Foo Fighters, Select

Get Myself Arrested

Select, January 2000

As Foo Fighters' best LP, 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose', roars up the charts worldwide, Select charges Dave Grohl with inventing arena-filling, alt-rock and being a Very Famous Person. Not guilty, he pleads.

Dave Grohl has never felt famous. Even when Nirvana were at their height, when thousands tried to push their way into an already overcrowded tent for his own band's first UK appearance at Reading, when he's sold over six million records as his band's frontman, when he now plays to an average audience of 3000, when his autograph is sought almost everywhere he goes, the realisation still doesn't seep in.
  It's not even as if he doesn't look like a star. Pacing around a three-roomed suite in a premier London hotel, he oozes magnetic charm: brisk movements, ready one-liners, darting eyes and neat sideburns so Supergrass-like even his manager has started calling him 'Gaz'. The whole effect is like meeting an off-duty policeman - the uniform and context may not be present, but there's no denying the day job.
  "Oh man, I gotta wake my ass UP!" he mumbles, while fumbling for his packet of Marlboro Reds and beginning a fruitless search for decent coffee. Last night he got gloriously drunk around London's more upmarket locales and, even after only a few hours sleep, is fully energised despite his claims to the contrary. Apart from his natural sunny disposition, there's another reason for this beaming joviality. It's called 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose' and it's hands-down the greatest Foo Fighters record yet made.
  "I'm way more excited about this record than anything I've done in my whole life," Dave enthuses, now curled up at one end of a sofa in an adjoining room. "The stuff before, that was like tenth-grade term papers, really fucking simple. But this is the first time I've ever felt like I don't wanna change a thing, the first time I've felt totally thrilled with a record."
Foo Fighters, Select   After two albums - the first ('Foo Fighters') essentially a collection of demos and the second ('The Colour And The Shape') awash with personal problems - the original Grohl vision has finally been brought into sharp focus. Having been released from a constricting record deal just before recording commenced, it's the sound of a band running free and delivering music of a quality they'd always been capable of. Building their own studio in the sprawling basement of Dave's house in hometown Springfield, Virginia didn't do much harm either.
  "That was so easy," he dismisses with a wave of his hand, having done the entire job himself. "People imagine recording studios to be these, you know, gymnasium-sized technical nightmares. But building one is the easiest thing in the world."
  Alt-rock's Handy Andy lights another cigarette and leans forward conspiratorially. "Listen, all I did was soundproof, put in hardwood floors, get a bit of equipment and that was it, job done. There was no acoustic engineering, no science to it at all. Why would you want to spend thousands on a studio in Los Angeles that'll suck all the life out of your record? Christ! If I can do it, anyone can."
  It must be pointed out at this juncture that the last Foos album, 'The Colour And The Shape' was recorded in LA. He continues, gesticulating even more wildly: "People record in Hollywood and LA, they get caught up with everything that comes with it, and they totally lose the point. And there are too many other people surrounding them telling them how to make it better, or how it should be, or what it should be like."
  "He takes a deep breath. "Now, if you're in a basement in Virginia, all you have to do is lock your fucking doors and not tell anyone where you live. Simple."

