LOS ANGELES -- Dave Grohl knows all the best -- and worst -- dumb drummer jokes.
Though he's pathologically reluctant to admit it, continually deferring to his bandmates' skills, Grohl is the high-octane gas juicing the Foo Fighters' engine.
Adapting to life after a sudden, horrific, life-altering moment -- the 1994 suicide of Kurt Cobain -- has brought immeasurable unwanted scrutiny to a guy still grappling with being at the front of the stage.
Yet Grohl's unwavering refusal to discuss Cobain, despite the morbid appeal of publicly venting, says as much about his character as his fiercely melodic, calamitously pitched songs say about his musical heart.
"People love controversy and they're always trying to get me to reveal stuff or feud with someone," he offers. "I don't have time to be the centre of this crazy controversy. I mean, I really do live this simple, ordinary life and I have as many problems as the next guy. But do I want the world to know about them? No."
No matter how juicy, personal stuff wouldn't amount to a hill of beans had Grohl's post-Nirvana reincarnation not clicked with the kids.
By releasing the almost entirely self-made, self-penned, eponymous Foo Fighters debut in 95 without hype or a single press interview, Grohl ensured that the disc would be absorbed, weighed and judged on its own merits and without baggage -- at least until the first in a series of nutty videos surfaced. It worked like a charm.
The stakes are altogether higher now. The release of the Foo Fighters' Gil Norton-produced (Pixies/Catherine Wheel), big-time, big-bucks rock and roll opus -- and first real band effort -- The Colour And The Shape, arrived with all the hoopla befitting a platinum-selling rock act with a string of chart triumphs and world tours.
There are press junkets in L.A., massive benefit concerts and in-stores in Grohl's home town -- Washington, DC. There's even been a smattering of media-friendly controversy -- the somewhat mysterious mid-recording exit of original drummer William Goldsmith, who along with bassist Nate Mendel came aboard the ship of Foos after the debut was finished, following the dissolution of their former band, Sunny Day Real Estate.
"I figure all these crazy rumours about Will came from the Internet," says Grohl with a shrug. "The Internet is kind of the bathroom wall to the world, and everyone has something to scribble. Rumours are so strange. It just amazes me that anyone would give two shits about anyone in the band, or about anything other than music."
Mendel remains, though he's overshadowed by flamboyant Foos guitarist, onetime Nirvana axeman and Germs founder Pat Smear, who was also rumoured to be poised to flee the Foos, something band management, predictably, denies.
All this, and Grohl has the undying admiration of beleaguered drummers around the world. Talk about vindication.
"Every so often, a drummer would come up to me and say, 'Man, you're really making a great name for us drummers.' I mean, Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü, who was a songwriter and guitarist and had a lot to do with the sound of that band, congratulated me. That really meant something.
"Look at Stewart Copeland -- one of the greatest drummers of all time. And yet at the same time, he made these amazing pop records, like the old Clark Kent records, totally anonymously. I'm sure there's millions of drummers around the world who picked up guitar or bass before drums and really understand songwriting and have beautiful voices. Taylor's like that."
So maybe one day new drummer Taylor Hawkins will be remembered as something other than the guy who rattled stadiums backing Alanis Morissette before joining Dave Grohl's band.
Typically, the self-effacing, sci-fi obsessed Grohl -- who wrongly insists he's the least charismatic Foo -- won't cop to any kind of vision or unique talent, despite the mountains of evidence laid at his feet. He should give The Colour And The Shape another listen.
Bouncing pinball-like between all the possible extremes of a full-blown rock record -- smudgy, crunching but unerringly melodic guitar rave-ups, pale, tender ballads and chirpy, lightweight, hoofing-down-the-street-with-the-headphones-blaring confections -- the disc manages to nail just about every emotion imaginable. Despite his claims to the contrary, though, Grohl's lyrics remain stubbornly ambiguous.
"The funny thing about the lyrics is that it came down to about a month before recording and I was like, 'Oh, my god, I've got to write lyrics for 14 songs. What am I going to do?' So I sat down and I felt like I had nothing to hide. I just let it all come out on paper.
"With the first record, I spent so much time trying to disguise and mask things and slip hidden meanings into stuff. This time, I didn't even have time for that.
"If you put everything down in black and white, there's less room for speculation. I just felt like I had to stay away from the blurry microscope everyone seemed to be using before. I thought it would be much easier just to spell it out."
Grohl's not being trite when he likens the mostly L.A.-recorded Colour's scope and involved recording process to a classic rock record.
Nor is he suggesting that his humble Foos have scaled the loftiest heights of rock fabulousness. But directing one's own video, as Grohl did for Monkey Wrench, and scoring a film, as Grohl did for Paul Schrader's Touch, point to a certain panache.
There's the sense that Grohl is rationalizing his urge to break free of the shackles of what he's expected to do as a punk rock icon. while figuring out a way of not having to apologize for letting down anyone looking to a former member of Scream for continued adrenaline rushes. You might say he's funny that way.
"There's been this pattern I've noticed with a lot of new bands these days," he offers. "They get signed by a label, nobody really knows who they are, but the label says, 'OK, you're going to make this album with this big producer.'
"So they go into this studio and spend all this time and money and make this album that sounds produced and beautiful, and it becomes a success -- so much so that the next time the band makes an album they're allowed to pick the producer and studio.
"A lot of these bands respond with, 'Well, we're going back to the garage and to our roots and we're going to make this grungy, punk rock record.' Well, why? Why do you want to take a step backward?
"I've made punk rock records, and they're fun and great and it's quick and there's passion. But I did that with the first record. I spent five days recording it and didn't take it seriously and just had a great time.
"I've never made a big, proper rock record before, so why not? We were building these songs and we had layers of guitars and harmonies and vocals, and had we done it by ourselves it would have been a big mess. You wouldn't have been able to hear this guitar overdub in the right channel that's complementing the vocal. That's why we wanted to work with Gil, because we felt these songs deserved production.
"I could have done it on my eight-track cassette thing at home. But it would have been a step backward. I just figured we might as well make a big rock record.
"People just don't seem to do it anymore, so we might as well take a shot."
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