A Life Less Ordinary


21 September 2005; Dave Grohl summons Q to his home. The topics of conversation: divorce, therapy and the "horror" of Nirvana.

Dave at home "Fuck you! I was in Nirvana!" says Dave Grohl. "The most influential band of the '90s!"
  What's this? Certainly not the sort of thing that you'd expect from the man routinely referred to as the nicest guy in rock.
  "That's a joke I'll pull every once in a while," he explains. "Just to see people's horrified reactions, you know?"
  It's a Sunday afternoon in mid-September and the Foo Fighters are shooting a video for Resolve, the third single from their fifth album, In Your Honour. On a Los Angeles soundstage mocked up to look like a beach, the band has been repeatedly miming along to the song for the past three hours. During a break from filming, Grohl chats with his wife, Jordyn, while drummer Taylor Hawkins absentmindedly tickles his kit. Guitarist Chris Shiflett and placid bassist Nate Mendel stand around waiting to take their places for the next take. Grohl walks past to fetch a bottle of water and gestures towards the hive of inactivity. "Fucking exciting, huh?"
  Since becoming Nirvana's drummer in 1990, excitement is not something that has been in short supply for Dave Grohl. Over the course of his 10 years with the Foo Fighters he has become the complete frontman, knowing exactly how to deliver the goods both on and offstage. Because of his unfailing affability and self-deprecating charm it's easy to think of Grohl as an open book, but that would be wrong. His bandmates, while unanimous in describing him as thoroughly decent, also agree that he is a very private man. "He's got a good heart and he cares about people and treats them with respect. .. except for me sometimes," says Hawkins with a grin. "But, yeah, Dave holds his cards close to his chest."
  "He lets people in as much as he wants to," adds Shiflett.
  "I know a thousand people but 1 think maybe two of them know me," says Grohl. "I remember reading this horoscope when I was 12 or 13 years old that said you have to be careful not to alienate everyone because there's a great chance that you'll wind up completely alone later on in life. I have a tendency to do that. I can be cordial and polite and somewhat open to most people, but I don't want everyone to know me."

THREE DAYS LATER Grohl is fiddling around with his front gate, unsuccessfully trying to fix the mechanism that allows him to open it without leaving the house. In the scorching afternoon heat he wears black jeans and matching slip-on Vans shoes, shirt off to reveal the tattoos on his chest and arms. With shoulder-length hair and full beard, he could easily be mistaken for the gardener, or possibly a local layabout who's sneaked on to the premises looking for magic mushrooms.
  "You're early!" he shouts. "Come on up."
  The provisional design for the Resolve CD's packaging sits on the counter in Grohl's kitchen awaiting his approval. "I don't like it! Change it!" he jokes, before making himself a cup of strong black coffee. Three years ago Grohl bought this spacious two-bedroom villa overlooking the San Fernando Valley for $2 million, though it has since tripled in value. Encino, the area where he lives, lies 15 miles to the north-west of Hollywood's celebrity haunts. It isn't the most fashionable of addresses, but Grohl likes the good-quality diners, delis and distance from the grandiose epicentre of America's entertainment industry. "It's where porn stars become grocery clerks and rock stars come to die," he says of his neighbourhood, noting that former Black Sabbath singer Ronnie .lames Dio takes his morning walks nearby.
  A bookcase in Grohl's lounge holds a few MTV awards, five Grammys - four for the Foo Fighters, one for Nirvana - and two bowling trophies (Best Style and Team High Score) won at a friend's 40th birthday party. Many of the pictures on the walls are of him and his wife, some taken at their wedding held here just over two years ago. A swimming pool and serious barbecue area dominate the front lawn, while a tennis court with basketball hoop ("I've got a bit of game") can be found to the side. It's a comfortable set-up, though one totally free of hilariously bad art or other touches of ostentatious interior decor. "I have a motorcycle, I have a car, I have a studio and I have a house," is how Grohl accounts for where his money goes. A more rigorous enquiry into the state of his finances is met with a smile. "I'm doing OK," he says. Leading the way through his dining room and out the back door, Grohl settles in a wrought iron chair beside a fountain. "My Zen garden," he says insincerely.

Have you ever done an interview where Nirvana or Courtney Love hasn't been mentioned?
It's funny, that disappeared for a while. The first three years it was there, every interview. Then it went away for, like, five years. Last couple of years it came back, I think only because of anniversaries. Tenth anniversary of Kurt's death, 10th anniversary of Nevermind ... I can understand that. It's a big part of my history.

