Dave Grohl has made the all-star metal album of every headbanger's dreams. Now he's taking the steel to MTV
It's a bitterly cold Wednesdey evening in Manhattan.
Outside the MTV Studios in Times Square - New York's answer to
Piccadilly Circus, and about 20 times more imposing - hundreds of
tourists mingle with the homeless and the city's workers frantically
rushing home, marvelling at the dozens of flickering, towering
screens broadcasting everything from bared flesh to fizzy drinks. It's
a modern day hell of sorts, as alienating as it is visually arresting,
Inside, a clutch of heavy metal legends has descended on the rela-
tive coziness of the MTV studios for the day, each and every one of
them bent on recreating, if only for a few hours, their own version
of hell, with guitars, drums, dishevelled hair, and of course, that
most essential of heavy metal props, a smoke machine. A heavily
bearded roadie who looks the spitting image of ZZ Top's Billy
Gibbons is noisily pounding out some riffs, while Voivod vocalist
Snake and Trouble singer Eric Wagner stand around lingering for
the action to start, waiting for tonight's star guest, ringleader and
Probot mastermind, to kick start proceedings.
"More smoke!" is the cry with which Dave Grohl, his trademark smile stretching ear to ear, bounds into the studio, to position himself behind the drum kit, don a fairly ridiculous-looking headband, and commandeer his assorted metal crew - today featuring the aforementioned Wagner, former Obsessed/Spirit Caravan frontman Wino, ex-Goatsnake guitarist and Southern Lord label honcho Greg Anderson and long-time Grohl producer Nick Raskulinecz - into a performance of Probot's 'My Tortured Soul', which the 'band' are filming today for a one-off live performance for the newly resurrected 'Headbangers Ball'. For those who have been living under a rock for the last couple of years, Probot is Grohl's much-publicised all-star metal project, featuring everyone from Max Cavalera to Lemmy, plus a good many frontmen of the '80s underground metal bands that constituted the young Grohl's daily listening. Given rock stars' tendency to spout off about side-projects that never get released, or remain postponed ad infinitum (Phil Anselmo and Satyricon man Satyr's Eibon anyone? Or Trent Reznor and Maynard James Keenan's mythical Tapeworm?), it's a minor miracle Probot has finally seen the light of day at all. Equally, for a 'band' who up until last night had never played together, tonight's performance is a fine one, their song a typically Sabbath-esque slice of stoner doom-metal. Not, in other words, the kind of music you'd expect from a man who, ever since his days in Nirvana were abruptly cut short, has made a successful living peddling the kind of radio-friendly pop-rock one could fairly describe as 'saccharine'. But that's because Dave Grohl is a man not only of many talents, but of many identities too. One of them being that of a committed and knowledgeable metalhead. While the man's pre-Nirvana past, gigging furiously in Washington DC-area hardcore bands, is well-documented, his allegiances to underground heavy metal had been less well known until Probot finally surfaced.
"It's not the kind of thing I ever really wore on my sleeve," concedes Grohl after Probot's performance. "I discovered all of these bands through the punk rock scene; so in 1982, when I started listening to hardcore, anything that was fast and loud, screaming-out-of-control rebellious, I would listen to - whether it was MDC or Flipper or Bad Brains, and then that gave way to Venom and Slayer and getting really into Motorhead"
It's one thing to envision Grohl headbanging to Motorhead, another thing altogether is imagining him air-drumming away in his bedroom to the histrionic tales of blood and satanism put to music by the likes of Mercyful Fate and Celtic Frost. But to those who didn't have Nirvana themselves down as metal fans, Grohl will reveal that he'd frequently listen to Sepultura with Kris and Kurt on tour, and that when the band recorded 'Bleach' (before he joined), they had a single cassette in their van: one side was devoted to Celtic Frost, and the other side featured wholesome college rockers The Smithereens. That said, and given Grohl's all-round niceness, you can't help but ask whether he was, well, 'down with' the satanic bent many of these bands so explicitly embraced. "Yeah, totally," he grins, "Because I was eating sheets of acid and the nastier it was the better. Did I sacrifice virgins at an altar and drink the blood of a Iamb? Well, no I didn't. But I thought it was kinda cool that someone did. And a lot of those bands shared the political ideals that punk rock bands did: Sepultura, Corrosion Of Conformity, DRI were socially or politically motivated, somewhat. And then [there were! bands like Venom that just wanted to get wasted and fucking kill people."
