"I'm free to do what the hell I want"

Metal Hammer 2003

The Strange Journey From Kurt To Killing Joke

SCREAM; '87 - '90

Washington DC band Scream formed in '81 around vocalist Peter Stahl, brother Franz on guitars and Skeeter Thompson on bass and vocals. They have been unfortunate in that history has relegated them to the status of a Nirvana footnote, but at the time Scream were one of Dischord's best bands, building a solid following on the East Coast. They were typical of the more melodic end of hardcore popular in the mid 80s, influenced as much by novelty punk acts as the Dickies as they were by Ramones, or Bad Brains. Dave was first and foremost a fan - when he joined in '87 the band had recorded two albums and several EPs which Grohl had learned note for note. "I got the audition and they asked,'What do you wanna play'. So I said,'Oh, how about 'Still Screaming" and they went,'Which song?' so I said, 'the wholething!"
Scream took the well worn path of piling everything into a transit van and playing wherever they could set up the gear, playing supports to bands even more obscure than they are today. For the young Grohl it was a dream come true. like any lad who runs away from home to join the modern equivalent of the circus/pirates. Dave lied about his age. He was 16, the rest of the band were in their 2Os.lt was illegal for him to be in many of the venues that they played. It's sometimes wrongly said that Scream supported Nirvana at an early show, though Dave did meet with both Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain while Scream were playing in Washington State in the late 80s. Steve Albini said that any record Grohl drummed on would be worth listening to, though the album Dave co-wrote with Scream - 'Fumble' - isn't their best work and it's to Dischord's credit they've never tried to use it as a cheesy cash-in, The band split in LA when Skeeter Thompson left the van en route to a show leaving Grohl stranded. The Melvins' Buzz Osbourne came to the rescue and helped Dave pay to relocate to Seattle to join his next band...Nirvana.

NIRVANA; '90-'94

Like it or not, no matter how big the Foo Fighters are, Dave Grohl will always be the drummer from Nirvana. Maybe it's a label that could equally well be tagged onto Chad Channing, Greg Hokanson, Mike Dillard, Aaron Burckhard or Bob McFadden (or even Dale Crover from The Melvins and Dan Peters from Mudhoney who also did some stand-in slots) But they are all Pete Best and Dave is (sort of) Ringo Starr.
Next year is the tenth anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death: expect to read the same old Nirvana story trotted out yet again by every magazine from the broadsheets on down to Carp Fishing Monthly. Grohl has for the most part become Nirvana's unofficial spokesman, though as he's quick to point out it is a position that he has neither sought nor is particularly enthusiastic about.
  "I don't think I talk about Nirvana half as much as Courtney does," he says. "And I've never felt it was my place. I always tell people that the only surviving member of Nirvana is Krist Novoselic. I remember once someone was holding forth about Nirvana and Krist simply said,'Well how many Nirvana shows were you at? I was at them all.' And that's pretty much the truth. Because of my position with the Foo Fighters, I end up having a microphone put in front of me more often and I'm usually asked about Nirvana. That's how it is. I'm the most available member."
  Where do you draw the line about Nirvana?
  "Well what more is there to say really?" he says wearily."Ultimately, the music is all that you have to listen to. You can pick up some cheap biography and get the inside scoop..."

