Rock Sound 2005
Says Dave Grohl knew his band's new double-album had to be something 'different'. Just as well ordinary is an alien word on the rock 'n' roll Planet Foo.
A Potential Set-Up At 606
To backtrack a little, before rock sound's interview with the Foo Fighters, we're herded into the 606 control room with five or six French journalists (and a woman from Austria, oddly enough) to hear 'In Your Honour' (the album is apparently not called 'Foo Are You?', as reported in one prominent US mag), which has been divided into 'loud' and 'soft' discs - or as Grohl refers to them, "rock" and "acoustic". Watching journalists play air guitar to songs they've never heard before is unbelievably inane, but it's a fairly typical - if ludicrous - scenario in these types of quasi-chaperoned listening sessions. Luckily, this lot seem to possess at least a modicum of good sense. Except for one jackass, who's bouncing around the control room like a goddamn superball. We hear the "rock" record first. Songs like 'Best Of You' (the first single) and 'End Over End' (a likely second single, if catchiness is a factor) are vaguely anthemic in that quintessentially Foo Fighters way you'd think the band could've easily patented by now. As soon as the album comes to a close, Grohl re-emerges from behind the proverbial velvet curtain, a cigarette hanging nonchalantly between his lips. "Well, that's the rock record," he announces.
He then hands out the track listing for the "acoustic" record, presses play on the CD player, and disappears again. The second half of 'In Your Honour' is much mellower than the first, and features guest performances from Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones (Mellotron on 'Miracle'), adult-pop star Norah Jones (piano and vocals on 'Virginia Moon') and Queens mainman Josh Homme (guitar on 'Razor'). On 'Cold Day In The Sun', Grohl trades places with Hawkins, playing drums while the day-job sticksman sings.
During the playback, we notice a CD-R labelled "In Your Honor - Mastered & Sequenced" resting play-side down on a table between rock sound's chair and an unoccupied sofa. It must be a ringer, we guess, strategically planted for some less ethical journalist to walk out with. It's probably a recording of Grohl yelling, "Fuck you!" at the top of his lungs. Either way, we're not even slightly taking the bait, and with each passing moment, we're becoming more convinced that there's a hidden camera somewhere in the room. We picture Grohl and his studio henchman pouncing on the first person who even THINKS of knicking it and selling the fucker on eBay for top dolar. Especially when one considers the lengths the Foo Fighters had to go to just to get the thing finished. Not only did they build a studio from the ground up, they found themselves on the receiving end of the ultimate shit-hammer when the manufacturer of the reel-to-reel tape they were using - Quantegy Inc - went tits up midway through the recording sessions.
"When we got the e-mail about them shutting their doors we started frantically calling around all the guitar centers in the area," Grohl explains. "But they were all out because Rick Rubin bought it all. It's like insider trading or something." Eventually, the Foos sorted it out (no thanks to Rubin, apparently), and 'In Your Honor' obviously got finished. But still.....no sense fanning the flames.
The Looming Spectre Of Adult Rock
"We had to do something special this time around - not just make another record," Grohl says. "Doing the acoustic record especially was so refreshing. We didn't know how long it was going to take - we'd never done it before. We built all the songs from an acoustic guitar up. I'd rattle off an arrangement off the top of my head, whatever felt right, which I think is the best way to do it, rather than over-analysing arrangements. Sometimes it'd be just an acoustic guitar and a vocal, but usually we'd add bass, drums, mellotron, piano, more guitars, pump organ, accordians - our friend Rami Jaffee from the Wallflowers came down to play some keys - we'd just build it until it sounded done. I don't know if you'd necessarily call it an 'acoustic' record, because on some of the songs the orchestration is so huge, but it's a lot mellower than the other one. I mean, when I played it for people, they were thinking it was gonna be like 'Harvest Moon' or something."
Norah Jones? The Wallflowers? 'Harvest Moon'? Are the Foo Fighters gearing down to join the soft-rock pantheon currently being milked dry by Counting Crows, Dave Matthews et al? "Well, i don't think people look at us like they look at My Chemical Romance," Grohl says diplomatically. "But I'm anxious to see what our audience is like these days. It's been a while since we've been out there. The last show we played in Las Vegas, there were some 15-year old chicks up front, and then mid-centre, there were our hardcore fans, and then a father guarding his child from the fucking raging pit, and then up in the balcony, the meth-dealing biker couple, and then, like, the baseball team. I mean, I think people see us as a rock band, but that can be so general. It can appeal to everybody, you know?"
