Taylor Hawkins Takes Over

Rhythm, March 2021

Taylor Hawkins talks all things Foo and Medicine At Midnight with the Darkness's Rufus Taylor

Rufus has always been like my little brother - even though he is much taller than me now! and I'm so proud that I've been able to play a part in his musical journey. I remember sitting him on my drum riser when he was about 12 - when the Foo Fighters headlined Reading for the first time in 2002 - and it was like we'd come full circle when we headlined again in 2012 and were able to invite Rufus to join us on stage to play drums on 'Tie Your Mother Down', while I took over vocals.
  "Like his dad, Roger Taylor from Queen, Rufus has a real presence on the drums - you know he's there, and he's doing so much more than just keeping time. He plays for the song, and there's stuff he can do now that I can't - but he has the benefit of youth on his side!
  "I'm so happy that he has found his home in The Darkness, and to see him develop as a musician in his own right and play such a big part in how that band writes and makes music is awesome. Like all of the drummers I have chosen to interview for Rhythm. Rufus has put the work in, and he understands that, ultimately, that is the cornerstone for any successful musician. I couldn't be prouder, and I thought it would be fun to get him to ask the questions this time as we chat about all things Foo and our new record, Medicine At Midnight...

Rufus Taylor: "Congratulations on the new record, Medicine At Midnight - it's certainly a very different direction for you guys to be taking."
Taylor Hawkins: It is. It's very digital and super tight, and we have done stuff on this record that I never thought we'd do... But Dave wanted to take things a certain way, and when your songwriter has something in mind, my job as his drummer is to help him get to where he wants to go. And if I can add something in the interim, then that's great.
  "We've used drum loops and really utilised the female voices here, so I guess my pride was a little bit hurt that I wasn't doing my usual thing this time, and I had concerns that the whole record might sound too perfect. But it doesn't, and once I had got over my drum ego and was out the other side of the recording process, I could see that what we have is an awesome, really fun record."
R: "How did the songs all take shape?"
T: "They came in different ways, shapes and sizes... Dave had about half the album completely mapped out before we started and had demos done for the more groovy-type tracks like 'Making A Fire, 'Shame Shame' and 'Medicine At Midnight'. What worked really well is that we didn't actually do any pre-production, and I think Dave did that on purpose to keep things fresh - as soon as we knew what we were doing on a track we went in and cut it. Actually, one of the biggest lessons I have learned doing this record is that you can overbake things, which we have probably been guilty of in the past sometimes."
R: "You've talked previously about your insecurity in the studio and 'red light fever' - so how was the recording process for you on this one?"
T: "Making a Foo Fighters record is always going to be a stressful experience for me -I put a lot of pressure on myself because I want to do everything well. Learning to play to a click track came late in life for me, so the studio hasn't always been the most comfortable of places. Over the years, Dave has helped roe enormously with my time and the art of making songs, but it's still hard sometimes to have the mighty Mr Grohl in the room with you every time you do a take... especially when you know he could easily do everything himself!"
R: "What was your reaction when you first found out that Medicine At Midnight was going to be so digitally driven, and that you were going doing drum loops?"
T: "I remember speaking to your Dad shortly after I found out, and he reminded me about the loops on Queen's 'Another One Bites The Dust' and his first solo album, Fun In Space. I was averse to doing them to begin with, because as a drummer, it goes against everything that I believe in. But when we took a bar that I'd just played and looped it for 'Shame Shame', it was actually pretty cool, and I just had to get over myself, accept the fact that we were talking a different direction and go with it. And even though I'm not doing a lot of drum fills on this record, I do like to think that there are still a few 'Rhythm magazine' moments in there, too!"
R: "I can see why it was hard to accept, as you've always talked so fondly about recording to tape..."
T: "I have always loved making records on tape, especially Wasting Light with Butch Vig - that whole creative experience was amazing. I've just never liked the trickery of Pro Tools and computers. Yes, I appreciate that it makes things quick and easy, and it's awesome that you can make yourself sound great - but for me, the danger is that you lose the personality and character of the drummer, and I have always loved players who have their own unique sound and voice on their instrument."
