The K! Interview

Kerrang!, July 2019

For as long as he can remember, music has always been part of Taylor Hawkins' life. Growing up on a diet of The Beatles, Bee Gees and "the pop of the day", just as he began to play drums at the age of 10, he scored tickets to see Queen perform at the newly-built Irvine Meadows Ampitheater on September 11th 1982.
  The band, who were toruing in support of their album Hot Space, irrevocably changed the yound Taylor's life. With a setlist which opened with Flash and closed with We Are The Champions, it's not hard to see why it had such an emotional impact.
  "after that concert, I don't think I slept for three days," he remembers today. "It changed everything, and I was never the same because of it. It was the beginning of my obsession with rock'n'roll, and I knew that I wanted to be in a huge rock band after seeing Queen. I was just starting to get into the drums and Roger Taylor became my hero. I remember telling my Mom that I'd play there one day."
  Alongside Queen, albums by Rush, The Police, Genesis and Van Halen began to dominate his listening habits as he learned to play the drums.
  "It was such a good time to be influenced by drummers," he says. "I would steal stuff wholesale from [Rush The K Interview drummer] Neil Peart licks, to Phil Collins and Alex Van Halen. Even the stuff that was on the radio, there was so much good music. Even the bad music was good back then."
  By 1994, he was working in a music shop and playing for Sylvia - "a bad Jane's Addiction rip-off band." Eventually, he was recruited by blues rocker Sass Jordan, whose band were set to tour Europe as support to Aerosmith. He then joined Alanis Morissette's band after her third studio album, Jagged Little Pill, went to number one in 13 countries. And when Foo Fighters found themselves a man down following the release of The Colour And The Shape in 1997, a phone call to Dave Grohl changed his life once again - he has occupied their drum stool ever since, becoming arguably the band's second frontman, despite spending most of his time at the back of the stage.
  As may be obvious from his energetic manner, Taylor is not a man who likes to stay still. Before this interview takes place, the 47-year-old has already chalked up a seven-mile mountain bike ride near his home in Hidden Hills, California - the Kardashians are neighbours - and is looking ahead to the release of his new album, Get The Money, with his band The Coattail Riders. The album features a ridiculous list of guest appearances: his boss Dave and bandmate Pat Smear are on there, alongside Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrell, The Eagles' Joe Walsh, The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, Level 42 bassist Mark King, former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, and Roger Taylor, the man who gave Taylor the idea to hit stuff for a living in the first place.
  "It really is ridiculous, isn't it?" he laughs.

Fifteen years after seeing Queen, you fulfilled your ambition of playing Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre shortly after joining Foo Fighters. Was it everything you expected it to be?
"It's more of a reflective thing where you look back and can say 'I really did play Irvine Meadows like I told my mom I would', but you really don't think about it at the time. It's hard to stop yourself in the middle of your work and say, 'Hey, smell the roses and enjoy this moment, you've accomplished something very few people do.' There's so much in what I do that is beyond hard work - there's luck and timing and just being in the right place at the right time with the right hairdo. I know I'm so fortunate."

Guitarist Stevie Salas was very critical of your drumming when you joined Sass Jordan's band a few years before Foo Fighters. What did you learn from him?
"I literally went from thinking I was the greatest drummer in the world to finding out that I wasn't, and that I had a lot of work to do. You lose a lot of confidence, but I got a better perspective. That was a good lesson for me. I needed it at the time. I didn't listen to anybody before him because I thought I was the greatest. Every day I go into the studio, I'm working to get better and get my craft together. It's all about the work. I learned that from Stevie."

What was it like touring with Alanis Morissette after her Jagged Little Pill album was released?
"It was so much fun. I joined Alanis' band and the single [You Oughta Know] came out and it just went fucking nuclear. Next thing you know, I'm in a video that's on MTV every hour. That tour was very special, and I owe her a lot of gratitude. She gave me a lot of space to do what I wanted. It was probably the biggest album of the year, and there was a lot of pressure on her. She was having to learn to be this leader on the job, which isn't easy. But it was really one of the most fun times of my life."

In 1997, you replaced William Goldsmith as Foo Fighters' drummer. Is it true you offered to join when Dave Grohl called to ask you to recommend someone?
"Well, it didn't actually go like that. I was a huge fan of the first Foo Fighters record. I'd met Dave a couple of times on the road and we'd become sort of friends. I was driving with my girlfriend at the time, and we were listening to [Los Angeles radio station] KROQ. I heard William had departed and they were looking for a new drummer. I scrambled to get Dave's number and called him. I said, 'I heard you guys are looking for a drummer,' and he said, 'Well, do you know any?'. I thought Alanis wanted to go in a more laid-back direction, and it seemed like the right time to jump. Alanis didn't need me! I basically said to Dave, 'I'll play drums for you,' and we jammed a couple of times. I remember I was at home watching [1995 erotic drama] Showgirls with my girlfriend, and Dave called to ask if I wanted to join."

Were you comfortable playing drums in front of him? We've heard he's quite tasty behind the kit himself.
"I was and I wasn't, you know? This guy's a legendary drummer and has his own style. I had to find a way - and still do to this day - to be creative and yet still give him what he wants to hear. It's never easy. Live, it's fine. We just do our thing, but it's always been a difficult process in the studio, and I get it. It's not an easy gig, I won't lie. But that's not because he's a jerk, because he's not. It's just hard to impress him. We see what the bigger picture is and we make it work. It's definitely a unique setup."

