The Good Fight

Spin 2002

Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighting clan have battled drugs, depression, and the hurricane that is Courtney Love. But could all this torment somehow make One by One their ultimate sonic achievement? America's most famous ex-drummer candidly discusses the future of the Foo

When in Los Angeles, Dave Grohl and his girlfriend, Jordan Blum, stay in a rented house in Studio City, formerly occupied by goth pinup Rose McGowan. For a place where Marilyn Manson may very well have slept, it's remarkably bright and cheery, and for a rock star's pied-à-terre, it's spotless--Grohl, 33, is apparently a real hot dog with the Lemon Pledge and the vacuum when journalists aren't around.

On the fridge: a Polaroid of Grohl holding a pair of Queen guitarist Brian May's underwear (long story), and some Magnetic Poetry ("Thou shalt marry rank peevish vixen"). On the coffee table: a book by Los Angeles artist Raymond Pettibon, whose deadpan, macabre illustrations have graced albums by punk-rock legends Black Flag, Minutemen, and Sonic Youth. Pettibon drew the human heart that appears on the cover of the Foo Fighters' fourth album, One by One, but in Grohl's book, a different image is marked with a blue Post-it note--a man's heavily inked head in silhouette, with a caption that reads: "I want it to be known that I exist. I do not wish it to be known what sort of person I am."

In the years since Nirvana came to its sudden end, this has been Grohl's basic policy vis-à-vis interviews. His reluctance to spill on a range of topics--his 1997 divorce from wife Jenny Youngblood; his relationships with Veruca Salt's Louise Post and former Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur; and, above all, Nirvana, and Kurt Cobain's 1994 suicide--suggested that he was genuinely uncomfortable leveraging his personal life to promote his music. For a guy who's been famous, albeit reluctantly, since Kennedy was still an MTV VJ, this seemed both noble and a bit naive.

But things are different now. It was a rough 12 months for the Foo Fighters. Drummer Taylor Hawkins almost died of a drug overdose in August 2001. Early recording sessions for One by One became an arduous four-month slog. And Grohl's drumming stint with ascendant stoner-metal superheroes Queens of the Stone Age led many--including his bandmates--to wonder whether the Foos' 1999 album, There Is Nothing Left to Lose, would be their last. Then there's Grohl and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic's ongoing legal battle with Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, over unreleased Nirvana tracks that may (or may not) finally be released this year.

By rights, One by One should've probably come out half-assed or not at all. Instead, it's the best Foo Fighters record since 1997's The Colour and the Shape. Grohl's songs still ratchet from power-pop shimmer to monkey-wrenched rage, but there's a new urgency to them, a hard-won richness of emotion. It's as if the band has converted its bruises into muscle.

Of Grohl's time with Queens of the Stone Age, Queens' singer-guitarist Josh Homme says, "He played like a guy with something to prove. He's playing his ass off on our record. He was like, 'Just in case you forgot'--boom! Droppin' bombs and shit."

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, Grohl, dressed in jeans and a plain white T-shirt that looks like it just came out of a three-pack, sinks into a patio chair in his backyard. He's goatee-less but sporting Spock-meets-Skynyrd sideburns, and he's been up all night editing the video for One by One's first single, the buzz-saw--riff nail-biter "All My Life," which he also directed. Armed with a Heineken and a pack of Marlboros, he's ready to talk about the album, and more. "This time," he says, "I just thought, 'Fuck it.' I got nothin' to lose."

Spin: Now that the band has been around for eight years, do you feel like you're drawing an older crowd?
Grohl: I think we draw a more mature audience--not older. We attract people with mustaches. People with half-shirts. Strippers. And at the same time, we get people who dig Dashboard Confessional and kids in Green Day T-shirts. It seems like our band's sound is so general that it applies to all those people. On our second tour, with Shudder to Think, we were doing "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" by Journey. And [Shudder to Think's] Craig [Wedren] would come up and sing it exactly like Steve Perry. It was so killer. And you'd look at these kids in the crowd, with frowns on their faces, like, "This new Foo Fighters song sucks shit." But there'd be the one dude in the back, with the mullet and mustache, goin', "Yesss!"

You're one of the only '90s alternative-rock bands that hasn't lost a step commercially--a lot of your peers aren't really around anymore.
I don't know what it is that makes music so disposable. I just don't get it. I don't know why it's so easy for people to throw something away. I guess, in a way, our band actually represents something, which I didn't really consider until a few years ago. I didn't think we meant much to anybody.

Why not?
Well, it's a defense mechanism. From my point of view, I was in this band that people considered so important, and people thought it really made a difference, and it touched so many people's lives and changed the direction of popular culture. Now, that's not necessarily how I look at it, but a lot of people think about it that way. And it doesn't make sense to imagine that happening twice in your life. The Beatles were fucking great. But Wings didn't change the world. They had great music and great songs, but Jesus Christ, y'know? [Pauses] I can't believe I just made that comparison. That's so fucking horribly pretentious.

