightens me, because what does anyone see in me that" they don't have within themselves?"
What about villains?
Dave squirms. "I think... there are villains... I don't want to put myself into any political thing..." Goober Dave, the Jimmy Carter fan, disappears. Nice Guy Dave, the diplomat, rears his head. Of course, he's far too mellow to clamber atop a soapbox and start declaiming against anyone specificaUy political. Like, say, another ex-president. George Bush, for example, a major hate figure of Grohl's generation. Or even for that matter, Gavin from Bush.
"There are many villainous figures," he pronounces finally. "Most of them are dictators, many of them have incredible amounts of power. They have control over too many people. But I think some of the biggest villains in England are the rock stars! I'm serious!"
Urp. In what way? Who?
"Why the fuck should they consider themselves to be greater than anyone else?" He's almost quivering with indignation. "They're the bad guys to me."
Nice Guy Dave, of course won't be drawn on names. But it's fair to say it ain't the Prodigy. Foo Fighters recently played a series of earth-moving gigs supporting the Prodigy last December. "We were worried coming over here to do these shows," Dave admits, "because they're supposed to be a dance band. I mean, I consider them a rock band. But who knows about the kids, right? And the response was awesome. I think our bands fit together just fine."
The original plan, when Grohl and the Prod first met during the summer festivals in 1996, was for the Prodigy to go to the States and support the Foos. But then the record-buying public intervened and made the Prod mega-stars.
How do you feel about 'Smack My Bitch Up'?
"It's a sticky situation. With the Prodigy, what I tend to focus on is the music and the rhythms. I don't really know what a firestarter is, but the track sounds fucking awesome. So when they release something like 'Smack My Bitch Up', you get worried. 'You think, alright, hopefully and obviously, they're not promoting violence against women. They can't be. They just can't. Nirvana had the same problem with 'Rape Me'. People were like, 'What are you doing? You've got crowds of 10-12,000 people, including women, singing along to this song, 'Rape Me'!!' And We came out and said, 'How on earth could you possibly think we could write a pro-rape song? That's fuckin' ridiculous! How could you think that?!'" His every fibre says sheesh. He thinks the video makes up for the title.
'My Hero' isn't the only Grohl opus hitting the shops this month.
He's also done a guitar-overload 'remix of a Puff Daddy track,
'It's All About The Benjamins', which just about rivals 'Walk This Way.' for rock/rap crossover aceness. Yes, that Puff Daddy. Hip-hop production supremo turned Police-filching, multi-platinum-selling king of schmaltz-hop. How on earth..?
"I just got a phone call! He asked if I'd do it, and I'll do anything once!" Dave admits, mischievously. "I like the original track. I think it's his best track, 'cos it's his fuckin' song, and no-one else's!"
As it happens, '...The Benjamins' had already received one rock remix courtesy of Tommy Stinson of The Replacements, but the result wasn't quite "rock enough" for Puff Daddy. Enter Grohl studio left (with guitars).
"So Puff Daddy shows up Puffy shows up. He's dressed really nice, in this suit, it was really fuckin' sharp. And he says, 'Do whatever you want to do. If I was remixing one of your tracks. I'd do what I wanted to do.' I felt like I was walking on eggshells: 'Ohmigod, I hope I don't destroy it!'" He mimes looking fearful. If this rock lark ever fell through, Dave Grohl, goober, could make a great children's entertainer.
"So then he left to change out of his church clothes - it was Sunday, that was why he was so dressed up. He came back, and I'd laid down some drums, some guitars, distorted bass, some effects over the top..." he pauses, "and he said it was too rock!" Dave laughs. "So in the end, he kept some bits of Tommy Stinson's, and some of mine."
He remixed your remix!
"He remixed my remix! But I heard the end result, and it's fine."
It seems that your guitar-based musical horizons are widening ferociously - first the Prodigy shows, now a Puff Daddy remix ... should we expect a Foos drum'n'bass remix before too long?
"Foo Fighters is not going to be the band that goes out and does 15 remixes of each song," he states, baldly, "and has Goldie and Tricky and Roni Size - I think he's really great by the way, he's my favourite of all of them getting at our stuff! We're a rock band! And if we're gonna do something else, we're gonna do it on our own terms and in our own time."
