"Nirvana Was Hilarious"
...and other unlikely tales from the Foo frontman. An honest interview with the man who's been there, done that and now wants nothing more than to play the clarinet.
London Brixton Academy, November 1995. The first date of Foo Fighters' first full British tour. Dave Grohl glances up from the stage towards the balcony and sees our thousand sweat-drenched faces
grinning back at him. He's played bigger venues of course. But that was as
drummer with Nirvana and we all know about that. This time he's at the front of
the stage, centre of attention. This time he's playing guitar. This time he's singing.
Worried about the criticism he might attract from embarking on a post-Kurt
career, Grohl tried to keep Foo Fighters as
low-key as possible. But when several fans were hurt in the crush to see them on the second stage at this year's Reading Festival the band realised they had no choice but to head for the big time. The resulting tour sold out in advance and Dave Grohl is looking more and more relaxed in his new role.
'This is really fun!" he splutters goofily, out of breath after hurtling through last summer's Top 10 hit 'This Is A Call'. He pauses and looks out at the audience again. "I figure you're the guys who couldn't get into the tent at Reading."
Foo Fighters aren't on form tonight. The upbeat melodies of their debut album are drowned out by the relentless scuzzing of Dave and Pat Smear's guitars. But both band and audience are loving it. That fact
alone, just 18 months after the tragedy of Nirvana's demise, is enough for now.
Yeah, this is fun.
But how did Foo Fighters grow from Grohl messing about in his bedroom to sell-out tours? How is the former drummer taking
to his new frontman role? And how is he coping with the pressure caused by the
inevitable Nirvana comparisons?
Grohl talks frankly about his new band's
origins, the weight of the Kurt
Cobain legacy and his future plans
for Foo Fighters. Which is surprising.
He is supposed to be reticent about
talking to the press and naturally
suspicious of those who want to
sidestep his latest project to rake
over the embers of Nirvana's demise
again and again. If that's the case,
then RAW caught him on a good day.
ready to chat. Excitable. Amiable. We
start by discussing the band's super
low key debut UK gig at the little
known Kings College in London. Why
did that happen?
"It was the record company's idea.
they said, 'Why don't you come over
and do one show in London to
legitimize yourselves as a band. I
thought it sounded kind of stupid to
fly over on Wednesday, play on Friday and fly
out again on Sunday. But then I started
thinking that if we went over and played
a good show it would probably be fun. At
that time we were sort of waiting for the
English press to tear us to shreds.
because they usually do. Sometimes they
love you at first and then they knock you
down. But it was actually really fun and I
was glad that the few people who were
there got to see us play. It seems like ages
It wasn't lack of confidence that made
you keep things so intimate, was it?
"Well, when I made the record I didn't
imagine playing it live with a band at all.
I've been recording songs on my own for
about six years and it was just for fun. I
had about 30 or 40 tunes that I'd recorded
and I thought, 'Well OK, I'll go into the
studio and take 13 or 14 of my favourite
songs and release them on my own label
and call it Foo Fighters. Just let them go out and not let anybody know it's me.
then somebody would pick it up and go,
'Wow, who's this band?' After I'd recorded
the stuff I made a hundred copies of the
tape and started giving it to friends and it
leaked. My answering machine was going
full tilt. Every fucking day. I didn't know
what to do. I ended up talking to Gary
Gersch, the man who signed Nirvana to
Geffen. He became president of Capitol
Records in the States and he's sort of like
this father figure to me. He just wanted to
make sure that if I was going to release
the songs it wouldn't be seen as a solo
project. At that time Sunny Day Real
Estate (Foo Fighters' drummer William
Goldmsmith and bassist Nate Mendel's
former band) were breaking up. That's
when I started to realise maybe I could do
this. I'd never played guitar and sung in a
band before. Then Pat came along and we
started functioning like a proper band. So
the foundation was sort of bizarre. I play
everything on the album and I wrote all
the songs, but I never wanted anyone to
consider it a solo project."
Did the attention Foo Fighters got because
of your past associations throw you?
"If I hadn't been in Nirvana or if Nirvana
had just split up there wouldn't be a
Nirvana legend and people wouldn't care
about Foo Fighters. They'd just say, 'Oh,
yeah, they're pretty good.' But the thing
that hangs over my head now is people
saying, 'Yeah, they're a really good band
but they're not as good as Nirvana.' When
I read things like that I go, 'No shit!' (laughs). I hate to compare the two. I can
see why people do, but I hate it because
I'm playing guitar now, I'm singing and
it's a different band. Of course, every band
you ever play in influences you in a
certain way. So some of these songs
sound like the band I was in when I was
15. Some sound like Nirvana. If we
weren't under such a microscope I
wouldn't feel that need to prove anything.
But in a lot of ways that's good. When you
feel that you have to prove something it
makes it more of a challenge."
Grohl certainly feels the pressure of
people constantly looking for strains of
Kurt in the lyrics he writes.
"Everybody wants more information.
Everyone wants the answer. And the
thing is I have just as many questions
as most people. But just 'cos I say 'he'
in the lyrics it doesn't mean I'm
talking about Kurt. Just like when I
say 'me' I don't literally mean myself.