R: "You're already playing some of these new songs live... How's that been going?"
T: "We have been performing in our studio for different TV shows around the world, and even though it's obviously not the same, it feels great to have some forward motion in these strange times. We all feel so fortunate to be able to play and still operate as a band - with the help of a lot of COVID testing, of course! It will be great to get back to playing proper gigs as soon as it's safe to do so."
R: "These new tracks have a very different vibe and feel, and the extra space in the songs is certainly going to give your live sets a different place to go. I'm very happy to still hear some of those classic Foo middle-eights in there, though!"
T: -I have to say that I am having an absolute ball playing these new songs.. There is never normally this much space - usually, I am working my ass off from the first second to the last on tracks like 'Monkey Wrech' which just don't let up. But as these new songs have wider, simpler grooves and bigger spaces, playing them live is super fun because I can sit back and really concentrate on my time. It's just a different way of thinking for us, and this new collection of tracks is fun, breezy and short - you're all done in 35 minutes!"
R: "One of the things I've always found inspiring about you is your constant pursuit of music outside of your day job. With your projects like The Coattail Riders and Nighttime Boogie Association, your home studio really does seem to be taking on a life of its own..."
T: "I'm so lucky to be able to have such a great studio at my house, and it's amazing how it has developed - the feel of it and the drum sound are totally rad. Over the years, I've filled the space with all sorts of posters, memorabilia and instruments that pay homage to my favourite bands and drummers, so it has a really cool vibe when you walk in. To be able to make my own music there with incredible musicians that I grew up admiring is awesome. "The Coattail Riders actually started out as a fun little cover band, and it was great to put out our third record, Get The Money, in 2019 - and Matt [Cameron] and I can't wait to do more with Nighttime Boogie Association when we're able to."
R: "Let's go right back to the beginning. Tell me about getting the gig with the Foos..."
T: "I loved the first Foo Fighters' record, Foo Fighters, and the fact that one guy was responsible for everything was really inspiring - but I'd never met Dave, and I was scared to because I felt like a dork. Don't get me wrong, Alanis's [Morissette] music was amazing and great - she's an incredible songwriter - but those guys all came from a punk rock background, and I was just this drummer-for-hire kid playing in, essentially, a pop act. I had a chip on my shoulder that I wasn't as cool as they were, but Dave came over to me one time when we were all at a thing in LA and said something really kind bout my drumming "
R: "He might be Dave Groh!, but he still goes out of his way to compliment the drummers and bands he likes..."
T: He really is the most affable dude on the planet, and that day we first talked he gave me time. From then on we kept meeting at festivals, and I remember Alanis asking me straight out on a flight to Australia once what I was going to do when Dave invited me to join Foo Fighters... At the time I never thought that would ever happen, and like any drummer with a paying gig, I told her I'd never leave her. Of course, the second I got the call, I was out of there!"
R: "But that gig with Alanis was the making of you?"
T: "Seriously, that year with Alanis was the most amazing year of my life, and I definitely wouldn't be here without her. She was awesome, and I really do owe her everything. She was so open to my playing and let me do whatever I wanted, and in the process I learned so much. My dream, though, was always to play drums in a hard rock band, and when I heard the Foo Fighters were looking for a drummer, I rang Dave."
R: "Was there ever any friendly competition playing-wise between the two of you when you first joined, or has it always just been a mutual appreciation society?
T: "Certainly not for him, because he's Dave Grohl! He always likes to sit down and have a tap, and every time he does, you almost want to pack up and go home because he's so good... I came from Alanis's band where I was the only, and best, drummer, and I had to drop that ego pretty quickly when I joined the Foo Fighters and accept the fact that I was now the second-best drummer in the room!"
R: "I still can't fathom out those triplets he does..."