The tone of the "acoustic" record was set by its opening track 'Still'.
"That was the first song we did" he explains. "When we listened back to it, I remember saying, 'That's my favorite thing we've ever recorded'. It's beautiful, and it was so new to me. It's about a kid who sat on the train tracks in my hometown in Virginia and committed suicide. i remember we rode our bikes to the park that morning and there were all these ambulances and shit. We saw pieces of his bones. It's heavy man, but you know, I was listening to the music, and that's what it was."
When rock sound brings up 'Friend Of A Friend', a song in which the acoustic guitar sounds vaguely like Nirvana's 'Polly' and the lyrics reference a guitar player with "two best friends" prone to utter the words "never mind", Grohl sees the question coming from a mile away. "It's not about Kurt," he says flatly. "That song is actually 15 years old. I wrote it when I first went to Olympia and moved in with Kurt. I had just joined Nirvana and I didn't really know him that well at that point. There was a 4-track in the apartment, and I recorded two songs on it over the course of a few months 'cos I had nothing else to do," he says, adding, "then I re-recorded it on a friends 8-track. This girl named Jenny Toomey had a label called Simple Machines back in DC - she released a lot of DC hardcore bands - she heard the song and wanted to release a cassette of it. It came out a long time ago, on this series of cassettes called 'Pocketwatch'. I called the band Late, because I always thought it'd be cool to be on stage and say 'Hi, we're Late', which is so stupid...but yeah, it's just me, and I recorded it in my friend's basement, and Jenny would literally be dubbing copies in her bedroom. After a while people started realising it was 'The guy from Nirvana', and she started getting more requests for it. So she called and asked if i could do it on CD, and I was like 'Jenny, it's not that good. In fact it's kind of embarrassing'. So she discontinued it. Come to think of it, I don't even have a copy."
The control room at 606 was modelled on Polar Studios in Stockholm, Sweden, which played host to sessions for Swedish pop-tarts Abba and Led Zeppelin's 'In Through The Out Door'. In fact, when Zep legend John Paul Jones arrived at 606 for his Foo Fighters cameo, Grohl considered taking the Led Zeppelin memorabilia off the walls prior to his arrival. "I felt a little weird the night before he came in, because I've got that original 'Zeppelin II' gold record up above the studio door, and this awesome John Bonham print, and a couple of Jimmy Page prints out in the hall," Grohl says. "I was like, 'Fuck, man, should I take that stuff down?' I didn't wanna freak him out."
And then there's Josh Homme. Grohl famously played drums on the Queens' 'Songs For The Deaf' album back in 02, so it was probably only a matter of time before Homme turned up on a Foos record. "Josh called me at like, one in the morning, going, 'Hey - I wanna come down and play that song'," Grohl laughs. "So I was like, 'Uh, okay'. And then of course we're here until six before finally I was like, 'Okay, you're a genius - let's go home'. I mean, I have so much respect for that guy - he's a dear friend and an inspiration, really. He fucking rules."
Of course, only the Foo Fighters could get Josh Homme AND John Paul Jones to appear on their album without anyone batting an eyelid. A guest appearance by Norah Jones, however, seems unbelievably weird, if only because most people would never associate a blues / R&B singer / songwriter with anything even remotely Foo Fighters-oriented. "That's why we did it," Grohl laughs. "When I mentioned her name, everybody was like, 'Really?' I think the only person who wholeheartedly approved was our guitar tech, who's had a borderline- stalking crush on her for years."
"But she came in, did her thing, and it fit perfectly," Hawkins adds. "We didn't use it (just) because it's her. I mean, if you listen to it, it works."
Which, for better or worse, sums up the Foo Fighters' basic philosophy: "If you think about it with an open mind, music can be nameless, it can be faceless - it can just be music," says Grohl. "To free yourself of any pre-conception or prejudice or whatever, it's a good feeling. I mean, I listen to some music that I would get burned at the stake for in a rock club. But to me, that's the point."
Words: J Bennett
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