It never seemed like a particularly happy time for you.
No, it wasn't. I was so young. In '91, when Nevermind came out, I was 22. Had I grown up with these people, it may have been a little more solid, but I met them and eight months later it blows up into this thing. All of that happened in the course of not even three years.

Which Nirvana songs do you like and dislike the most?
My least favourite would probably be Lounge Act. I never liked that song. It was basically filler. My favourite is either Milk It or Heart Shaped Box.

Do people tend to over-analyse your songs now, looking for certain words?
In the song Still on the new record there's, a line that says, "Never mind, what's done is done" and this Japanese journalist almost started crying. Like, "You said Nevermind!" Jesus am I going to have to strike words from my vocabulary? So yeah, I think so.

TAYLOR HAWKINS IS getting married at the weekend, so yesterday Grohl drove his grey BMW MS into Beverly Hills to purchase an outfit at Dolce & Gabbana's upmarket boutique, stopping to stock up on his favourite coffee, Graffco, along the way. "So I'm holding this paper bag filled with three pounds of coffee, and I'm standing there waiting to pay for the suit and the security guy comes up and says,[tetchily] Who is this for? Who is this for? He thought I was a delivery man."
  When not on the road with the Foo Fighters Grohl seldom goes out. Even when he does, it's never for anything more glamorous than a barbecue with friends or a quiet dinner. "There aren't too many people that can turn off the gameshow when it's time to go home, and for whatever reason I've always been able to do that," he says. "I would never go to a movie premiere and hit a red carpet, I wouldn't go to an awards ceremony that I wasn't involved in. I would never do anything like that if I didn't have to." Barring "a couple of hits off a bowl" five years ago, he hasn't touched drugs since he was 20 and recently gave up smoking His remaining vice is drinking, specifically beer, Crown Royal whisky or Brennivin. "It's an Icelandic schnapps that kind of tastes of cumin," he explains. "They call it Black Death and it makes you crazy like a Viking."
Dave in his pool   The last time Grohl found himself without a wife or girlfriend was during a '97 tour of Australia. Hawkins was only too pleased to join his friend in seizing what opportunities were presented to them.
  "Yeah, that was the Who Could Get Laid More? Tour," says the drummer.
  And who did?
  "Me! Dave could have, but I think he had higher standards than me."
  "It was basically just being a single guy on the road," says Grohl. "I didn't wind up with a stick of butter in my ass or anything."
  While Grohl has no problem with dishing up a few wry anecdotes about past sexual escapades, his more serious girlfriends - such as former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur and ex-wife, photographer Jennifer Youngblood - have remained subjects that he chooses not to discuss. "It's just out of respect for other people's privacy because I hope people would respect mine," he says. Strange, then, that Grohl was recently reported as saying, "I should have listened to my friends and dumped the bitch" in reference to his first marriage.
  "I know what you're talking about, he says. "It was recently and I was totally misquoted. I was referring to this Italian girlfriend I had when 1 was 18. I read that and I was horrified. I doubt that Jennifer would ever read that, but if she did she'd be really surprised because we didn't really have an acrimonious split. It was uncomfortable at first but then we made friends."

Do you think you got married too young?
Well ... yeah, I did. It was a crazy time. We got married a few months after Kurt died. We had been engaged for about a year before getting married. I think I was 24 when we were engaged. She was younger than I was, maybe not even 21. One of the reasons I live like this, in a relatively modest environment [laughs] is because of that time.

What do you mean?
That was my crash course in how to be a rock star, '91 through '94, and it was horrifying, man. I was a fucking kid and people were dying and overdosing and ... fucking ... millions of records and ... it was like being a child actor or something. That can fuck you up for the rest of your life. The whole time I just hid in the suburbs of Seattle with my girl and had barbecues with our friends who had nothing to do with the music scene at all. I still kind of keep it that way."

