My! They've Scrubbed Up Well!

Q 2002

Seven years ago they were the consolation prize for floundering Nirvana fans. Four albums and one near-death experience later, a "weirded-out" Foo Fighters have become rock aristocracy.

It's taken a combination of gentle persuasion and outright bullying, but the Foo Fighters have stripped off. On the roof of Dublin's Clarence Hotel they reveal flesh tones ranging from sun-baked to milk-bottle white and clamber into the jacuzzi. The first in is reluctant bass player Nate Mendel; the second wiry, tattooed guitarist Chris Shiflett. Next, sporting an aptly nautical moustache, comes surfing drummer Taylor Hawkins who, almost a year earlier, fell into a drug-induced coma. Last to arrive is singer/songwriter/band daddy, Dave Grohl, gangling across the roof wearing black shorts and a mile-wide grin.
  Grohl coaxes his charges through the process of having their picture taken like an attentive father teaching his three children to swim. Meanwhile, his instructions are punctuated by Hawkins - the Foo Fighters' problem child - whose persistent "Aye aye cap'n"s chime across the neighbouring rooftops.
  When rain stops play, the suite is quickly covered in sodden towels. Grohl, wrapped in a dressing gown, pulls one pipe-cleaner leg up under him, lights a cigarette (which he smokes with a curiously camp flourish) and ponders the bowl of soup that has just arrived, as if by magic.
  "Y'know, I remember the first time I had room service. I felt so bad. It was when Smells Like Teen Spirit was all over MTV: Kurt and I used to share a room and I'd run out of cigarettes. I was like, I should just go down to the lobby and get some smokes. But Kurt was like, Dude, you can have someone bring them up. I was like, Really? So I called down and the guy brought me cigarettes. And I just sat there on the bed, going, (pulls aghast facial expression) Oh God! I'm changing!"
  Eleven years on, the ex-Nirvana drummer's life is still changing. No short-lived solo project, Foo Fighters have been together since 1995. In Dublin to perform at the Ambassador Theatre, they've also completed work on their fourth album, One By One, delivered after the band teetered on the brink of collapse and Hawkins came close to dying.
  A few weeks after today's hi-jinks, Foo Fighters will headline at the Reading Festival to a capacity crowd before announcing a set of arena shows that become the second fastest-selling UK tour of 2002 - after Oasis. Foo Fighters have become rock aristocracy and Grohl- his history steeped in what he describes with mock-seriousness as "the...legend...of...Nirvana" - is their goofy Lord Of The Manor.
  "It used to weird me out when we played festivals and the headline act would be 22-year-old kids. Especially when they came up to me and said, Oh man, you were my first gig. Now, I don't care. We'll hang on for as long as us old codgers can."
  Taylor Hawkins bounds into the room. "OK!" he announces. "Interview time -Courtney Love and overdoses..."

Dave Grohl is a rich man who probably need never work again. Yet Foo Fighters is his life: he writes the songs, sings them and then splits the money four ways. He sang and played every instrument on the first album, before putting a band together that included Mendel and, initially, Nirvana's touring guitarist Pat Smear. After more line-up changes, ex-Alanis Morissette drummer Hawkins arrived for 1999's Grammy Award-winning third album, There Is Nothing Left To Lose, but only played on half the record due to what he describes as "my fucked-up state of mind". Shiflett (previously with obscure US punks No Use For A Name before Grohl came knocking) arrived for the tour and makes his album debut on One By One.
  The ebullient Grohl and Hawkins are the ringleaders. Shiflett, a boxing fan and "high school drop-out" whose mum is a probation officer, is amiable but reserved. Mendel is supernaturally quiet, used to look after the band's accounts and could walk through the crowd at a Foo Fighters show unnoticed. "I often stand by the merchandise booth, point to a poster and tell people, That's me," he deadpans.
  Hawkins, meanwhile, is stretched out on the floor of the penthouse suite, his body language screaming confusion. He fidgets, burps, farts and, at one point, stuffs his hand down his shorts and toys absent mindedly with his testicles.
  In August 2001 he took what, in FooFighters- speak, is being described as "Taylor's nap". Except it lasted for two days. Rumours of Hawkins's rock'n'roll antics had filtered down to his band-mates, but the problem peaked when he collapsed at a hotel in Kensington. Rumours circulated of a heroin overdose. Hawkins stringently denies this and blames it on "painkillers", prompted by "relationship stuff outside the band". He's since been in rehab and falls into telltale therapy-speak: "I've learned how to make myself a more solid person." Cue another quick rummage around his two veg. "And a more solid drummer."
  Grohl smiles benignly between puffs of cigarette smoke: "It's kinda been like training a cat not to shit on the floor."