The last film Dave Grohl saw was Fight Club, the dark and demanding tale of two men reclaiming their masculinity by beating the living hell out of each other. According to Dave, the director David Fincher, made a great job of adapting Chuck Palahniuk's novel and Ed Norton was "fucking brilliant". But what ruined it was the identity of the second lead.
  "I think Brad Pitt is fucking horrible," Dave spits with real venom. "I really do. I think he is such a bad actor. There are times when the audience can't even understand what he's saying. It's so monotone - no emotion at all. It's like listening to Stephen Hawking's junior buddy computer explaining the theory of relativity."
  It should come as no surprise that Dave Grohl doesn't hang out with too many actors. In fact, Dave Grohl doesn't hang out with many celebrities at all, especially celebrity musicians. A year living in LA put paid to that.
  "I fucking hate that city," he says with alarming force. "That place seems to breed a certain type of rock star, someone who just because they're on the TV or in a magazine thinks they're some great icon. There's a line somewhere between fame and recognition. Recognition doesn't seem so evil as fame. Recognition usually goes along with validity whereas fame, anyone can be famous. Anyone can be a serial killer, anyone can be a model, anyone can be a fucking sports hero and definitely anyone can be a rock star."
  Dave lights a soothing Marlboro and sits back in his seat, rant momentarily over. Given his background, he can't be blamed for taking a vitriolic stance against such flaunting of wealth and stature. Even before Nirvana's doomed battle against the onwards march of commerciality Grohl despised any form of self-promotion. While in youthful punk bands like Freak Baby, Scream and Dain Bramage (records released on the Fartblossom label), playing to more than 100 people was considered getting too big for your DMs.
  "Until this band I'd never really been at the forefront of anything," he continues, his voice having dropped several decibels. "With Nirvana I was the drummer and probably the least recognisable of the three. So I got to reap all the benefits of being in a huge band without any of the ..." He pauses, thinking of the appropriate words, "... difficult aspects."
Foo Fighters, Select   When talking about his past life, the more uncomfortable Dave Grohl gets the less audible he is. Right now he's virtually mute. "So... I was surrounded by something that was so huge, that other people considered so fucking important ... but I still lived a completely normal life, which was great, which was pretty fucking cool. At the time my neighbours couldn't believe I was in a rock band."
  He thinks for a moment, then perks up. "I just think that it's fucking ridiculous that famous rock stars consider themselves better or more important than other people for the sole reason that they play an instrument. I mean, what the fuck is that all about?"
  Such an anti-'gimme gimme' attitude was forged at a 1988 Monsters of Rock arena show which the 20-year old Dave had the misfortune to attend.
  "It was this fucking horrible...thing, with The Scorpions and Van Halen playing to about 30,000 people," he shudders, rubbing his eyes to try and erase the memory. "I couldn't understand how music could translate to such a huge audience and to me it didn't because I wasn't receiving any energy from it at all. I felt completely disconnected. In a way, growing up with punk has brainwashed me into thinking that fame is the greatest evil."
  And that's why you came from behind the drumkit to take up the frontman position?
  "[Forcefully] Yeah, because I don't wanna stop making music. I'm not gonna stop making music for fear of becoming [spits] famous. I don't even consider myself famous because I still don't get recognised that often. Even our records aren't really recognised.
  "We're in a very comfortable position where we have our own little audience that stays at its own place and genuinely enjoys the music. But would I want audiences to go from 3000 to 30,000 people? Fuck! No way man! No way. Because I would feel just as strange onstage in front of 30,000 people as I did watching that rock show in the 30,000 people. I don't see how that would work. I don't understand how that would work."
  In the context of the current alt-rock circuit, it would seem Dave Grohl is the last of the true punkers. He may show the classic symptoms of fame denial but, given his rap sheet, it's perhaps wiser to downplay his elevated position if only for the sake of sanity.
  When pressed on the subject of other less extreme modern day alt-rock practitioners - the kind who sell millions yet keep a firm eye on the cred-o-meter like Limp Bizkit, Korn, Kid Rock or Coal Chamber - Dave shakes his head and gears himself up to deliver another lesson in right-thinking musical attitude.
  "With a lot of bands nowadays," he begins, "the emphasis is placed more on them becoming famous, becoming huge, rich, rock people rather than the actual music. It wasn't so easy in 1988 to be a poppy punk band and get a fucking ten million dollar record deal. I think music has become a lot less challenging over the last five years."
He checks himself.
  "Not that ours is fucking rocket science. But the absence of melody in a lot of new music and the basic caveman dynamic that's quiet-loud quiet-loud quiet-loud has become too easy."
  But isn't that something you're partly responsible for...
  "For the quiet-loud thing? I guess people consider Nirvana responsible for that. But if you think about it we just stole it from The Pixies anyway [laughs]. So blame them."

Foo Fighters, Select It may not sound like it but there are a few bands and activities Dave Grohl actually enjoys. Recently he's been "shakin' his ass" to Canadian band Sloan, New Orleans rapper Juvenile and unreconstructed rockers Queens Of The Stone Age. And of course there's the new Supergrass record to wear out. "They're phenomenal," Dave says. "Their music is far more advanced than most others."
  Socially he has a tendency to hang out with comedians, particularly Eddie Izzard and Janeane Garofalo, both of whom he got drunk with recently - he ended up walking Garofalo's dogs blind drunk in the middle of the night. And, although he's a keen fan of email and the internet, technology will never be a huge part of Dave's life (the label on the front of the Foos' latest album reads 'Plus: Enhanced CD includes multimedia Ya Da Ya Da').
  What he really enjoys - though right now it's looking like he may never get the chance - is to pursue his more off-beam musical leanings. With his own studio a short flight of steps away, it appears it's only a matter of time until the release of the solo instrumental album.
  "A lot of the music I find most beautiful or pleasurable," he says, stubbing out his cigarette butt, "is long, slow, sleepy, quiet instrumentals that have nothing to do with structure or pop convention. I always have this fantasy of a nice two month stretch off at home with no-one around but me, just to see what came out. What would it be like? The sleepiest, slowest Tangerine Dream ... bullshit."
  The Dave Grohl Project? It has a nice ring to it.

Words: Sam Upton     Pics: Scarlet Page

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