Foo For A Day - King For A Lifetime?

Visions 1997
Translated from German by Stef

As a Foo Fighter, Dave Grohl has had to face prejudice from the outset. That he was a nobody without Cobain, as Kurt's widow claimed, which was supposed to serve to devalue those songs from the '95 debut written during his time with Nirvana. Ms Love also claimed, that he owed the new ideas to his new guitarist Pat Smear. But who cares what the crazy Courtney says? In the last few years, Grohl has proved more than once, that a great songwriter had been kept under lock and key by Cobain's creative dominance.
  And that was Ok. After all, there's still eternity for Dave Grohl's genius. The first years in the post-Nirvana era were promising: His baby, the Foo Fighters, is generally accepted, even though the debut came close to being a solo album. There followed successful tours and appearances at big festivals, collaborations with Frank Black and David Bowie, an entire self-penned soundtrack album, and now, as if that wasn't enough, a very good and homogeneous second album. It seems the likeable multi talent still hasn't reached his artistic zenith. 'The Colour And The Shape' shows him and his band in full bloom, the sky is the limit. And we hope that they'll give us at least as many albums as Soundgarden before going their separate ways as ex-musicians of a legend.

  But let's switch back from the distant future to the present, the Hyatt Hotel in Cologne, where a cheerful Dave Grohl, accompanied by his bassist Nate Mendel, flicks through the May issue of Visions. When they discover the Foo Fighters sticker and the article, they both start laughing. "Do you know what's so funny?" asks a grinning Dave. " The competition our record company has thought up is a complete joke. To win, you have to answer the question in what song do I sing the line 'Sometimes I feel like getting stoned'. Trouble is I don't sing that in any of the songs. Pretty ridiculous."
The article was in our June issue, too, and as the deadline's now passed, I can tell you the answers.
Question 1: 'The Colour And The Shape' is, of course, the second album by the Foo Fighters.
Question 2: The title of the second single release 'Monkey Wrench' in German means 'Englaender or 'verstellbarer Schraubschluessel'.
Question 3: in 'My Poor Brain', which also featured on the last Visions CD, Dave sings 'Sometimes I feel I'm getting stuck'. Now either the marketing department of the record company had been smoking a few too many, or it's a cunning trick so they don't have to give away all those fantastic prizes. But I digress.

  At the beginning of the Foo Fighters era, many people thought it would merely be a project for Dave Grohl trying to fill the emptiness after Cobain's death. By now, the doubters know better, but there has also been a change on the drum stool. How solid are the Foo Fighters as a band?
  "There are those people who always need to be in some sort of relationship. Everyone knows the sort of people, the ones that always commit long-term. If a guy like that separates from his wife, he'll soon get together with someone else who he'll stay with for another five or six years until that relationship maybe falls apart, too. I think that I've always been someone like that. In bands, it's Ok to have a bit on the side, it's fun to get together for a project, if the band isn't working on an album. But with the Foo Fighters it was different. It wasn't just the first album and then playing live gigs non-stop for two years. During the whole tour, we've been looking forward to working on the new record."
  After all, it was something special, seeing as the first album was more of a collection of Grohl songs than a full-blown band effort.
  "Exactly. That's why you can consider 'The Colour & The Shape' as our first record. I always tell people that I see the first album more as a demo, and this one now as the actual debut."
  It's often said that every member of the band is just as important as any other one. How did you interact during the songwriting process, how large was Nate Mendel's and Pat Smear's input? ( The new drummer, Taylor Hawkins, only became a Foo Fighter after the recording of the new record.)
Dave: "We wrote the tracks in the rehearsal room and arranged them together. Then the producer came in and we refined the arrangements with him, that was a week and a half before going into the studio. During this time, many details changed, some guitar parts and bass lines got rewritten."
Nate: "It was like that the whole time, really, the tracks were never really complete."
Dave:" Everyone has got their own personal niche within the songs."