"Grohl says Nirvana were as good as the Beatles."
[Laughing] No, no, strike that! But you have to take that into consideration. Also, being the drummer and stepping out to be a vocalist/guitar player/songwriter, you don't expect much. And then, after a while, you start to realize, "Okay, I'm the oldest person at this awards ceremony. I'm the oldest person on this bill." And people come up to me--people from the headlining band--and say, "You guys were my first concert."

Do fans still approach you with questions about Nirvana?
I think people are afraid to ask me about it because of the demise of the band. They feel intimidated and don't know what to say. People will ask me questions, and they won't say the word Nirvana. They'll say, "Well, in your previous band...." It's funny, because I don't consider it a curse. It's not something I dislike talking about. I mean, shit, you can't avoid it, really. There's not one day that goes by that I don't think about it.

Really, every day?
People think of Nirvana as this sad, brooding experience. But I don't. I have a lot of great memories. And at the same time, I've forgotten so much, just because it was so insane. I mean, fuck, I joined the band in September of 1990, and by April of '94, it was done. Try to remember everything that happened to you during college. You can't.

Do you still have feelings that are unresolved from that era?
Well, there's still times when I read [Nirvana] lyrics and all of a sudden I understand them--like, "Oh, that's what [Kurt] was talking about." Or there are times when I remember something ridiculous that makes me laugh my ass off or something that makes me really sad. You never get over it. It's not the kind of thing that you wanna get over.

Do you still feel like the new guy?
In Nirvana?

Oh, always. Dude, I was like their sixth drummer. When I think of Nirvana, I think of Krist and Kurt. I was just the drummer.

But the band only became successful after you joined. Do you allow yourself to think, "This wouldn't have happened without me"?
Shit, it could have been better [without me]. What happened in Nirvana happened because of timing. It could have been us or Jane's Addiction or the Pixies or Hüsker Dü.

What's the latest with the Nirvana legal situation?
I think things are maybe getting better. I think that there's some movement and [long pause]--it's just become warped. Let me think about how I have to say this. Okay, go ahead, ask me anything.

Well, okay, has it--
I can't answer that. [Laughs]

A lot of this is Krist's deal, right?
Well, you have to understand that Krist is Nirvana. He said at one point, "How many Nirvana shows have you been to? Because I've been to every one of 'em." It was kind of profound. Nirvana was Krist's idea and project as much as it was Kurt's.

What was it like preparing for your testimony?
The night before I had to go to court, I was in my room, packing. My girlfriend's in bed, and she says, "Oh, [Nick Broomfield's documentary] Kurt & Courtney is on." And for a moment, I thought, "Wow--maybe this is supposed to happen. Okay, I'm gonna watch this." And I turned it off within ten minutes. I thought, "Is this what it's really become? Documentaries and murder-conspiracy theories?"

People may be surprised that you didn't watch that movie, which is pretty anti-Courtney throughout.
As much as Courtney and I dislike each other, the few times that we've bumped into each other in person, we've kinda laughed at how ridiculous it all is. The last time we saw each other was at the Reading Festival a couple years ago, from the side of the stage. We glared at each other. And I just laughed. I thought, "This is so stupid."

It's easier to just go off on someone in an email.
It's hard to do that to someone's face. That's what diaries are meant for, y'know? [Pause] I hope no one ever publishes mine. [Laughs]

Has it been draining to do a Foo Fighters record, with this court stuff hanging over you?
Yeah. But I also have something to go home to after sitting in court all day. I don't consider the lawsuit reality a lot of the time, because it's so far beyond anything the band ever stood for or anything we ever imagined. It has nothing to do with what Nirvana was.

So are you more hopeful about a settlement?
I'm ever the optimist. I like to think that there's good in everything and that there's light at the end of every tunnel. But for something like that to happen, you have to be dealing with rational people. If that's what we're dealing with, then, shit, I hope it happens. If that's not what we're dealing with, then I'm sure it won't.

What would you say if you were to sit down with Courtney?
[Laughs] Nothing I can say to you.

IF YOU CRAVE rock-star antics, Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins is your guy. During the week I spent with the band, Hawkins did the following: 1) started an endless and essentially one-sided food fight, involving grapes, broccoli, and cheese dip, with his long-suffering drum tech; 2) colorfully disparaged the drummer of another prominent rock band, recounting a possibly apocryphal story that ended with Hawkins telling said drummer, "Okay, dude, how 'bout next time we play, you sit behind me again, and I'll give you another free drum lesson"; and 3) appeared to subsist primarily on Red Bull and Parliament Lights.

Like former Foo Fighters guitarist/flamingly straight cross-dresser Pat Smear, Hawkins is a sideman with a frontman's flair. And it makes sense that he'd thrive in a band whose frontman seems to crave the anonymity of a drummer. Grohl claims it just worked out that way by chance--"It's not like we put an ad in the paper: 'Looking for kick-ass drummer who's also a big star.'" But he admits that he's waiting for the inevitable Hawkins solo album. The other two Foos, longtime bassist Nate Mendel and new guitarist Chris Shiflett (late of Sunnyvale pop-punks No Use for a Name), are frequently found reading quietly in their dressing rooms while "The Taylor Show" unfolds. As Mendel puts it, "When Taylor's good, you remember why you love him. And when he's bad..."