You once said that you suffered from stage fright. Has that calmed down through the years?
"It's really with Foo Fighters shows. I do shows with my other bands, but I just feel a certain way when there's 100,000 people waiting for you to go onstage. I put a big burden on myself to play perfectly - whatever that means - and keep in perfect time. We're not one of those bands who are hooked up to a computer or play to backing tracks. We have no safety net, and what happens is what happens. If it's a trainwreck, it's a fucking trainwreck. We live and die by the great sword of rock'n'roll. You're getting something real: you're getting blood, you're getting guts, you're getting a human exchange, and we're actually really feeding off the audience and the excitement."

The Foos documentary Back And Forth was an eye-opening look behind the scenes. How did you personally cope with the ups and downs of being in a successful band?
"I used to do a lot of fucking drugs (laughs). You get the work done. Foo Fighters live and breathe onstage. In the studio, the albums are very much Dave's vision. A lot of the time, he does demos and you listen close to it and try and get some of your own licks in there. For the most part, we're trying to get Dave's vision down on tape or on a computer."

What's "a lot of fucking drugs"? Tell us about your overdose in 2001 and how it changed your life.
"Everyone has their own path and I took it too far. I was partying in London one night, and I mistakenly did something and it changed everything. I believed the bullshit myth of live hard and fast, die young. I'm not here to preach about not doing drugs, because I loved doing drugs, but I just got out of control for a while and it almost got me. I was heading down a road that was going to lead to even worse paths. Whether someone's sober, or they like a glass of wine with dinner, or they want a bottle of Jagermeister before they go onstage, or they like to smoke doobies all day long, everyone has their own path, and I took it too far. I'm glad it got knocked on the head at that point. I wouldn't take anything away that I've done or been through either, because it's all part of the trip and the journey. I'm trying to be as candid as I can be. I go mountain biking now."

The K Interview What does mountain biking do for you?
"I get ideas for songs and it's where I do a lot of my problem solving and deep thinking. Sometimes I write songs in my head and then jump in my studio to put it down straight away. I like to go by myself. I like listening to old Aerosmith and Van Halen records to kind of pump me up. It's my time and I love it. It's a chance to clear your head out."

Your love of Rush is well-documented. In fact, you, Dave and producer Nick Raskulinecz paid tribute to the band during their induction to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2013. Would it be safe to assume you were levitating that day?
"It was heavy, man. We had a laugh with dressing up [as 2112-era Rush, kimonos and all] but that took the pressure off. It was beautiful, and another one of those days where you kind of catch yourself and say, 'Don't forget, you don't deserve this, you get to do this.' I'm sure there were plenty of other bands that came up loving Rush, saying, 'Why didn't we get to fucking do it?'. You know what, though? I think we did a good job and represented them well. Me and Dave grew up loving Rush. They're a great band for when you're a kid and you're trying to learn as many licks as you can. There's plenty someone can learn from a Rush record."

Foo Fighters have barely stopped touring since the release of Concrete And Gold in 2017. When did you find time to write and record your new Coattail Riders album?
"I came up with a lot of my ideas for my songs while I was on my bike, and the album was just pieced together. I'm always in my studio recording. I would do demos every time I came home from tour. We'd have two weeks off and I'd spend a couple of days kissing my wife's ass, doing everything she'd asked me to, then I'd go into the studio for a couple of days and record."

There are a lot of guest appearances on this record. How did you coordinate them?
"I was just calling in favours, like Chrissie Hynde! I mean, how could I be so lucky to have Chrissie Hynde on my Foo Fighters side project? She's really sweet and wonderful. Actually, she's not she's tough as nails and she'll kick you in the balls. I sent her a text and asked if she'd be interested in doing a duet with me. I sent her Get The Money, which also features the great Joe Walsh. She rented a studio in London for the day and sang on it. She's one of my heroes and one of the greatest songwriters of the last 35 years, end of story. Perry Farrell, who's one of my heroes, is on the record, too."

Given you're such a big fan, that must have been a fun day in the studio.
"Oh yeah! Perry is a good friend and one of my favourite singers and lyricists of all time. I helped him on his solo record [Kind Heaven]; I helped him write a song and played a few drum tracks. I was so happy when he guested on this."

And you've come full circle by having Queen's Roger Taylor sing on your cover of Shapes Of Things...
"I've known him for years. The original version was by The Yardbirds, obviously, but the song is on the Jeff Beck Group's Truth record, too. We did more of a Jeff Beck version. [Former Sex Pistols guitarist] Steve Jones and Pat Smear played on that, too. Duetting with Roger was awesome. I'm really proud of this record. My voice sounds more confident than it ever has before."

We suppose when you get out from behind your kit to sing in front of tens of thousands of people every night, it must hone your vocal chops.
"Like when I get up and do [Foos' cover of Queen's] Under Pressure? If you don't learn at that point, you're never going to fucking learn! I really enjoy it, I really do. It's a very relaxing time, and it's nice to hand the drumsticks over to Dave and go up front and shake my ass. It's funny, Foo Fighters were just down in Costa Rica and one of my best friends was down there, because he's a surfer. He was like, 'Dude, you're just getting really comfortable at that, aren't you?' I feel like my pitch is getting better and I'm getting better at handling a crowd, you know?"

And what's next for Foo Fighters? Will there be a new album in 2020, or anything to mark the 25th anniversary of the first album?
"Well, it's very possible. There's a lot of talk, and I think Dave is already mapping out what he wants the next record to be, so I wouldn't be surprised if there's something coming down the pipe. I can't 100 per cent spell it out for you for sure, because I'm always the last to know and I don't want to give it away. But I would imagine there will be something made of the 25th year of the Foo Fighters, for sure. You know us, we never stop."

Words: Simon Young     Pics: Oliver Halfin

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