"Nirvana Was Hilarious"

Raw 1995

...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. His songs.
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 ago now."
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) enough exposure.
  "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 Nirvana now.
  "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 myself now."
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 those times.
  "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 fast."
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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