unedited transcript part 1

Rhythm 2001

How are the new demos coming together?
"Well, usually the way we work is unlike the way we are doing this album. Itís important when we are writing songs that Taylor and I get together and work on the riff ideas before we get into arrangements and before we get into vocal melodies before we get into anything too deep. What we did this time is went to Virginia to my studio, had like 20/25 ideas and we run through each one of them kind of quickly just a basic verse chorus, first chorus pattern and then throw it down on tape - guitar, drums, I put bass on and move on to the next track so that we had some sort of reference CD, knowing that in a few weeks we'd come out here to LA, and all of us would get together and feel them out ourselves. So I think itís really important for this band to be constantly challenged. The last record was weird, we went into the studio with demos of songs that never even made it onto the record, so basically we wrote the whole record in the studio. I donít know why that happened - once we started working, more ideas started happening and more songs just became boring or just not as good as the songs we were writing while we were all there in the studio, so with this record I thinks itís really important that we take our time with what we are doing. With every record weíve taken a little more time. With the first record it was like seven days, the second record was two months, the third record was four months, and I think we are learning that the more time you spend with your songs the better they become in some cases. The trick is find something that works and work on it to the point where it still feels fresh and spontaneous. Then we sit down with a basic arrangement and try to turn it into something that moves from beginning to end and doesnít make any U turns. We basically work on the arrangements until we are ready to record and in doing that more ideas usually start. So basically I end up with a song that I have to go away and add lyrics to, which I donít find easy. There are some songs where the melody and lyrics come quickly and there are others that begin as instrumentals and end up as songs, so itís really difficult, itís a backwards way of doing it. One of my favourite songs on the last record, 'Aurora', that was just an instrumental which I just sat down and found a vocal pattern that was comfortable. I just started writing and I sort of surprised myself because nothing was preconceived and I had no idea where it was going and I didnít know what was right or what was wrong, but the end result gave way to something that I couldnít have imagined doing, which I think is the whole idea that we should make music that we canít necessarily imagine making on our own. The whole idea of this is just a kind of challenge to yourself and I donít want to do the same thing Iíve done two years ago. Whenever I pick up a guitar to write a song, I strum the same chords that I've strummed a thousand times before and I get scared so I immediately move up to a different part of the neck and start playing notes that donít make sense and that eventually morphís into their own chord and then I take that cord and play it in different places of the neck and eventually you come up with something you didnít imagine, something that you havenít heard before. Each one of us in the band understands each other's sound. When you put the four together it makes a bigger, noisier sound, but I think that playing off people and and keeping things open when writing songs is important because you really wind up doing something that you couldnít have imagined."

How many demos / songs do you think you will end up in the studio with?
"We will probably end up with 20-22. The same thing happens with every record where you lock into the studio - youíve got ten or 12 solid ideas and then ten or 12 more really rough ideas, and you want the rough ideas to become songs in the studio. Sometimes they do, sometimes they donít, and you prioritise before you go in. You can tell when a song's coming together and itís great, then there are songs which are a little bit more difficult, that can become something great, and even there are songs that we donít find particularly exciting, but maybe someone else will. But I think it's important to us to record as much as we can until we feel like we have finished recording - until then weíll keep going. Say, weíve got 27 songs recorded, but we still feel like thereís a few coming, so weíll keep going. Everybody is always worried about making an album thatís too long, that will end up as a double CD, but who knows what will happen? I donít want to go in thinking that we are going to make a double record or that this will end up as the ten-song album. Letís just see where it ends up. But also, we are not in any hurry. We love to play with each other and hang out together, we love to tour, but we donít feel any pressure to spank out another album before the end of the year so that the Christmas buyers can line the pockets of everybody else.

Will you and Taylor be sharing drum duties on the new album? If so, will you be owning up to who played on what track?
"The last record we did we never owned up to who played on what track. Even my best friends, who Iíve know for 15 years and recorded with canít tell the difference between us, because Taylor and I have both adopted each other's styles. So it is kind of hard to distinguish who's playing what. Taylor and I talk about this a lot. He and I are like brothers, we really are. I can see how it would be a little difficult being a drummer in this band, because of the music that we write. Itís rhythm orientated, itís riff orientated. It has to do with the guitar pattern locking in with the drum pattern, locking in with the bass pattern, everything locking in rhythmically. And so I can see how any drummer would go, 'Oh, Daveís already got that drum pattern in his head, I just know it. Heís a drummer, so Iím sure he knows whatís best'. Taylor canít read my mind, but heís a better drummer than me, so I trust whatever he comes up with. The two of us get together and talk. Taylor says, 'I want you to feel okay about playing any drums on the next record'. And I say, 'Man, donít tell me that - you should say, 'I am playing all the drums on the next record!''. We have a lot of admiration and love for each other, and so either way itís fine, but Taylorís one of those drummers that I feel fortunate to play with, because there are three great rock drummers inthe world who are playing in popular bands now. They are Matt Cameron from Pearl Jam, Chad Smith from the Chilis, and Taylor. I think those are the three best rock drummers in the world. Iím the luckiest drummer in the world, Iíve found the best drummer to be in my band. Without Taylor there would be a huge difference. Without Taylor in this band it would just not rock as hard as it does. Heís got a lot to do with it, he deserves every track on every record."