WHEN GROHL WAS six years old he lit up his first cigarette, a half-smoked butt filched from an ashtray outside a local shop. The year after that, his mother, Virginia, an English teacher, and father, James, a political journalist got divorced. "It didn't seem strange. I was probably too young to feel traumatised by it. I remember there was some Nirvana book that glorified my parents' divorce as if it were my inspiration to play music. Completely untrue The fucking Beatles were the inspiration for me to play music."
  Growing up in the Washington DC suburb of Springfield, Virginia, Grohl lived in a tiny house with his sister and his mother. "Sometimes she held down three or four jobs at once to make ends meet," he remembers. "There were times when we'd have scrambled egg sandwiches for dinner, so you learn to appreciate the things that you have, but it was fine. I never felt like I didn't have enough."
  At school Grohl was a "horrible student" but got on well with everyone and was a skilled goalkeeper for the football and lacrosse teams. He also enjoyed hunting expeditions to take pot-shots at pheasant and duck. However, at 13 his interest in outdoor pursuits came to sudden end during a summer holiday to visit relatives in Illinois, when his cousin, Tracy turned him on to punk. "She doesn't listen to that stuff any more," he says. "What does she like? Bad music. Maroon 5. And she was friends with the Misfits!"
  Soundtracked by Bad Brains, Minor Threat and Led Zeppelin, Grohl embraced a new, more sedentary lifestyle that involved smoking a lot of marijuana. His father, concerned that young David was becoming a "bad kid", sent him for therapy. "At that time it wasn't called a therapist, it was more of a counsellor," says Grohl. "I think it was maybe two sessions and I don't remember much about it, except getting dressed up to go. Parents get worried when they divorce and then a child starts listening to Slayer and they find the bong in the bedroom."

You've had therapy since then, haven't you?
Yeah. When I lived in Seattle, my ex-wife and I were going to counselling before we got married. but we went to two separate therapists. The idea was... this is ridiculous, I've never told anybody this ...the idea was I would go to mine, she would go to hers and then we would all meet and talk about things.

Did it work?
Well, evidently not [laughs]. And so I was seeing that therapist when Kurt died, and fortunately I had already established a relationship with this person so I had someone to talk to when that happened.

Have you been recently?
Like in the last two years, year and a half, something like that. I believe in having someone with an objective opinion who's trained in "the ways of the mind" to talk to. I've never been on medication or anything like that and I've never been overly depressed, but there have been times when I need advice from someone else. I don't ask for advice that often.

What made you want to go last time?
Just being overwhelmed by everything, with the amount of work or growing older or life changes or band changes, you know? You go, you talk to the person once a week for a couple of months and it helps for some reason. If you're a junkie you go to a drug counsellor. If you're a rock musician what do you do?

Drink whisky and listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd?
Whisky and Skynyrd works well too, but that's just a Band-Aid. It's temporary. I tell you, it's not often that I fall into a place where I'm really fucking bummed out, but every once in a while I'll feel like, What the fuck am I doing?

