Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl enlisted the gnarliest vocalists in all creation for a furious flashback to his metal past.
No one will ever mistake Dave Grohl for a heavy-metal warrior. He smiles
way too much, stars in ridiculous music videos, and writes way too many
heart-on-sleeve love songs. In his own words, he's a sappy goofball.
So it's hard to imagine the Foo Fighters frontman cranking Sepultura's Roots before he goes onstage or being awed when he meets Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister, whose entire 26-year catalog probably has sold fewer copies than just four Foos albums. It's even more difficult to picture the ex-Nirvana drummer spending almost four years on a rumored heavy-metal side project. Yet all of the above are true. The myth has become reality; Probot is here.
The 12-song disc of thrash, doom, and hardcore metal songs was written entirely and mostly performed by Grohl and sung by a who's who of Eighties underground metal vocalists, including the aforementioned Lemmy, King Diamond, Cronos of Venom, Snake of Voivod, Eric Wagner of Trouble, and Tom G. Warrior of Celtic Frost.
"This is a compilation tape I would have made when I was 17 years old that I would still lis- ten to today," Grohl says of Probot. "These people were the fucking kings of their era."
The songs on the album seem made for the vocalists who sing them. The Lemmy track "Shake Your Blood" charges the gates with whisky-worn vocals, rumbling bass, and churning guitars. The Cronos-driven "Centuries of Sin" is even heavier, powered by a thrash rhythm and a propulsive chorus. And the Max Cavalera-fronted "Red War" is tribal and belligerent.
A few days after shooting the video for "Shake Your Blood" with Lemmy and Wino from the Obsessed, Grohl took some time to reminisce over how he discovered thrash, Cronos' bizarre eating habits, and how his former life was a heavy-metal version of the John Hughes movie Pretty in Pink.
You've never promoted yourself
as Mr. Rivethead. What possessed you to
record an album of extreme metal songs?
It wasn't intended to be an album. It began as a few days of fucking around in my basement. Foo Fighters' third record, 7here Is Nothing Left to Lose, was pret- ty mellow for us. I loved it, but when we played it on tour, it wasn't as rocking or aggressive as a bunch of our other stuff, and I missed that feeling. So when we got home from the tour, I called up my buddy and said, "Hey, meet me in Virginia, I want to record some heavy shit for fun." We spent three days just drinking beers and playing brutal riffs.
You wrote all of this stuff in three days?
I did seven songs that way. I'd come up with a riff I thought was cool, then I'd go to the drum set, run through some stupid arrange- ment off the top of my head, and then put some guitars and bass on it and move on to the next one. I totally didn't take it seriously. I just wanted to prove to myself that I still had this heavy stuff in me.
How did Probot go from a fun steam-venter to a full-on metal album complete with old-school icons?
I liked the songs, and after a few months I decided that I should release it and that it should have a lot of different vocalists on it, because I couldn't imagine singing on it myself. The whole thing was born out of lis. tening to the riffs, drinking beer, and talking, about how fucking insane it would be if we .' could get Cronos from Venom on the phone, much less on the album.
Why did it take three years to release?
The logistics were fucking nutballs. You've got singers on there from all over the world. Most of them are touring still, some are in the studio, some of them you just can't find. Meanwhile, I'm constantly on the road, first with Queens of the Stone Age, then Foo Fighters. And once it was done, we had to figure out how we were gonna put it out, and that took a lot of time.
Why did you put it out on an indie label?
Major labels would have taken this record and slapped my name real big on a sticker on the front of the CD-"Dave Grohl's fuckin' metal band." And that would have ruined everything, because, to me, the focus should be on these vocalists. Some of the people at labels were asking who these singers are and why they should be on the record, and it was important that I give the album to someone who under. stood these people and this kind of music and who wouldn't take advantage of the easy sell.
Did you enter the studio with each of
No, this album was created by FedEx. I went in with Wino for "The Emerald Law" just because I've known him for a while and we were in town at the same time. And I recorded "Shake Your Blood" with Lemmy in Los Angeles.
What was that like?
It was like meeting the fifth Beatle. I met Lemmy once, years ago, but I was walking out of a strip club and he was at the video poker machine. I said, "Hey, man, I've got a lot of respect for you," and then I ran away before he could say anything. For "Shake Your Blood," he came into the studio and drank a half a fifth of Jack Daniel's before he even got in front of a microphone. He sang it twice, and it was genius. He nailed the bass in two takes. When we were done he said, "Who wants to go look at some tits?"
Did you go?
I actually didn't. But we did a video for "Shake Your Blood," and I met him earlier at the Rainbow [bar] to talk about the video. He told me a pretty hilarious story about the for mer drummer of Motorhead [Philthy Taylor] being so fucked up on drugs that he tried to climb out of his hotel room through a mirror. Hanging out with Lemmy is a guaranteed good time. He's like a stand-up comedian. If this Motorhead thing doesn't work out, he could do well up in the Catskills.
Any other good stories?
I went to England to do British press with Cronos, and he really is that guy. We went to dinner, and he drank like a Viking and ate a piece of meat that was almost still alive. The outside was kind of brown, but it was cold and bloody. And he told us about going into supermarkets and eating raw meat when he didn't have any money. I told that to Lemmy, and he said, "Yeah, well, I used to suck the meat out of raw sausages." It was like a contest for who could be more metal.
Did you write each of the songs on Probot
with a different vocalist in mind?