Are there any plans to record a double drummer track on the new CD either now or in the future?
"I donít know. There are no plans, but Iím sure it could happen. At the same time, you donít want to exploit the fact too much that there are two drummers in this band. Iím sure a lot people would expect a double drummer jam on every record, like 'Bonzoís Montreux', and I think weíve talked about it before, but in a strange way it's just too predictable. So if thereís a drum solo, let Taylor do it. I canít do those things."

How do the drum parts take shape? Do you and Taylor work on them together?
"Usually what we do is sit down and get to know the feel or the riff of the song, and Taylor will see what Iím strumming, and weíll talk about accents and weíll talk about specific parts. I want Taylor to be himself on the drum set, but at the same time to be with whatís going on in the song. We canít read each other's minds so thereís a lot of communication between Taylor and I as far as accents go."

Have you ever been tempted to redo any of Taylorís drum parts or he yours?
"Oh Iím sure heís been tempted to redo mine before! I wish he could have played on the first two records, it would have made a huge difference. But you know, we have enough respect for each other that if thereís songs on the record that Iíve played on, on the last record we kind of designated which songs each person would do so. The drum thing is still like a kind of drug to me. On the Probot thing (Daveís solo heavy metal side project), itís great for me 'cos I got to be the drummer of my heavy metal band that Iíve always wanted to have, and with Foo Fighters music that Iíve played the drums on, itís always kind of pop orientated. Thereís no flash stuff - it's basically groove or lack thereof or just sort of holding down the fort as the song moves. Thereís never really been wizardry at all, so going in to do the Probot thing, I knew that this could be kind of fun. It doesnít matter if itís a weird time signature it doesnít matter if it's too much or too little of anything. But I miss playing the drums. After the Foo Fighters are done Iíll probably join another band and play the drums. But you get a little older, and it hurts a little more now Iím 32."

How many takes does it usually take you or Taylor to nail a drum track while recording?
"It really depends on the song. There are things that have tricky arrangements that need absolute solid time, there are things that need lots of subtle accents, so it really depends. Sometimes itís two takes, sometimes itís ten."

Do you or have you ever used click tracks while recording, and if not why not?
"We do use click tracks sometimes. I remember the first time someone advised me to use the click track I was absolutely heartbroken. Iím sure any time a producer says, 'You might want to think about using a click track on that', your ten or 15 years worth of experience go right out the window and you feel horrible. So we were recording Nevermind, laying down the basic track for 'Lithium', and we had maybe gone through three or four takes and Butch Vig brought us in and said to me, 'You might want to think about using a click track', and I immediately felt worthless and horrible. But I learned that as long as you can play within the click track you can still achieve a natural feel. Iím convinced and I used to be a purist and think, 'Jon Bonham never used a click track!' But I think it depends on what you are trying to achieve. If thereís something that you want to sound completely chaotic and has not only a dynamic but a tempo dynamic that moves up and down - okay. If thereís something that you want to be completely solid - okay. Iím not opposed to trying new things. Iím not into drum loops or drum machines for this band, but I think click tracks can be helpful.

Tell us a bit about both home studios. Has it made the whole process of recording a new album more enjoyable for the band?
"The advantage of having a home studio is being able to lock the door and not let anybody come in 'cos itís your house! So my management and my label are not allowed to come and beat down the door. There is pressure from the label because they find this more threatening. You figure the more anybody gives, the more they want in return, so I think the idea is that we feel like weíre completely capable of making an album on our own - the studios we have are more than adequate One of the reasons we went down the home studio route was because a lot of whatís been happening with music in the last five or six years, what with overproduction and Pro tools and glossy mixing or trickery or whatever you want to call it, itís taken a lot of life and personality out of music. With the last album we were on a mission. We thought, 'Okay, we are going to build a studio. We are going to produce this with our friend Adam. Weíre not going to use any Pro tools. We are going to make an album that sounds human and real, and something thatís an accurate representation of the band'. So the home studio has a lot to do with who you want to work with, how you want to work it how you want it to sound. I think itís important that a band has more control than a producer, that a band has more control than a record label. I think the band should always be in control, and having a studio at home is definitely a safety zone. It also has to do with the deal that we have with our record company. We are on our own label and we are distributed by a major label, so we try to retain as much control as possible, and weíre very proud of that and Iím very pleased with the way itís worked out. I think that the fact weíve maintained a lot of integrity has a lot to do with that. Everything from the label to the record deal makes it more comfortable when youíre not watching the clock on the wall clicking thousands of dollars away. You just feel better for it."

How does the first ever line up of the Foo Fighters compare to this one?
"This one is much better. I love William, I love Pat but itís been six years now and when Taylor, Chris and I walk on stage now we finally have confidence in ourselves. Up until the last year, up until that Chilli Peppers tour we were still kind of scared. We are so much more musical now. Nate's growing as a bass player, Taylorís an amazing drummer with a great sense of composition and arrangement. Chris is an awesome guitarist - itís finally brought the lead guitarist aspect to the band. So itís great, itís ever-changing and in constant growth."