Foo Fighters' people carrier crawls through Dublin on its way to rehearsals at the Ambassador. Grohl, who has houses in his native Virginia and Los Angeles, has discovered that Robbie Williams has bought a place not far from him in LA. "He's solo artist, that's the trick." He casts a thumb back to where the rest of the band are sat. "I gotta split the money with these three monkeys."
  "I like taking care of people," Grohl says. "I feel personally responsible for everything - the band, the crew. I've always been the person at the party that tries to bring people together." Then sheepishly, :'Y'know, I'm kinda looking forward to when I can become a father."
  At the Ambassador, the band rehearse new and old songs at nosebleed volume. Halfway through, a dark-haired, middle-aged woman with a camera slips into the theatre and starts taking pictures. It is Dave Grohl's mum, who flew in from Virginia a day earlier. The singer spots her and breaks off from an ear-shredding, punk-rock yowl: "Hi Mom. Talk later."
  For all Hawkins's still-present demons, it's hard to equate today's Foo Fighters with the troubled outfit of 12 months ago. After "Taylor's nap", they reconvened at Grohl's home studio in Virginia. Over the course of eight years, he has made the difficult transition from drummer to frontman - "For the first two years I was afraid to say Hello on stage" - but the process of making Foo Fighters albums is never easy.
"I'm a horrible procrastinator when it comes to writing lyrics. We started at my home studio, then we moved to LA to a $3000-a-day studio and it just wasn't happening. The balance was all off. Half of the songs we liked. The others we didn't."
  Then John Silva, Grohl's manager for the last 12 years, told him to "stop trying to write hit singles and go back to being weird".
  "In hindsight, we shouldn't have just thrown ourselves back into work after Taylor's problems" says Grohl, back at the hotel, "I'd also had an offer to play on Queens Of The Stone Age's new album. I did one show with them in Los Angeles and it was liberating to go back and play drums again"
  With Foo Fighters on a four-to-five month hiatus, Grohl went on the road with Queens Of The Stone Age.
  "It was the best thing I could have done. Back home, there was tension between Taylor and I, between Nate and I. This gave us all a rest."
&nb sp Foo Fighters reconvened in stages, with Grohl and Hawkins returning to Virginia, scrapping half of the songs they'd recorded, and the whole band re-assembling to complete One By One in just 12 days.
  For a while, though, Hawkins was afraid that Grohl wouldn't come back.
  "I was worried - for about a week;' the drummer says, before adding, with the vaugest hint of bile, "and I think Dave's made that new Queens album a hundred times better than it would have been."
  For all his live-wire persona, it isn't hard to discern Hawkins's insecurities. He grew up in Laguna Beach, a Californian resort town, suffering from attention deficit disorder and spending his days surfing and playing drums. A friend lent him a copy of Queen's News Of The World, introducing Hawkins to a new idol, drummer Roger Taylor. According to Grohl, Hawkins "stalked" Queen guitarist Brian May into playing on one song, Tired, on the new Foo Fighters album.
  Hawkins's break came when rock manager Scott Welch asked him to join fledgling songwriter Alanis Morissette's band. Hearing the first Foo Fighters album on the radio, he vowed to become their drummer and contacted Grohl through Franz Stahl, guitarist Pat Smear's replacement, when he heard that the Foo Fighters' original drummer, William Goldsmith, had quit in 1997.
  "In a lot of ways I felt very intimidated drumming in a band with the best drummer in the world" he admits. "I think that contributed to my insecurities"
  The events of August 2001 had been a long time coming. "I'd been on a reckless path for a while, One thing I've realised is I do not want to become some fucking rock'n'roll cliche, selling his drums when his career's over to buy drugs. My dad always says it takes me a long time to learn my lessons, and it took me a while to work it out. My mom's an alcoholic, too, and I saw her beat herself up every day."
  These days, Hawkins abstains from alcohol ("it's the key that unlocks the door"), listing weed and tobacco as his only vices. "When I'm 50, when all this nonsense is over, I want to go live in Hawaii with my family, go surfing, smoke a little pot."
  What did it feel like to wake up after two days in a coma?
  "Weird, because when you've been in a coma, you wake up in stages. Not all at once."
  The band's own gallows humour has offset the trauma of the situation but, in a quiet moment at the hotel, Grohl is more reflective. "Taylor's my best friend. With Kurt, at the end of Nirvana the band was split in two - those that did drugs and those that didn't. With Taylor, it felt like a member of my family had fallen ill. I haven't prayed since I was a child, but I wandered round the streets just talking out loud, saying, Please, this is wrong. I was asking myself, How could this happen to me twice in my life? So, when he got well again, it changed everything. I promised myself that I would never take another day for granted."