The first seven songs I just did for a laugh without thinking they would ever be released. Then later, I had to record five more because I didn't have enough for a record. At that point we had our list of vocalists, but I didn't know which vocalist I wanted to sing on which song. The reason the singers match the songs they sing on is because I was influenced by them in the first place.
Did making Probot trigger childhood
A lot of it reminds me of being in my bedroom as a teenager. I spent so much time there listening to the first three Trouble records, and whenever I hear that music, it brings me back to that time when I was just dropping out of high school and I didn't know what the fuck I was going to do with my life. I was working at a furniture warehouse. I was in this hardcore band, Scream, but I didn't think that would last forever, and it was definitely not a career option. So listening to this stuff was an escape, and I felt comfort in it. Man, every time I hear King Diamond, I just think about the sheets of acid I was taking listening to [his solo album] Abigail and [Mercyful Fate's] Don't Break the Oath. A lot of time was spent screaming songs like "Corpse Without a Soul" with a fuckin' beer bong in my hand.
The video for "Shake Your Blood" features
a bunch of nudie models from Suicide Girls
in cages and dancing circles around you.
Wino. and Lemmy. Whose idea was that?
I had heard about Suicide Girls' website a long time ago but never saw it. Then about six months ago we were on tour and someone gave me a Suicide Girls sticker. So I put it on one of my guitars. The people at the web site found out and sent me all this free shit and a password to get on the site. Meanwhile, we were trying to come up with an idea for the video, and I figured that since it's Lemmy, we should do something with women. I called up Suicide Girls and said, "Could I get 60 or 70 girls for a photo shoot?" The great thing about the Suicide Girls is they completely tear down that Pamela Anderson image. They're beautiful ladies with crazy tattoos, piercings, and dreadlocks, and they love metal and hardcore.
When did you discover underground music?
In 1982 I went on a family trip to visit relatives in Chicago, and my cousin Tracy came down the stairs and she was fuckin' punk rock. In one year she went from being this cute, suburban, tennis-playing jock girl to being a hardcore punk, and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. In those few weeks, she introduced me to Bad Brains, Black Flag, Flipper, Naked Raygun-all these bands. I went from listening to really lame stuff to being a hardcore freak. For years, that's all I listened to. I just threw everything else out.
What did you like about hardcore?
Mostly I fell in love with the nature of that underground network. I was like, Wow, these aren't albums put out by record companies, these are just people who are making singles. And this isn't a magazine, it's a fanzine that someone made with a fucking Xerox that your pen pal in San Diego sent to you.
How'd you evolve from hardcore to metal?
A friend of mine turned me on to the Haunting the Chapel EP by Slayer, and I loved it because it had the energy and power and aggression of hardcore but it was fucking dark and evil and nasty. In 1984 I was smoking as much weed as I could, taking acid on the weekends, and listening to Slayer all the time.
Were you playing drums?
I played guitar in a band, but I didn't have a drum set. I actually learned how to play drums on my bed listening to records by Metallica, Motorhead, Slayer, Bad Brains, and Minor Threat. The great thing about underground metal of the Eighties is that it was a drummer's sport. Dave Lombardo from Slayer and Away, the drummer from Voivod, were some of my heroes, and it was my goal in life to play as well as them.
At school did you hang out with the other
punks or metalheads?
In suburban Virginia where I grew up. I was one of only two punk kids at the high school. I used to do the morning announcements right after first period, and you could start with a little music, so I would slip in a little Metallica at fuckin' eight o'clock in the morning. I think people thought it was kinda cute. I always say I was like that Duckie character from Pretty in Pink, except the death-metal Duckie. The guy who played Duckie [Jon Cryer] was actually at the video shoot for "Shake Your Blood," and when I told that to him, he didn't seem to think it was too funny. I guess he's tired of hearing about Duckie.
Did you eventually grow out of under- ground metal?
In the late Eighties I discovered Led Zeppelin and celebrated their whole catalog, then I got more into classic rock. I actually blame that on Voivod, because they broke the metal mold and became something bigger and weirder. Their album Dimension Hatross pulled me out of that dirty lo-fi, fucked-up metal thing and brought me into this new place of proficiency and dissonance and songwriting.
When you were in Nirvana, did you have
to hide your taste for metal?
I would never blare Mercyful Fate in front of Kurt [Cobain] or Krist [Novoselic]. Their second guitarist, Jason Everman, was really into King Diamond, and they would make so much fun of him for it. But those guys were into Celtic Frost. They told me that when they were on tour before recording Bleach, they had one tape in the van, and one side was Celtic Frost and the other was the Smithereens.
Do you still keep up with the underground scene?
I try to stay on top of the Eighties thrash bands, but after a while you want to come home and listen to some Ry Cooder. Still, it's always in me. When I drive down to the studio, I'm not listening to [the Beach Boys'] Pet Sounds, I'm rocking some Sepultura or listening to Trouble's Psalm 9 again.
Will Probot inform future Foo Fighters
It's weird, because Foo Fighters write so many different kinds of songs. We have songs that sound like quick blasts of basement fury, and then we have ballad-y acoustic romantic fluff. But I'll tell you what, man, playing this kind of music feels better than anything else to me. I'll never ease back and become Rufus Wainwright. When I sit back with the drums or the guitar, I want it to be fuckin' loud and heavy. Maybe the next Foo Fighters album will be loud, maybe it won't, but I'm having a good time with Probot right now.
words: Jon Wiederhorn
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