Why did you relinquish the drum throne when you got the Foo Fighters together? It must have been very difficult to watch someone else play the drums in your band?
"Not really. I was just focusing on playing guitar and singing. It all kind of happened by default. The first Foo Fighters album was a demo that I made by myself at a studio down the street from my house. They were songs that I had been writing for about four or five years, but I didnít imagine it being a band and I couldnít imagine it being a major label release. The idea was to release it, call it Foo Fighters and people would think it was a group, and not put my name on it, not have any photos, release it on my own label independently, maybe make 10,000 vinyl copies, but just have it as a fun little experiment. And then it just turned into the band after I heard that William and Pat were leaving Sunny Day Real Estate. I gave Pat Smear a tape and he was interested, so when we first started playing the songs it was so new I wasnít really connected to the drum parts on the record, it was a five-day session. So also it was important for me to try something new after Nirvana, and having everything fall apart the way it did. I didnít want to go and play drums in another band, I had offers from a few different people to come and play, but I didnít want to. I think at the time I was 25 years old and I thought, 'If I want to be a drummer for hire, Iíve got years and years to do that. But now Iím still young and I can try something else, and so I wasnít really too concerned with the drums at the time."

How intimidating do you think it was for William and Taylor to join a band where the frontman was already a legend in the drum world himself?
"I think for William it was a little more difficult than it was for Taylor. When Taylor joined the band he had been playing with Alanis for about one and a half years and he had already travelled the world and played in front of massive arena audiences, so I donít think that Taylor was too intimidated. William was a different situation - we didnít communicate like Taylor and I do. If Taylor and I have a problem, or there seems to be some tension between the two of us, we can just talk about it. Weíll drive down to the burger joint, get hamburgers and talk. By the time we get back weíre fine. Unfortunately, William and I didnít have that relationship. Everything happened really quickly at first. We started rehearsing in November, December 1994 and we went on our first tour in March, April 1995. The album came out in July and we toured for a year. We always knew that the fact that there were two people in the band who were ex-members of Nirvana would attract more attention than had it been just four guys going out on their own. We really tried to build things slowly. Even when we released the first record, we tried to get the record label to promote it in a way that was sort of beneath the radar. Immediately after that, when people found out that we were a band, we were getting calls from the record company to do interviews, and we thought, 'We donít even have anything to talk about yet. Weíve only done four rehearsals. Let everybody give us some time'. So we waited six, seven months before we started talking to people, we tried to take it slow, but it was inevitable at some point we would have to come out and speak about the past and talk about the fact that we were so lukcy that we had a foundation that most other bands would kill for. So weíve always felt so fortunate. Time after time we get the best breaks. Weíre just really really lucky."

During some live shows, you and Taylor have known to indulge in some double drummer shenanigans and even swap places, with Taylor taking over the lead vocals. Are there any plans for more of this in the future?
"Iím very sure that we will do double drums again. We donít even want to make it a staple of the live show, but itís fun and itís makes for a good show and I love doing it and Taylor loves doing it. And itís pretty funny when I go and sit on the drum set and people start screaming, 'Wow, yeah! The drummer from Nirvana!' And then I end up getting schooled by Taylor. I step off the drum set and they say, 'All right! Itís Taylor Hawkins'."

What was it about Taylorís drumming that made you want him in the band?
"It was Taylorís personality more than his drumming. I met him while he was playing drums with Alanis and he really liked the first Foo Fighters record. We swapped numbers and kept in touch and we did a couple of festival shows with Alanis and weíd hang out whenever we got to see each other. Heís hilarious. Heís a great guy and loves music and loves many other things that I love as well. So when William left, we were here in LA doing a record, and we knew that we needed a drummer quick, so I called Taylor and asked if he knew of anyone who would play and he said, 'Iíll do it'. And I said, 'Well, Taylor, weíre notexactly selling out arenas like Alanis Morrisette does, you know. Itís not that sweet a ride'. And he said, 'I just want to be in a rock band'. So I came up to his house here in Topanga Canyon. Iíd given him a tape of the new songs and he said, 'I have a question about this one part', walks me to this tiny room with his drum set and sits down and says, 'Okay, does it go like this?' And the sound of his snare drum was so ear-blistering loud that I knew he had to be in the band right then, because just in this tiny bedroom he played the drums like he was in front of the Knebworth audience. It was amazing. I went back and called everybody and said, 'He has to be the drummer'. We hadnít even auditioned him yet. We had a rehearsal with him and there was no question, because he was just such a great guy and drummer, there was no question at all. One of the first things we did together to bond was we went to see Jon Bonham's son Jason play at the Whiskey in LA. We were so drunk we ended up having a 'slap-in-the-face' contest at the bar. We almost got kicked out because people thought we were fighting, and we went home hungover, knowing this was going to last a long time...."

Words: Tony Wolliscroft

Part 2