T: "Well, Dave has his style, and all the songs he recorded before I joined I will never be able play the way he did - like 'Everlong', 'Monkey Wrench' and 'This Is A Call'. That's his sound, his feel and his thing, so I have to make it my own.
  "To be honest, I have always seen Dave as the tier ahead of me - in the same way that I do Matt Cameron and Stephen Perkins. I learned so much from all of them, especially Dave, because at least half of what I know musically has come from watching him work. I just take it all in when he's in the studio laying down a drum track or making a demo all by himself in 45 minutes... Really, it's thanks to him that I can record a record all by myself now.
  "There are a few things that I do that he doesn't - like press rolls, because he says he doesn't know how to do them - but you're right, those single-stroke triplets of his are so strong and fast."
R: "Both of you are self-taught?"
T: "Neither of us had lessons, and it's funny, because meeting Dave was literally like meeting my older brother. That's always been the relationship we've had, and you are never going to be better than your older brother - he's always going to be the one to show you how to do cool stuff. You accept that, and you love it.
  "My older brother, Jason, taught me how to play baseball and defend myself, and Dave has taught me how to be a complete musician and how to actually play a song. Not just how to play drums, but how to play a song and what feel really is, how to layer vocals and what time really means... Over the years we've used a lot of clicks in the studio, so your time is ready made, and learning to play with the click was a whole other challenge for me. When we play live, we don't use any backing tracks-none of that stuff - so every night it's a little faster, or a little slower, depending on the crowd reaction."
  R: "If I have learnt anything from the bands that I love, it's that they know how to put on a show. You guys put everything you have into every single gig that you play."
T: "You have to be a real fan to get through a three-hour Foo Fighters show! Seriously though, I honestly think the reason we still play so long is that we still have that kind of underdog spirit that we don't really deserve to be playing the stadiums we do. That's why we try to give everything that we have, because we genuinely feel so lucky to be there. It's a shared experience with the crowd, and I do think it's a work ethic."
R: "How would you describe your role when you play live?"
T: "As a drummer, you are constantly driving the bus, making sure everyone has got a comfortable seat and gets there safely- and if you feel like you're not doing it well, then it's going to be a bumpy ride for everyone. That's the best way I can put it. You are trying to give everyone the smoothest ride possible, but also throw some tasty licks in there as well of course!
  "Even though I am always reacting to everything that is going on around me when we play live, one thing that Dave always told me - and it's great advice for any drummer - is to always be aware of where your snare drum, the backbeat, . is landing. That's rock 'n' roll, and that backbeat is unstoppable. It's why Charlie Watts is amazing. I didn't get him when I was a kid, but I do now, and he's literally got one of the greatest backbeats of all time."
R: "I remember the first time I saw you play, when Foo Fighters headlined Reading in 2002. I have to admit that I was actually there to see Sum 41 and Blink 182 - I was really into Steve Jocz and Travis Barker at the time. Dad told me that you were one of the most beautiful players in the world to watch, because your playing is so fluid and natural, and all day he just kept telling me to wait until you got up there. Of course when you did, I was blown away, and in this crazy line of 'Taylors influencing Taylors', you've become one of my biggest influences..."
T: "Well, I'll take that compliment from your dad to my grave - love you, Rog! I think everyone knows by now that he was my first drum hero. He always looked so cool - he had such flair when he played - and those big, wide-open drums and giant cymbals sounded like an orchestra pit with those added splashes of colour from his timbales, rototoms and china. His drum fills were so melodic and he's telling a story with those high and low-pitched 'coloured' notes.
  "When we played Reading that time, we went on right after Muse, and they were just on the cusp of exploding. I remember your Dad coming back and telling me how good they were and getting mad at him - the last thing you want to hear right before you go and play a big show like that is how great the previous band were... Most people won't admit it of course, but it's a competition - every time!"

Words: Rufus Taylor     Pics: Joby Sessions

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