The Tao Of Foo

Time Out 1995

Dave Grohl finds his own corner of Nirvana with his merry band of Foo Fighters

Pat, Dave, Will & Nate get touchy-feely "We're not going to turn into Devo and start going onstage in little silver space suits.This whole sci-fi thing is really becoming too much."
Leeds, England: Up in the dressing room of the Town and Country Club, Foo Fighters Dave Grohl and William Goldsmith hunch, sniggering, over the playback monitor of a video camera. On the mini-screen is a flickering image of Grohl, captured onstage in the middle of last night's set. His hair is plastered across his face, his head bent over his guitar. He slides his fingers up and down the neck of the instrument, playing the slow intro to "For All the Cows." He steps forward, preparing to begin the vocal, his downcast face a picture of earnest concentration. And then...whomp! He walks smack into his microphone. Tiny videotaped Dave recoils from the mike, rubbing his forehead. Big, large-as-life Dave collapses in hysteria. "That," sputters the otherwise taciturn Goldsmith, "was fucking funny."

Grohl has been playing the guitar since he was ten years old. "That's not the most difficult part. The most difficult part is singing. And," he says, with deep sincerity, "getting over the feeling that I look so stupid."

Grohl, it is safe to say, does not see himself as a charismatic lead singer.

Whatever his limitations as a frontman, Dave Grohl is doing pretty well, considering. The grinding, melodic Foo Fighters single, "This Is a Call," has taken the band into the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic. They're in the middle of a tightly scheduled European jaunt. But a year and a half ago, after Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain killed himself, Grohl didn't even know if he ever wanted to play music again. In the confusion that followed the death of his friend and the leader of his band, Grohl resolved to start again only because there was nothing else he could do. He has been playing in bands since he was 17; it was his drumming for D.C.'s Scream that got him his stint with Nirvana.

"I'd been doing it for so long, it's like a bad habit," he says. "If I had gone and opened up a corner store and sat behind a register all day, I would just be writing songs in my head. If I had to stop playing music, I honestly don't know what I'd do. I can't imagine finding anything that's as fun as this." He gestures around his accommodations for the evening: the bare, harshly neon-lit room with its scuffed white walls; the chipped veneer table; the half-empty bowl of mixed nuts; the jacket he is sitting on because there aren't enough chairs. "This," he says, "is a luxury—to be able to do this. It's not my idea of 'a Life,' but it's some sort of life."

After the trauma of Cobain's death, and the grim experience that led up to it—being in the world's most successful rock band, playing 12,000-seat venues when all they had ever wanted to be was a punk outfit filling sweaty clubs—Grohl has returned to what he loves. There will be no more than a few hundred people at tonight's show, and the backstage atmosphere is disarmingly relaxed. Fun, even.

The only problem Grohl has is with people's persistent, if understandable, interest in the final days of Nirvana and his feelings about Cobain. It's the one thing he won't talk about. "I talk about it to my family. I talk about it to my friends. But it's nobody else's business. As much of a circus as playing in a rock band is—and it's all about looking good and sounding good and saying the right things—I want to be the one person that says, 'Fuck you, I don't wanna talk about that.' I just refuse to bare my soul to someone about something that's that important to me. I swear to God, until the day I die, if I can keep one thing to myself, it'll be that. It's just nobody else's business. I wouldn't do that. People should have a little bit of respect for me. If I meet someone and I know that someone very close to them has died, I'm not going to fucking ask them about it five minutes after I've met them. And then go tell everyone. That's fucked! It's rude! And it happens every day."

He pauses, and lets the anger subside.

"Well, whatever...don't get me started. Have some respect for the situation. You won' won't get my bleeding heart."

Despite their commercial and critical success, Foo Fighters were never really intended to be a band at all. Grohl wrote and played everything on the LP himself. He's been writing and recording his own material since 1990, when he went into a friend's eight-track studio and put some of his songs onto cassette as an experiment. After he joined Nirvana, he carried on making tapes during the pauses in the band's ever more frenetic schedule, and a cassette release came out under the alter ego Late on Simple Machines Records (P.O. Box 10290, Arlington, VA 22210) a few years ago. When he first thought of Foo Fighters, the idea was to press only 2,000 albums, as an anonymous vinyl-only release.

"I wanted to call it Foo Fighters so it would sound like a band and everyone would go, 'Wow, who is this band from Seattle? I've never seen a picture of them. I've never heard of them.' "

The collapse of Seattle outfit Sunny Day Real Estate made drummer William Goldsmith and bass player Nate Mendel available to work with Grohl. Then ex-Germs and extra Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear was added to the lineup. So after the completion of a debut one-man album, there was a four-piece band playing and writing new material. And their identity was, apparently, already in place.

As a kid, Dave Grohl would sit on his parents' lawn in suburban Virginia, staring into the sky. He'd gaze up, waiting, imagining how exciting it would be if aliens landed in the front yard and took him away into space. They never did. These days, the 26-year-old Grohl would still like to be abducted, "Just because I'm curious." To date, however, he has never even seen a UFO. And now he's beginning to regret the whole extraterrestrial angle on Foo Fighters. People have begun to get the wrong idea. And who can blame them? The band is named after WWII pilot's slang for UFOs. There are flying saucers on the cover of This Is a Call. There's a Buck Rogers ray gun on the cover of the album. And the band's label is named Roswell after the New Mexico town where an alien spaceship allegedly crashed in 1947. You could be forgiven for thinking that Foo Fighters are all UFO nuts. Not so.

"Sure," says Grohl reasonably, "I believe that there could be something else other than little planet Earth with all the little planet Earth people. Why not? Wouldn't you be bummed if you found out it was just us? It's nice to imagine something else. But UFOs don't have anything to do with the band at all. Neither Smear nor Mendel is interested in them. We're not going to turn into Devo and start going onstage in little silver space suits. I mean, it's a nice hobby and it's entertaining. But for chrissakes—it started to worry me after a while. This whole sci-fi thing is really becoming too much."

It may already be too late. Recently, they've been talking about making another video. Every treatment they've received so far begins, "Opening shot: The band is crawling from the wreckage of a crashed spaceship...."

Tonight's Foo Fighters show is great. It's a set of howling cathartic power punctuated by Grohl's hilariously polite comments to the audience—"Thanks for coming," "Have a good night"—terminating with some advice about going home to have a nice hot bath. That's what his mom always used to tell him to do after a gig. "Hi," he offers at one point, "I don't know what to say here. I'm just doing it." He looks engagingly vulnerable up there in the middle of the stage.

Earlier, sitting on the floor of the grubby dressing room, he considered his problems with going from drummer to frontman. Maybe, despite his past in the world's biggest rock band, despite playing all the 12,000-capacity venues, despite the years of international fame...maybe he's just a bit embarrassed about coming out from behind his kit and standing in front of all those people?

"Fuck yes!" he says. "Who wouldn't be?"

Words:Adam Higginbotham

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