Is there any more music to come?
  "Oh yeah, there's more basement demos, old live shows, college radio recordings, things like that. Most everything that was recorded when I was in the band has come out. There's a few things, I don't know exactly what. The bulk of it is from the beginning, which for me is most interesting. Everybody knows Nirvana from '91 onwards. Nobody knows Nirvana from '86 to '91 and that was the foundation of what Nirvana became with 'Nevermind'. To see the foundation of that conventional rock format come from something fucked up - it was coming from the Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid and Creedence Clearwater Revival, music that the majority of Nirvana fans aren't familiar with. So it's great to hear it go from point A to point B, how the melody starts creeping in. That's interesting, the fact that there were five other drummers in Nirvana before me. There's some pretty cool shit to come. They were very creative people."
  Can you listen to Nirvana now?
  "Yeah, it took me a while. I haven't listened to any of those albums all the way through for five years now, but I hear it on the radio. When the unreleased Nirvana track came out last year ['You Know You're Right'] and it started hitting the radio, that was sort of strange. Driving through Los Angeles and seeing these posters saying "The new Nirvana single" I had a chuckle, I almost imagined that being another band. And when we first started mixing that song, it was definitely strange for Krist and me to be in the studio hearing that song again..."
  Krist seems to have escape the glare. He rarely does interviews.
"You have to understand that Nirvana was the only band that Krist had ever really been in. In fact, I believe it was his first band, so to see your first band go from there to THERE!, it would be difficult to pick up and start over. Krist has been playing music all the time. It's hard to speak for Krist because I know that Sweet 7S and Eyes Adrift are bands that he takes a lot of pride in. I don't think he thinks he's disappeared; I think he believes he got it right. I don't think he was entirely comfortable being in 'the biggest band in the world; I think he's more all about what he does now - flying plane and playing music with friends." [FYI Krist Novoselic passed his amateur's pilot license in '02 and is able to fly small single-engine planes.]
  "Krist embodies what Nirvana was about. He hasn't changed a lick. If you've met Krist and you've had a dose of his wickedly offbeat humour and his 'eccentric' lifestyle, you have a better understanding of what Nirvana was all about. It was never a conventional rock band. It was something...weird."
  It's odd though that the merchandising of Kurt,the cult of personality and the carefully marketed nostalgia for Nirvana, through MTV, have stripped the band of their original anti- corporate rock meaning.
  "That's why you just have to go back to the music. I've always felt that everything but the music is secondary. Nirvana didn't want to become part of that world. It happened. We didn't change the band to become part of it so all of that was irrelevant to us. I mean, I was 22 years old and I thought it was hilariously funny. We were fucking scamming the world. How on earth could anyone think that we deserved to be this huge band... have you seen us live? It was funny. All of that - MTV, magazines, critic's choice - was all irrelevant. All that was important was the three of us playing music. And I don't think we wrote one bad song. Everything we did when we were together was fucking great."


The mutual admiration between Josh Homme/Nick Oliveri and the Nirvana camp goes back a long way. Grohl was a huge fan of (their pre-QOTSA band) Kyuss and played 'Blues For The Red Sun' three times a day when it came out. Kyuss for their part paid tribute to Nirvana in the form of 'Day One' a secret track on 'And the Circus leaves Town' the band's final album released in '9S.
Grohl had acknowledged them as his favourite other band in numerous interviews and secured support slots for them on the Foo Fighters' '00 tour.
When QOTSA came to record 'Songs For the Deaf' towards the end of '01, Grohl took up his sticks once more. He came within a whisker of actually joining full time.
"Taylor and I would sit around and discuss who the next drummer in Queens ought to be" he says. "As it turned out I was in QOTSA for four or five months. And it felt good. It was a split hair decision. I'm not so career minded that I have a plan... I mean, if Linkin Park called me up and asked me to record with them I'd probably say no. But while we were recording with the Foo Fighters and we were getting stuck trying to deliver this thing to a schedule and I just said Fuck it, I'm going to go off and play with Queens Of The Stone Age for a while and see how I feel when I get back. I worked out, I got fit. It was great. The thing is that I don't have to do this career thing. I'm free to do what I want to do. I mean I loved playing with these guys, being just the drummer in the band."
Grohl got upset when he arrived in the UK for shows with QOTSA and was immediately asked about the future of the Foo Fighters, cancelling all interviews, fuelling speculation that his own band were finished.
"I said I would come back when we started to need each other again. I also had something to prove to myself. I couldn't just play drums, I had to be better than I have ever been. I told them (Queens) to go ahead and book shows and I rehearsed solidly every day, working out and getting fitter than I've ever been. It had been eight years since I had done it."
In retrospect, the world would not be a worse place if Grohl had joined Queens: the shows he played with them were jaw dropping and - despite attempts in some quarters to stoke up a backlash - 'Songs For the Deaf' is the band's best album yet and still one of the best releases of the decade thus far. Interestingly, future collaborations are not ruled out though there aren't any immediate plans.
"Behind a kit is where he fuckin' should be" Josh Homme said at the time. "Dave's an amazing player; he played his fuckin' ass off."