Apart from Hawkins, there's another new name mentioned in the booklet: Where it used to say Barrett Jones, it now says Gil Norton. As a producer, not only was Jones responsible for the self-titled Foo Fighters debut, but he'd also been there at Grohl's first 4-track recording sessions, way back during the high school days. He's seen as some sort of mentor to the former Scream and Nirvana drummer. Why didn't he join you this time around?
"I just fancied a change", Dave explains. "Plus I've admired Gil for a while. I thought he'd be the right man for these songs because they've got potential to be great pop songs, and a little polish can do no harm. First, we recorded at Bear Creak Studios in Seattle, but then re-recorded most of it in Los Angeles." This goes most of all for the drum parts. The drumming sounds very much like Grohl, anyway. "That's because I played drums on most of the album", he says. But does a Foo Fighters drummer even get the opportunity to develop creatively, or does he have to become a carbon copy of Grohl? Because of the fact that the first album's songs were already on the table, it wasn't surprising that there wasn't much scope for William Goldsmith. But in the years that followed, a lot could have happened, and who knows, maybe the reason for Goldsmith's leaving is his refusal to play exactly like the band's leader.
Dave:" I think William was very influenced by my style of playing"
Nate:" Even before joining the band."
And how about Taylor?
Dave:" Taylor's not so much influenced by me, more by other drummers."
Nate:" But he's got his own style, I think that's cool. For these songs to work, you have to play in a certain way. But Taylor has got his own unique touch, he's got his own niche in the songs."
Have you played live with him already?
Dave:" We've played one show."
And is there a different sort of drive?
Dave:" It was a lot faster. Taylor is quite hyperactive, a very powerful drummer. The feel is different playing with him, his playing is more refined and he prefers it a bit more complicated. He puts accents in totally different places than William, and still, he's always within the context of the song."
Nate:" Yeah, his accentuation is pretty sharp, for example the beginning of 'My Poor Brain'. What on earth is this guy doing? I mean, it's all in time - You know, I'm no genius when it comes to rhythm, but still I can always follow him, so whatever he's doing, it's got to be pretty damn good. No matter how fucked-up the song may be, the beat's always there."
Dave:" The funny thing is that Pat and me only listen to you, because we can't concentrate on his playing, ha, ha. Taylor is fantastic, an exceptional drummer."
It's difficult to imagine a greater praise for the man who, until recently banged the drums in Alanis Morissette's backing band. He left his first band, which also featured Morissette's guitarist Jesse Tobias, before finishing their one and only album. It's the first time Dave hears the name. "Mother Tongue? That's what Taylor's former band was called? He never mentioned it, but every time he talks about his past, he'll only say things like 'well, I played in some band'. Come to think of it, he doesn't seem too proud about that time. I think he feels a bit strange playing with us. Nate, Pat and me all come from a punk background, Taylor says, he was never into punk rock and never wanted to be, either. He is a little crazy."

Last year saw the album release of Dave's project 'Harlingtox Angel Divine', which had been recorded in 1990, before joining Nirvana. It was put out by Barrett Jones' new indie-label 'Laundry Room Records'. On it, Dave plays bass, drums and guitar. Jones produced it and also played on some drum tracks. Jones also occupied the producer's chair for Grohl's recent solo outing, the soundtrack 'Touch'. Paul Schrader, screenwriter of 'Taxi Driver' fame, directed the film.
  "Instead of using a well-known film music composer to do the soundtrack, they asked me, because they wanted someone who had never done that sort of thing before. I watched the film, liked it and so I agreed to do it. Then I got a copy of the film, with a list of scenes that would need a musical bed. So I sat down and tried to come up with some music that would go with the images, without being too in-your-face. The songs had to stay in the background."
Does it make the writing process easier, knowing that most people won't listen to it all that closely? You don't need to search for catchy hook lines.
"In many ways it is easier, but on the other hand, it's quite difficult to compare. All in all, it is easier, because you're not restricted to the classic pop song structure. With a soundtrack, you can do anything, and the most important thing is, that parts don't have to be repeated continuously. You don't need a catchy chorus."
These days, however, the majority of successful soundtracks are nothing more than a collection of the latest hits that hardly feature in the film and haven't got much to do with the plot of the corresponding scenes. According to Dave, 'Touch' isn't so much a clever compilation as an 'original score', meaning the film's actual musical bed. The ballad with John Doe from X ('This Love Thing ') and with Veruca Salt's Louise Post ('Touch' and 'Saints In Love') suit the context of love and farewell scenes, the surf songs ('Bill Hill Theme' or 'Outrage') go well with the more cheerful moments of the sit-com. Only one song, 'How Do You Do', is typical of Grohl's style. But apart from that, 'Touch' lets us see a different side of Dave, many more remain to be discovered, judging by all those tapes lying dormant in his private archive.