Grohl was born 33 years ago in Virginia. His parents are both academics, his father a speechwriter and journalist, his mother an English teacher. When he dropped out of high school to play punk rock, she supported him. But Nirvana's legacy alone has ensured a lifestyle far removed from the days when he slept on the couch in Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic's apartment.
  "I agonised a little bit when I bought my first rock star car," Grohl admits. "But it's taken me until now to buy one. I hate these bands who beat themselves up over stuff. If you want to buy a Lear jet, go buy a Learjet." Grohl's $75,000 BMW M5 is one his few indulgences. Wearing a T-shirt that has survived one spin cycle too many, he shows no evidence of rock star opulence.
  As Taylor Hawkins notes: "Someone has to make up for Dave. He lives like a rock star, I act like a rock star."
  Does Grohl ever relax?
  "If I'm really taking a day off, I'll get up, make myself a big breakfast, sit by my pool for two hours, then maybe go for a hike in the afternoon and wind up at the sushi restaurant. I'm a happy-go-lucky guy but I'm no good at vacationing. When the band took a break, I went to the Bahamas. I was there a week and I went crazy."
  Even that most reliable of rock-star pitfalls drugs - has eluded him.
  "I've smoked a little weed, but I've never taken cocaine ever - or heroin" he volunteers. "Jeez, I'm in the wrong business really.."
  What business would you be in if you weren't doing this?
  "A few months ago I was building shelves at home and I suddenly realised that if it weren't for this business I'd probably be a lot better at building shelves."

Weeks later, and almost a year to the day after Hawkins took his "nap", Q runs into Foo Fighters at London's Metropolitan Hotel, preparing for Reading Festival. Guns N' Roses have also checked in and phoned Grohl's room to ask if he wants to "come out and party" (Grohl: "No way, man"). Meanwhile, Hollywood star Heather Graham, here to promote new film The Guru, hovers into view wearing what appear to be sprayed-on jeans.
  "Four years of anger, worry and frustration" over the impending court case with Courtney Love over unreleased Nirvana material (which may be resolved out of court by the time of Q's publication) is coming to an end. But with the impending arrival of the Kurt Cobain diaries, Grohl is aware of the grim irony of his drummer's brush with death. The timing of the group's visit to London isn't lost on him. "We were fine 'til some asshole mentioned it yesterday"
  Clean-shaven - like the now-moustache-less Hawkins - Grohl pleads jet lag but seems as animated as ever. The intra-band tension and their leader's moonlighting with Queens Of The Stone Age had prompted a flurry of rumours during their earlier time in Ireland and the UK. When they arrived at Scotland's T In The Park festival they found placards around the site announcing that, "contrary to public opinion", Grohl would not be leaving Foo Fighters. "Not my idea, the record company's," he pleads. "I didn't know people were that worried."
  Though happy with the "11 tortured love songs" that make up One By One, Grohl still agonises over whether his English teacher mother will "scrawl her red pen all over my lyrics". He remains that strangest of rock stars: a light-hearted workaholic. When Foo Fighters were first interviewed in Q in 1995, Grohl claimed that he could never see the band as being something that would appeal to "eight million 12-year-old kids", - Yet with Foo Fighters' loud rock template as fashionable as it's ever been, and their UK tour selling out in record time, that scenario may not be so far-fetched.
  "I've never thought we were rock'n'roll enough to appeal to loads of kids," says Grohl. "People see me around town and treat me like they would their local newscaster. We've always maintained' casual existence, but we've worked hard. When we started, I'd look at the crowd and it would be 50 per cent Nirvana T-shirts. Then, over the years, it's gotten less. We've established an identity by sticking around. I think we're a good old rock band - and that's a dying breed."
  And the world's happiest, if most responsible, rock star heads off to take care of business: crew, family, a reckless drummer, future singles...
  "I've never been good at picking the hits," he says conspiratorially. "On Nevermind, I always thought the big single would be In Bloom. When we did ... Teen Spirit, I thought, What's this? Oh, just another song on the album."
  What about now?
  Grohl offers a goofy smirk. "It still puzzles me, What's all the fuss about with that tune? Oh God, I'm such a shitty salesman, aren't I?"

Words:Mark Blake       Pics:Scarlet Page

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