PROBOT; '01 - '03

Dave as we have noted is still at heart a bit of a fan boy. His tastes may have widened but he's still thrilled to discover new music. In many ways the Probot project is the ultimate expression of this. It began life as a series of instrumentals recorded in Dave's basement at his old house in Virginia. He heard the over wrought Santana album 'Shaman' featuring a police line-up of corporate rock hags from Chad Kroeger to Placido Domingo making guest appearances. Grohl thought it would be funny to parody this using the creme de la creme of the underground, a who's who of his black metal/death metal/doom metal heroes.
The tracks were recorded and sent off in a digital format to the artists along with money for a studio; they then went and recorded their parts and sent it back to Grohl. It's been talked about for a while but now looks as though it'll be out this year. "Probot is done. There's one track that I need to find a vocalist for. We were thinking of Dio but that's not gonna happen now. It's gonna come out this fall on a small independent metal label (Southern Lord). I get asked about Probot every fuckin' interview. It's got to the point where I'm afraid that people will expect something of it that it's not. It's not the same world; it's not the new Metallica album. It's me with Lemmy, and Cronos and Snake and Eric Wagner and Wino...it's a cool record. There are some fast tracks, the Cronos track "Centuries Of Sin" is old school fast thrash metal. the Lee Dorrian track "Ice Cold Man" is slow and has a dirge to it. The Snake track "Dictorsaurus" is kinda reminiscent of an old Voivoid track. The King Diamond track "Sweet Dreams" is slow. The Mike Dean track "Access Babylon" is sort of like an old school metal hardcore crossover song. It moves in a lot of different ways. It isn't about me; I'm just having the time of my life in a fantasy camp being able to create something with these people I listened to for years when I was young. I still do, I liked the last Trouble record that came out, I love that kind of music. If it came out on a major label then the emphasis would probably be on me because they wouldn't understand where any of the other people were coming from. But Gregg at Southern lord knows what the fuck the Probot thing is all about, about a specific five year period 85- 90 in underground metal. I mean it won't be so obscure that you can't buy it anywhere, but I can't imagine how many people will really get it. And it's a great excuse to have a record party."
Will there be a Probot show?
"I dunno. That would be a...cunt to try and organise but I'm sure we could work something out."


When Nirvana recorded 'Come As You Are' and released it as the second single from 'Nevermind' there was a certain amount of apprehension in the band's camp because of the undeniable similarity between it and the riff from Killing Joke's song 'Eighties' Although it never came to a court battle, both sides were aware of this. In the book, Eyewitness Nirvana: The Day-Dy-Day Chronicle, manager Danny Goldberg said:"Kurt was nervous about 'Come as You Are' because it was too similar to a Killing Joke song, but we all thought it was still the better song. And, he was right, Killing Joke later did complain about it." It is then with a certain amount of irony that Dave Grohl plays drums on the new eponymous Killing Joke album, the band's first new material since '96's 'Democracy' which is produced and mixed by former Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill. They had recorded some tracks with System Of A Down drummer John Dolmayan, but Grohl now appears throughout the album.
"While we were in Europe last fall, someone gave me a call and said that Killing Joke were interested in my playing some drums. I suppose they had read in an interview that I was a Killing Joke fan - that was the first punk rock t-shirt I bought, from Wax Trax Records in Chicago, 13 years old, I bought the first album and the t-shirt and then 'Requiem' became the soundtrack to my life- and maybe because I had played drums on the QOTSA album they thought I was doing session work! But I said, 'Absolutely, I don't have much time but send out some music and if I hear the songs I can whip 'em out in the studio in a few days: They sent me six songs that were complete apart from the drums and they were great, man - huge anthemic, beautiful, orchestral, political Killing Joke masterpieces. The best that they've done in a long while, and I was a fan of'Democracy; but they have a new sense of urgency or something. And it's funny' cos I got the album last October... how prophetic it was. Songs like'Total Invasion', Jaz really had his ear to the ground."
Jaz met Dave in Auckland while the Foo Fighters were there for the Big Day Out and joined them onstage for a version of 'Requiem'. "I got a call from Jaz saying in this crazy voice,'Dave you fucking bastard! let's have a drink!' so we arranged to meet in the hotel bar. He lives on an island off the coast of New Zealand - he has four passports and moves around every 90 days to avoid paying any taxes - and said he'd jump on a light aircraft and come over. I've never seen Killing Joke live, I was a fan of their records, and I was wondering if I would recognise him. I've seen photos and videos, but I've never met him. I'm surrounded by businessmen in this hotel lobby when in walks this man dressed as a priest. And one look at those eyes and that nose, I knew it was him. We spent the next six hours getting fucking pissed out of our minds! It was amazing, like the best first date of our lives. We talked about UFOs, and implants and corporations and the control of money. It was a blast. Here's this wild man dressed as a priest standing on the table screaming at these businessmen calling them murderers. It was better than any Killing Joke concert."

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