"At home, there's always an 8-track at the ready, and I'm recording stuff all the time. Sometimes a metal track, then a country ballad. It's nice to compose and record a speed metal track in an hour, listen to it, have a good laugh and erase it. I've got stacks of tapes that are only concerned with how far you can push ripping off old Led Zeppelin riffs. But no one will ever get to hear them; they're just for my own amusement. The soundtrack for 'Touch' is definitely similar to my home recordings. I write lots of different songs that I don't want to use for a Foo Fighters record."
So, a country song is out of the question?
"Well," he hesitates, "I wouldn't rule it out for the future. But as I said, this, for me, is our first album. And I didn't want to make the mistake and write a sort of 'White Album' straight after the debut. We spent the last year and a half playing the songs from the first album; we'd been on tour non-stop and at the same time writing the new material. So it's not surprising, if 'The Colour And The Shape' picks up from where the last album left off. I'm sure that after promoting this album for a year and a half, we'll be ready to make our 'White Album'. Being in a band means going through different phases. The band members have to grow closer together. Every album reflects a certain phase within this development. The first one was recorded in five days, we took months with the second one, and the next one could take a year recorded in as many as 10 cities. The result will definitely sound different. That's the fascinating thing with David Bowie, he's such a chameleon, always aiming for something else after every album."

On January 9 of this year at New York's Madison Square Garden the Foo Fighters were joined on stage by Sonic Youth, the Smashing Pumpkins and many other heroes of the present time to celebrate Bowie's 50th. Instead of singing one of the old hits, the Foos played Bowie's new track 'Seven Years In Tibet'. But back to the world of film.
Recently, Mr. Dave 'Everywhere' Grohl was in an episode of the cult series 'X-Files', though only for a second and without text. Last year, he contributed the Gary Numan cover 'Down In The Park' for the soundtrack. He admits to finding Scully, the female lead, damn sexy.
So far, he's not seen Courtney Love as Althea Leasure in 'The People Vs. Larry Flynt'. "I'm pretty excited about the film. I think Courtney is a very good actress, this job could bring her true fulfillment." A rather ambiguous statement, considering that half the time, she only plays herself, but judging by Dave's tone of voice, meant as a compliment.
"Yes, of course, she also plays herself, just like Madonna in 'Evita'. Musicians and acting usually is a fateful combination. As you can clearly see in the history of rock, it's normally not a good idea."
"Elvis fucked up the whole thing forever," Nate says. "Everyone thinks they can do it, because Elvis did it, too."
"There are exceptions", Dave concedes. "Mick Jagger or Roger Daltrey. Do you know who really is fantastic? Marky Mark in 'Basketball Diaries'. Who'd have thought that this idiot of a rapper obsessed with bodybuilding would be such a good actor? He did a great job, just like Courtney, although I only know this from hear-say." Other than that, is everything calm on the Courtney front? Occasionally, there are reports that she hasn't got a good word to say about Krist Novoselic and Grohl. "Apparently, everyone wants us to hate each other, but in reality, it's not like that. It helps selling certain magazines, if famous people fight in public. But there aren't any differences of opinion worth reporting. It's all a waste of time."

This doesn't necessarily sound as though everything's hunky dory, but let's leave it at that. The promoter, accompanying the band, has already signalled the last minute of the interview, but I really do have to ask Dave about the ghost that is said to haunt his and wife Jennifer's house in Seattle. More than a century ago, a woman murdered her baby in there, and she is said to have appeared during a spiritual session where Nate Mendel and Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs were also present. Shortly after, Robert Lang claimed that his studio in which the Foo Fighters recorded their debut and which is near Dave's house, was haunted by the same ghost. Recently, while Tad had been working there, plates were said to have flown across the room, without Tad throwing them, of course.
Nothing against good old Tad, but that really sounds like a marketing trick to revive the careers of some long forgotten icons of the Seattle scene. Dave can't help but laugh about the ghost mania his experience has caused. " Did Kerrang come up with that? I never claimed other musicians' houses in Seattle were haunted. There was a ghost in my house, and other musicians from Seattle were present when it happened. We played with the Ouija board, and some unbelievable things occurred. I'm not really interested in supernatural phenomena, but ever since then, I believe in their existence that little bit more."
Are you a typical Capricorn?
"I'm not sure, what a typical Capricorn is supposed to be like. Most of these descriptions are just so general, that everyone can recognize himself or herself in it, if they want to. I think, Capricorns are said to be well organized, responsible and loyal. And work hard."
And, does that apply to you?
"Maybe. Sometimes. If I have to."

Words:Dirk Siepe

back to the features index