There has, somewhat inevitably, always been a funky element to Dave's white-boy punk rockings.
"I love dance music, and always have, from the first Public Enemy record to the Jackson Five or whatever ... because I play drums! Even if you listen to Nirvana songs, man, I ripped off the drummer of Cameo so hardcore! Y'know - I can't rap." He shrugs his shoulders, rolls his eyes, and looks like an utter goober, "I'm super-duper white, and I'm super-duper hyper skinny spastic: I can't do that! But I have synthesizers at home and I have freaky stuff I fool around with. But I'm not going to put a Foo Fighters name tag on it."
What's this freaky stuff that you fool around with?
"Actually, I've got a project in the works called 'Auto Environment'. Me and some friends recorded this 45-minute jam with synthesizers and real drums that's funky, kind of... It's good for driving. So we call it 'Auto Environment'. What we're talking about doing is making this limited-edition CD (adopts sales patter voice) called 'Auto Environment'. And you can only have it if you're a touring band. You can't buy it - you have to apply for it.
"In applying for 'Auto Environment', you will have to give your itinerary. We have to approve of your tour. And then you get 'Auto Environment' - the best driving music in the world. What we might do is, you send in the itinerary, and we'll record the song around the route of your tour. So, say your tour starts in Scandinavia. Well! It's very cold and dark in Scandinavia. But by the end of the tour, you're down in Spain and Italy - some summer beach music," he laughs. "'Auto Environment', man, '98. That's a fucking tip!"
Before Dave disappears to soundcheck, there is one question that must be cleared up. Original Foo guitarist Pat Smear left the band earlier this year. Was he pushed (as some rumours have it, for still being mates with Courtney Love) or did he jump?
"Oh, he jumped, definitely," stresses Dave. "He came to rehearsal three days before the start of the first tour that we did over here in May, and he said, 'You guys should be a three-piece'!" Dave mimes unbearable torment. Oh no! No more power trios!' So we said, 'Pat, please stay.' I went over to his apartment and cried to him for hours. I was on his floor in tears. But he just wasn't into it any more. We're always working, and it can get to you. I think Pat wanted to do other things. He wanted to do MTV's House Of Style. He always wanted to do a record on his own. He wanted to do something else, which I totally understand - there's days when I would love to have a week to figure out what to do. But my itinerary runs until next summer." He shrugs.
In the end, though, Smear was persuaded to play the tour. He was replaced last October by Franz Stahl, who was in Dave Grohl's DC-era band, Scream. Oh, and Wool.
How's Franz settling in?
"The thing with Franz is, it's so easy," he gushes, "I've known him since I was 17. I went to see his band before that - when I was 15. So it's like having your brother or sister come out on tour. I toured with him for years before I joined Nirvana - real touring, no-money touring, getting-into-fistfights-witheveryone-in-town touring.
"The time I was in Scream was the time when I was learning to play guitar and write songs. Franz was my teacher, in a weird way. So songs like 'Monkey Wrench' or 'Enough Space'or 'Hey Johnny Park' sound like Franz wrote them anyway, because our guitar-playing is so similar."
So you might say he's kind of an ordinary-guy, Dave Grohl-type hero, then?
"Maybe!" he twinkles. And he's up and away towards the soundcheck awaiting him at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire; towards what will be the last night of the Foo Fighters' third (counting festivals) UK tour this year. He's only worried about what he'll do with himself when he hasn't got an itinerary.
Dave Grohl: hero, goober, and nice guy. Thoroughly, marvellously ordinary. Bullshit-free.
Later that night, though, he will for no apparent reason invite Queen's Roger Taylor onstage to join the Foos in a two-drummer cover of 'Sheer Heart Attack', complete with drum solo 'duel'. Grohl will appear to enjoy himself immensely. Roger Taylor will wear trainers so blindingly white that a generation of Foo fans are in danger of having their vision irreparably damaged.
'Sheer Heart Attack'?! Queen?! ROGER FUCKING TAYLOR?!
There goes my hero.
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