AT 36 YEARS OLD, Grohl still enjoys performing but the madness of touring is beginning to lose its appeal. Last month was spent travelling around the States before heading to Australia this month and, finally, doing six UK shows including one at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium with Oasis - just before Christmas. "That shit gets hard. Half of my life I've spent on the road, since I was 18," Grohl sighs. "I have to leave on Tuesday, and I don't want to. I won't be home for all of October. I have a beautiful wife ... I don't need to work another day in my life, but I love playing."
  Grohl has always been modest about his role in Nirvana. "I mean, I was the sixth drummer or whatever it was," he says. Steve Albini, who produced the band's 1993 album. In Utero, remembers his contribution a little differently. "Probably the highlight was watching Dave Grohl play the drums. He's a very pleasant, very goofy guy to be around."
  In recent years the drum stool has become a retreat for Grohl, somewhere he doesn't have to deal with the pressures of being the man in charge. In early 2001, weary from an exhaustive promotional schedule for the Foo Fighters' 1999 album There Is Nothing Left To Lose, he joined his old friends Queens Of The Stone Age to play on their Songs For The Deaf record, released the following year.
  Grohl regrouped with the Foo Fighters for a summer tour of the UK. However, the trip ground to a halt in August when Hawkins was hospitalised for a painkiller overdose. Hawkin is unequivocal on the matter of Grohl's support. "He was there more than anybody, 100 per cent. We were strictly on a human level. Really and truly, we are like best friends. That was what was important, not the fucking band."
  Despite this bump in the road, in 2002 the band pressed ahead with recording their fourth album, One By One. Unsatisfied with the results, Grohl decided to scrap the unmixed tracks, picked up his sticks and went out on tour with Queens Of The Stone Age.
  "I thought he was going to break the band up," says Shiflett. "I think everybody did."
  "He would rather have been playing drums with Queens than be in the Foo Fighters at that time, and I would rather have been anywhere else than in a room with Dave," says Hawkins.
  "Communication within the band has got a lot better," Shiflett continues. "Obviously Foo Fighters is Dave's thing, but he's not the kind of guy that wants to be anybody's boss. Everyone respects that and doesn't put him in a position where he has to be a dick about anything."
  Asked about this episode, Grohl just shrugs "We got over it."
Dave with his motorcycle   Since then Grohl has lent his robust beats to bands including Garbage, Killing Joke and Nine Inch Nails. After appearing in the Foo Fighters' video for Learn To Fly - a typically zany promo set on a plane with the band sporting comedy moustaches and, in Hawkins' case, large fake breasts - actor Jack Black asked Grohl to help him out with 2001's self,titled debut album by his rock jester two-piece Tenacious D. Grohl was glad to oblige.
  "Dave's a good barometer," Black tells me. "If he doesn't like you there's probably something wrong with you, as opposed to the other way round."
  Despite seeming to have his fingers in a number of pies, Grohl downplays any idea that he is some kind of music business player. "A what? Oh, a play-a. Well, I don't really do much outside of my band. I mean, I do projects with other people but... I remember reading in some magazine where I was listed as one of the Top 50 most powerful people in rock music and I was surprised at how high up I was on the list. I might have been around 10. I was fucking amazed. I don't consider myself that way. I'm a drummer, man."
  As yet, Grohl's proposed thrash treatment of Christina Aguilera hits, Aguilerica, remains an unfulfilled vanity project. Probot, however, is a piece of fanboy wish-fulfillment that made it off the drawing board. Masterminded by Grohl, the 2004 record features guest appearances by his favourite metal singers. Among them was Lemmy, who Grohl describes as "my hero". Grohl vividly remembers introducing his wife to the hardy Motorhead supremo. "He goes, Hello, dear, then he turns to me and he says, She's far too good-looking to be with you, mate." Despite this blunt observation, Grohl has hecome something of a pin-up for women who want wit, a smile and old-fashioned manners as part of the package. "It doesn't make any sense at all," he says. "I'm totally comfortable with myself but for the longest time I had this great insecurity that I wasn't smart enough or handsome enough ... this was all through my teens. Everyhody has their insecurities, of course, but I feel pretty good about everything, really. I mean, I know I'm not perfect and I know I'm not the fucking sharpest tool in the shed but I don't really need to he. Having been everyone's friend my whole life I can't imagine being anyone's crush."
  Is your wife happy with you being the thinking woman's rock crumpet?
"I suppose [laughs]. I don't know. If you were to tell her that there was any pin-up status I think she'd be really surprised." (Jordyn giggles when asked about her husband's sex appeal. "I've never heard that before," she says.)

GROHL'S FAVOURITE RESTAURANT, is a hot dog place called The Stand. His wife will shortly be collecting him to run a few errands - picking up dog food, dry cleaning and so on - but he has time for a quick bite to eat before then. As Grohl is a regular here, I ask him to order me whatever he's having. Soon a couple of hot dogs slathered in coleslaw are brought over. Then two more arrive with a side order of fries. "You want what I fucking got," says Grohl at the suggestion that this seems a bit excessive, "Come on! You asked for it!"
  The Foo Fighters videos seem to have gotten a bit more serious since things like Learn To Fly. Was that a conscious decision?
  "No, it depends on the song. The '90s was just a celebration of irony because the idea that you could be in a rock band was so ridiculous that you couldn't take it seriously. Well, things have changed now. When you come to see one of our shows it's a fucking arena rock show. I'm dead serious. We have lasers."
  If the next Foo Fighters album didn't do well, would you call it a day?
  "Whatever happens I'd still make music. I'll end up in some freaky Cream reunion at the Royal Albert Hall. I'll be one of those dudes. Like, 'That's him? Really? He looks like shit'."
  So is it really that great being Dave Grohl?
  "Sure, man! I have no complaints. No complaints. "
  The sound of '70s rocker Eddie Money's Baby Hold On To Me sends Grohl reaching for his phone. "Hi, baby doll... yeah ... two minutes."
  He apologises for the interruption and continues. "There are times now when I think that life is turning out how I really always wanted it to be..."
  It's taken 15 years and more than a touch of resilience, but it looks like that crash course in how to be a rock star is, eventually, paying off. Dave Grohl takes a huge bite from his second hot dog and washes it down with a swig of strawberry lemonade.
  "I think my ride is here."

Words:Ben Mitchell

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