Overtime Gentlemen Please

Rock Sound 2001

2000 was arguably the Foo Fighters busiest year ever. Yet non-stop touring hasn't dented Dave Grohl's urge to make new music. In fact as the Foos wind down their 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose' campaign, the mainman has already started work on a more hardcore-side project. We ask the obvious question: Dave Grohl, are you a workaholic?

It takes one to know one. This year has definitely been my busiest ever and, when I meet a musician beyond the point of exhaustion and now entering the zone, I recognize the signs instantly. Dave Grohl is wandering the backstage corridors of Brixton Academy and I know straight away that he is very tired. Yet, the mention of rock sound definitely cheers his equine features up and he flashes a toothy smile. As I make small talk about his appearance on the Jo Whiley lunchtime show strumming an acoustic and singing the seasonal 'Next Year' and fans' favourite 'Everlong', his interest perks up further.
  "It's funny because I realise that in the mornings my voice is still very unprepared, but it was fun," admits the Foo Fighters frontman. "As I was doing it, I thought a lot of people would probably prepare and practise, but the best way to do these acoustic things is off the cuff. They had just played Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera and I was sitting there with the microphone in front of me thinking, 'God, am I on the right fucking show?' And then I start singing and it sounds like I've just woken up, kind of raw and sloppy, and I thought, 'That's kind of cool. I love the fact that someone, can be in their car driving to work and listening to manufactured pop music, and then it switches to a person who has smoked too many cigarettes trying to sing with an acoustic guitar. Any opportunity I can get to make the band seem like idiots, I do it! Anyway, the others were still in bed."

Grohl is 32 and, given the roller-coaster ride he's had from his days drumming with hardcore pioneers Scream to joining the seminal Nirvana and now fronting the Foo Fighters, you'd think somehow he might need to take it easy. But no, his group have toured 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose' non-stop since its release 15 months ago, joining Red Hot Chili Peppers across America when they weren't doing their own shows or playing festivals in Europe.
The Foos have lifted four singles - 'Learn To Fly', 'Generator', 'Breakout' and 'Next Year - from their third album, blooded new guitarist Chris Shiflett (Iiterally - he cut his foot in his hotel room before the second Brixton Academy show) and seem keen to accept every soundtrack offer going ('Me Myseland Irene' was the latest in a long line already including 'The X Files', 'Godzilla' and Paul Schrader's 'Touch'). So, Dave Grohl, it's time to come clean. Are you addicted to working?
The glint appearing in the musician's dark eyes tell me I've got him bang to rights. 'You know, I didn't use to consid- er myself a workaholic but recently, over the last couple of months, I've started to realise that I might be," he sighs. "We get so many opportunities to do so many great things and it's difficult to pass up a lot of them. It's hard to say no when you're asked to speak at Harvard University or to do a movie score. You feel that you're young and that the opportunities only last a certain amount of time. I'm trying to plan a vacation but I haven't been on one for so long that I start to think, 'God, what would I really want to do?' I'd love to go to the Caribbean. But my initial instinct is to say, 'I can't do that, I'm too busy'," ventures Dave without any prompting on my part. "My father was pretty strict person, he was a journalist, and my mother was a school-teacher for 35 years. I didn't have the work ethic when I was at school but somehow, afterwards, I got it. Above any of that, I enjoy it, I can't wait to be able to record again."

Indeed, Grohl is so keen that he has already been back in the studio, laying down thrashy, heavy riffs he intends to release under the Probot name. "It's basically just instrumental music I wrote and recorded. I wasn't satisfied with Foo Fighters music being rock enough. I love our band and I love our music but there's a part of me that wants to play death metal. So I went and recorded this stuff to get it off my chest and have an outlet for this music that just couldn't fit in with what we're doing. I wasn't planning on releasing it, I wasn't even planning on putting vocals on it, I just wanted to come up with some riffs and have fun, stresses Dave.
After a few weeks, I decided I wanted different singers to sing different songs. It's easier for me -I just send the tape to the vocalist, they send it back to me with their contribution and we mix it. So I made some phone calls to some of my favourite singers. Mike Dean from COC, Max Cavalera from Soulfy and Sepultura, Cronos from Venom, Snake from Voivod and Wino from The Obsessed have already agreed but there's a couple of other people we're still trying to get in touch with. Lemmy from Motorhead, we haven't done his recording yet, also Tom Araya from Slayer and Phil Anselmo from Pantera. We haven't organised them yet but I've told each singer that they're free to do whatever they want to do. I have no idea what they're going to sing about! That's one of the pleasures for me. I can only imagine what some of those guys are going to come up with."
Grohl appears to be taking a leaf out of Tony lommi's book, since he was one of many stellar guests who recently contributed to the Black Sabbath guitarist's solo debut "That's an interesting record," agrees Dave, who sang and played drums on 'Goodbye Lament'. "It came out great. Each person has their own direction, approach and flavour."
The Probot project doesn't yet have a release date, but things are moving on apace. "King Diamond from Mercyful Fate has already done his vocals. Everyone will probably be finished by January and February. Then we'll start mixing, so I would say summer time, maybe autumn," says Grohl. "It would be nice to get a record release party where we'd get all the vocalists to come and do their song."