But I knew there were certain things
that people were gonna read into.
Like a lot of fuss was made about
'This Is A Call' and the line about it
being a call to arms. But it's supposed
I to be uplifting and happy,"
The Seattle-approved angst, as
obligatory at one time as the
flannel shirt, is a long way
behind Foo Fighters now. Did
you share any of the frustration that
Kurt was obviously feeling? Maybe
ecause your own songs, your own
ideas, didn't have an outlet in
Nirvana? Unless you call one B-side
credit ('Marigold', an extra tracks on
he 'Heart Shaped Box' single)
"Not really. When you're in a band with someone like Kurt - who
wrote really great songs - you
don't want to pollute it. I didn't
want to be responsible for -
changing something that was
already so good. Why fix it if it ain't broke?"
Such a typically unassuming
reaction probably helps explain why Grohl survived the Seattle
fallout and why Kurt Cobain was never likely to. Dave is
mellow and easy-going, while
Kurt was tormented and
riddled with demons. Would it
be fair to say that Cobain was a better
pop star but a more inadequate human
being? People in general seem to like Foo
Fighters and find it easy to get along with
this band because it's less challenging.
"That's probably true. The first time
anyone ever had a bad reaction to us was
when this guy was spitting on me while
we were playing. But he was dancing
around and having fun. And I've seen all
these movies of the old punk rock days
where everyone was spitting on each
other and that was supposed to be a
gesture of respect. So I was into it, you
know. And he was going, 'Fuck you
motherfucker,' but he was still dancing
his ass off.
"When we first started playing people
would come to shows and shout for us to
play 'Heart Shaped Box' and I thought
they were joking. But they were serious. I
was afraid I was never gonna be able to
shake it off.
"Most people are sympathetic. They say,
'It's really good that he's playing in
another band.' At first it was kind of
difficult for people to see Foo Fighters as
a band in its own right, 'cos when we
played shows before the album came out
people were just coming to see us
because I used to be in Nirvana. To see
the progression from that to the way it is
now has been really nice."
you seem quite relaxed talking about
"There are certain things I still won't
discuss. I'm not gonna sit around and
discuss Kurt's suicide 'cos that's personal. It's mainly out of respect. You don't do
that, especially when a person isn't
around to defend himself any more. It's
like talking behind somebody's back. With
my family and friends I'll talk about it as
much as I want. There are a lot of people
who are very protective of me, wanting to
make sure nobody makes me angry. But
I'm not Michael Jackson. I'm a pretty
normal person. I appreciate people want
to take care of me but I'm a big boy now.
I'm 26 years old. I think I can take care of
Tell us something about Nirvana that
would surprise us.
"Well, it may sound strange but a lot of
things that happened to Nirvana while we
were becoming popular were hilarious. It
was incredibly funny. Because there we
were, these three people playing music in
someone's garage, and all of a sudden we
made a record and everyone looked at us
like we were the rebirth of rock'n'roll. And
I thought, 'What the fuck are you talking
about? We're just a band.' They looked at
us as if we were spokesmen for a
generation. It was so strange. I didn't feel
any different from the people who came
to see us play. And people were looking at
us and looking at Kurt especially to tell
them what to do. That was when it
stopped being quite so hilarious and just
became scary. I'd never want to be a
spokesperson for anything in case I said
the wrong thing."
Was there a point where you realised
hings were getting out of hand?
"No. We didn't know how far it was going
to go. We didn't know when it was going
to stop. And finally when things hit a
plateau, we had to sit down and think
about it and I just laughed. It was too
weird, too strange."
Do you ever wonder where it would have
nded if Kurt hadn't died?
"I always had the feeling that we could
only be so good for so long. I couldn't see
myself being 45 years old playing 'Smells
Like Teen Spirit'. But nobody really knew
what was going to happen. That's one of
the reasons why it was so exciting, 'cos
even in the last year of Nirvana things
were pretty unpredictable - in both bad
and good ways."
Grohl still has some fond memories of
"There's a lot of them, but they're pretty
random. A lot of crazy stories and a lot of
memories that are just lost 'cos it went so
Has the whole madness surrounding Nirvana given you a different perspective on success?
"It depends on what you mean by success," he explains. "To some people it means selling millions of records. That's never been my ambition. It was nice but it
wasn't something we were aiming for or
something we expected so when it
happened it was a welcome surprise.
what's why I'm happy about what
happened to Nirvana. I got to experience
that and now it's back to reality. It's
something I'll never long for again 'cos
when you've had something so good, why
would you want it again? It'll never be as
good as the first time. Success is more of
personal thing now. I set myself goals
and try to do different things. Like being a
singer and playing guitar. When I feel too
comfortable with that maybe I'll go and
play the clarinet."
Assuming you don't try that just yet, where do Foo Fighters go from here?
"I'm looking forward to the next record. We've got eight or nine new songs and we've been really trying to experiment -
using a different tempo, new chords and different moods. Avoiding monotony is a big challenge and the next album will see
us recording together for the first time. That's something to look forward to."
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