Dave Grohl is visibly psyched to be here today, actually playing with some of the musicians he grew up obsessing over. He'll confess to having listened to Voivod's 1988 album 'Dimension Hatross' every day for a year, and will reveal that it was his dream to go to a COC or Voivod gig, and somehow end up playing drums for them there and then.
"I had this fantasy that I would go to their show, something would happen to their drummer, and they'd call into the mike: 'Is there anyone out there who knows our songs?'. And I would step up and just fucking shred through a whole set."
Talk to him, or any of the musicians here today, and it's clear that beyond the celebratory purpose of Probot, they're all very much hoping that the project will turn heads and ears onto music Foo Fighters fans might normally never even consider looking at once, let alone twice.
"Well, I should hope so," notes Grohl. "Because the music we make, it comes from that music. All the bands I have ever listened to have something to do with what I did today, whether it's Trouble, or COC, or anyone of the vocalists on this album."
And whether or not Foo Fighters will adopt a heavier direction in the future - the other Foos "appreciate" Probot, but aren't old school metal fans like him, Grohl will remark, somewhat dismissively- rest assured that their leader is well up-to-date on contemporary metal as well, as testified by his nods today to the new Lamb Of God, Machine Head and High On Fire albums.
"There's always going to be heavy music, it's just a matter of finding it. And you've really got to do your homework. You can't just wait for that stuff to fall in your lap. That's what was so fun about finding your firstTrouble record or your first Mercyful Fate record: you'd heard they were badass, but you hadn't heard them yet, and then you put them in a CD play- er and they changed your life."
The corrisors of the MTV Studios are lined
with photos, taken in a rainbow-coloured photobooth, of the great and the good of American popular entertainment today: the likes of Ben Affleck, Tom Green and Ashton Kutcher, that is. Today however,
milling around looking at them with marked disinterest, are a bunch of tattooed, greying, and yes, pretty
ugly metal dudes. One of them is Wino (real name:
Scott Weinrich); a man who is something of a legend
in metal circles, being the erstwhile frontman of seminal doom acts The Obsessed and StVitus. He may
look like a being from another age, what with his
copious tattoos, greying locks and rather crazed,
twisted stare, but he's actually a nice fellow, and a
mate of Dave Grohl ever since the drummer's hardcore band Mission Impossible supported The
Obsessed back in the early '80s.
"I was pretty honoured that he asked me, but surprised at the same time;' Wino grins. "I was proud to be included in his list of inspirational people:' Wino is more restrained, however, when asked what he actually thinks of the Foos' music. "I thought the Nirvana stuff was great," he says, "And I thought moving to the Foo Fighters was very logical, and I was very happy to see him have the success that he has."
Also here today is Voivod frontman Snake (real name: Denis Belanger), who Grohl has flown in to NY from his native Montreal, Canada and put up in a hotel at his own expense.
"I think Dave is really good because he made it big and successful," Snake notes. "But he has so much respect for the bands that were there. He's a wonderful guy, always has a smile on his face."
"Ca va?" asks the man himself, bouncing by and slapping Snake on the back. "Qui, ca va bien," smiles back the amiable Canadian.
Then it's MTV interview time, and 'Headbangers Ball' host and Hatebreed frontman Jamey Jasta will ask Grohl and co to recount the Probot story one more time. We learn that perpetually grouchyTrouble singer Eric Wagner thought, when he first got the call from Grohl, that it was a joke; we hear Grohl's impression of Max Cavalera's speaking voice; and we also discover that Grohl was informed of how to go about things by "a treasure map, made of human skin, buried in his back yard". Or maybe not.
Fast Forward a couple of hours. Grohl, who's
been skipping about the studio like a squirrel who's
discovered a secret horde of nuts, is now knackered
and red-eyed. He'll shortly decamp, along with his
wife Jordyn and the other guys, for a hearty meal.
"It's been amazing;' he beams. "I imagined this project to be so low-key, but people have taken such an interest in it, that I'm doing so many interviews for it. It's cool because I dig explaining the scene, and this music to people, but, er, but I'm hungry."
Probot has been four years in the making, but if Grohl is to be believed, today's performance has been his favourite moment so far.
"Making the video with Lemmy and Wino in LA was a pretty huge moment. But since I was such a die-hard Trouble fan, playing 'My Tortured Soul' today with Eric singing and Wino playing guitar was like my dream line-up. In the liner notes of the record, I said without these vocalists the only liner notes I'd be writing would be on your receipt at the drive-thru. I owe a lot to these people."
And then he's off, to join his Probot buddies as they gather around aTV screen to watch, and re-live, the day old school heavy metal invaded MTV.
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