Hawkins lives in Topanga Canyon, a tony community tucked away in a rocky hillside about 30 minutes (traffic permitting) from Hollywood and--dude!--just ten miles from Malibu. Notable rock Topangans of the past include Captain Beefheart and Neil Young (who recorded his '70s-burnout elegy After the Gold Rush up here).

Today, Hawkins, tan and ripped, lounges poolside in blue surf shorts, a Laguna Beach-bred dude at ease in his own personal Rancho Relaxo. Except he's not really at ease; he's got the nervous energy of a 12-year-old at a spelling bee. While he talks, he perches froglike on a pool chair, stabbing the air with an unlit cigarette. There's also a fair amount of air-drumming going on.

Caffeine and coffin nails aside, Hawkins has been clean since last August, when a cocktail of booze and painkillers almost killed him. The band was on tour in London at the time; Hawkins spent weeks in a hospital, where he was comatose for two days. "I took it too far," he says, "but thank God I did take it too far, and I didn't fuckin' croak, and I'm here to know how retarded I was and how lame my life had become. I was just becoming a clichéd rock idiot. But I wouldn't take any of it away--none of the times I got high, not even the overdose. Because I learned so much about myself through the whole thing."

Hawkins spent some time in rehab, but for the most part, he was at home, working out, surfing, playing drums. He was still recovering when the band went into the studio to record One by One, and the sessions went badly--Grohl, a studio perfectionist, scrapped entire songs midtake. "I don't think we were really ready yet," Grohl says now. "We basically made what Taylor called 'the million-dollar demos.'"

After Grohl stopped the sessions, he crashed for a few weeks with Hawkins in Topanga Canyon, and the two began jamming together in Hawkins' tiny home studio. What began as messing around gradually turned into writing and recording. Charged up, the two returned to Grohl's studio and knocked out the basic tracks for One by One in about 12 days.

"A lot of my insecurities--which led to a lot of my drug use--had to do with me not feeling like I was good enough to be in this band, to play drums with Dave," says Hawkins. "And it was never anything that Dave ever said. But [on this album] he pushed me further than he needed to. He could have fuckin' given up on me a long time ago, but he believed in me, so I could get out of that hole."

Adds Grohl: "Taylor's a fucking amazing drummer, and I think we'll be partners in crime for a long time. For the two of us to connect in the studio the way we did was really great. It just added a whole new dimension to our relationship."

When Hawkins was doing drugs, he says, Grohl "always knew and would always let me know he wasn't stoked about it. He was like, 'Hey, it's your life. I care about you, but if you're going to fuck up I don't want to talk to you about it.' But when it happened, when I [OD'd and] woke up [from the coma], Dave was there."

He reaches for a lighter, fires up another Parliament, and grins. "When the Behind the Music happens, I'm gonna look like the boob."

While Hawkins was in the hospital, Grohl seriously considered breaking up the Foo Fighters. The band's early days had been marked by constant turnover, but Grohl felt that he'd finally found a lineup that could last, and he had no desire to continue without any of them. More important, he had already seen one bandmate--one friend--destroyed by drugs and didn't want to watch it happen again. The band stayed together. They returned to the studio. But, says Grohl, playing in the Foo Fighters "was starting to feel like a burden."

Spin: Even after you got the record back on track, you decided to put the Foo Fighters aside temporarily to tour with Queens of the Stone Age. How did the band feel about that decision?
Grohl: It kinda flipped everybody out. There was this feeling, like, "Oh my God, this is breaking down, and it won't start up again."

Are you speaking for yourself or the other guys in the band?
I remember having a conversation with Nate. He was concerned that I was going to leave and not come back. And I told him, "Man, the Foo Fighters are like my family." I can play drums with another band, and that's fun. But at the end of the day, you come home to this thing that's yours. I mean, fuck, I've got [our logo] tattooed on the back of my neck. I never want it to end.

But you've also said that you don't want to be doing this when you're thirty-three. You're thirty-three now, aren't you?
Well, I've got another five months. [Laughs]

You're not totally Mick Jagger yet.
I sort of imagine there's some point where it just changes. Where real life begins, and you wake up [snaps his fingers] and then, okay, now it's time to have kids. Which I honestly can't wait to do. At the same time, if the opportunity is there, it seems stupid to not take advantage of it. Like, "Wow, I can make another record? I can go play shows?" It's hard to stop, you know? I love this record more than anything we've ever done. We're a better live band than we've ever been. And you play shows, and it's like, holy shit, 60,000 people are singing "My Hero"? Oh my God, that's amazing. Fuck, I wanna do that tomorrow!

Words:Alex Pappademas

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