Still, Dave is adamant that the Foo Fighters remain very much his main focus. "The four of us may do other things here and there, but really we'd be most excited just to make another record. We already have 20 or 30 different ideas for songs. There's never a shortage of material, we're really prolific," he enthuses. "The next Foos record is going to be strange and interesting because Taylor (Hawkins, drums) writes and records his own stuff, Chris writes his own songs, Nate (Mandel, bass) does his own music and movie scores. I think we're all going to relax separately, write a bunch of music on our own and then come together and listen to each other's tapes, pool of all the music that we really enjoy."
This more democratic outlook signals a departure of sorts for what has so far mostly been's Grohl's baby. "The last album was the closest we got to that approach. Taylor, Nate and myself, just the three of us. And then we added Chris. It's nice now because we don't have a deadline so there's no hurry. With each album, we spend more and more time on the recording and the albums get better," claims Dave, who might have a point, since 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose' contains arguably the Foos' finest moment in the epic 'Aurora', Dave agrees that it's a career high: "Absolutely. That was the first song that we've ever written that stemmed from a jam. I'd just gotten this new delay pedal and I started this riff and Nate and Taylor just played along. It wasn't demoed or arranged before we recorded it, it all just fell into place. We're very proud of that because it went from absolutely nothing to the best song we've ever written. I think the next album will probably have a lot of songs like that," adds Grohl before candidly revealing how personal the lyrics to 'Aurora' were. 'It's about the death of my grandmother. Whenever you go through something as deep and profound 'as the death of a family member or friend, you really get knocked back by how huge and at the same time insignificant life can seem. You sit there realising that the most inane things that you can just look past are sometimes the most meaningful," he confesses, fully aware that we're both thinking about the same thing. "Usually the other songs are just introspective, emotional love songs. 'Next Year' is a piece of shit! That song is so stupid! It's weird. I look back on a lot of the songs and some of them are jewels on their own and others are just hiccups or skips. My least favourite song is probably 'Oh George', which is off the first record. That album was made so quickly that it doesn't really count."

Again and again, we go back to the Foos' punishing schedule and Dave's work ethic. According to the frontman, "2000 was a really good year. All this touring might take away from your personal life, your health and well-being but musically, it really strengthens the band. As much as you might feel weak physically, it's the hour and a half that you're on stage that makes a difference. I look at the band compared to a year and a half ago and there's a world of difference. We've had to really focus and connect with each other every night. Now, when we play, I walk out towards the end of the stage and the audience and I turn my back and watch the band. That's the greatest part for me -I get to watch my band play on big stages. I think it's really cool. We've got to a place now where we're better and it's the best feeling in the world."
It's therefore not really surprising that they're considering releasing a live CD-Rom. "We filmed and recorded the last tour of America a couple of months ago," Dave reveals. "We watched it and it's an accurate representation of our band live. So ideally, you could put the CD-Rom in your computer and at the bottom of the screen you'd have a choice of all the different camera angles. You could watch Taylor for the entire show or choose the perspective of the guy with a camera on his head in the audience. Of course, that one is really fuzzy because he's getting bumped around so much," jokes Grohl before praising the Foos' excellent website. "Those guys try to make it as interactive as possible. They come out on the road with us, take live videos, pictures, we write letters and post things on the board all the time. It's the one place where kids can really get in touch with the band, I go there all the time. This time, we're gonna put a 24-hour studio-cam in the studio in my house so that kids can come online at any time and see if we're recording or not. And once a week, we'll give them a little bit of audio of what we're doing. It's so much more personal, and the more involved the people feel with the band, the closer and the more committed the fans get. It's almost like a family. Everywhere you go, you make a new set of friends. It makes the world that little bit smaller."

In fact, Dave appears happier now than in the heady days of Nirvana when the group became so big that Kurt Cobain lost touch with the fans and his own sanity. The Probot project and the Foos' fondness for low-key gigs such as last summer's pre-Reading warm-up at the Stratford Rex are testament to Grohl's literally hardcore roots. "That's true. It was nice when we went on our first Foo Fighters tour because, at that point, we hadn't even released a record, but there were so many people who were fans of Nirvana showing us support. You could take it two ways - you could think all these people are here just because they liked Nirvana or they want to support us. It was always very thankful for that, I thought it was great that there was a committed family vibe."
Grohl is better placed than most to look at the strange musical relationship between the US and the UK. "It's black and white, the difference. It's definitely a weird time for music. We're back to that 1989-1990 feeling when there was so much mindless shit happening. EMF and Jesus Jones were just bleak. Something's gotta give," he groans. "Here, it seems that bands like Coldplay and Travis are showing a new sensitivity that is beautiful. They're looking inside themselves and singing about their emotions. I think Americans could learn a lot from that but I wouldn't hold my breath! Over there, it's all about hating and money. With our band, we've given up on trying to be cool!" I might have guessed that much from the Foos' surprisingly lateral, beyond irony choice of cover versions. Dave burps and half-nods. "When we were rehearsing for this tour, we wrote down all the songs we've ever played, all the old Gary Numan covers, Pink Floyd's 'Have A Cigar' and fucking 'Baker Street'. We wanted to come up with a long setlist of as much stuff as we could. I had a page of all the covers and I turned to Nate and said, 'Should we still do any of these covers?' And he said, 'You know, I've never told you this but I fucking hate doing covers, man!' He'd spent five years doing them! We'll start covering our own songs soon!"
Later, of course, the Foo Fighters revert to type and Taylor sings The Eagles' 'Take It Easy'. Hardly likely to ever be Grohl's motto.

Words:Pierre Perrone

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