The Fan Has Won


Metal is like football: down to earth, honest, always there. metal has also made Dave Grohl a down to earth, tolerant man and a grown-up kid that has now used his popularity to fulfill a lifelong dream: PROBOT, His own metal supergroup. Even if it sounds presumptuous: Grohl wins a war with it, a war ex-bandmate Kurt Cobain lost. The war of the fan against the Rock Star.

Cronos lays down his sandwich with lots of meat down onto the plate and scratches the last long hair on his over-dimensional, forehead. "It was very, very strange.", he recalls in his nordic-English accent. "I didn't know what to expect at all. Would this shit be hard or not? Until now I've only done the hard sound - and that won't ever change!" He leans forwards over the plate. "But when I got Dave's package and heard the tape...", he whispers, just to literally scream: "Fucking hell! This was heavy shit! I sang three versions over it. Three songs, you see? So Dave could choose one. I wanted him to be happy." Cronos is wearing a black leather jacket and doesn't take it off all day long. It covers his black T-Shirt, that's stuck in a black jeans. Conrad "Cronos" Lant is the singer of Venom and he's incredibly nice, whereas Venom are anything but nice. They were the preriders of the real hard metal of the 80's with Albums like "Welcome To Hell", "Black Metal", "At War With Satan" or the live-document "Eine kleine Nachtmusik". So they're important but those who didn't grow up with them have a hard time honouring them.
"At the beginning", Cronos gets his mouth filled and says: "Dave sent me an email, in which the first hundred lines he was talking about how much he loves Venom and how often he's seen us play live. A real fanletter! Back then he was only playing with the idea of recording a metal album with all his metal-heroes and Venom having a part in it. He wrote, that he'd have to get something off his chest. I answered instantly: 'Of course, man. Send this shit over! Let's fucking do it!' I'm not preoccupied. I'm open for everything. And Dave's cool. I can remember the first Nirvana song very well - it was kind of like Metallica: (tries to sing) 'Here we are now! Entertain us!' That was fucking great, very heavy!"
  Two days ago Dave and Cronos met for the first time, long after "Centuries of Sin" was finished. Dave flew to London to promote Probot and asked Cronos to give some interviews with him. The two got along immediately. "I always knew it", says the black man and lifts his finger. "This guy has metal-balls! I mean, I don't know what it's like to do commercial pop-music, but he seems to miss something. That has to be frustrating, if you want to scream, but you have to sing. That's why the Probot record is so fucking heavy as fuck!"

  "I'm wondering how Dave does it all. Every night he's going out with us, gets up the next morning after 2 hours of sleep and works til 8pm. I couldn't do that." Lee Dorrian is wearing a huge metal-spider on his beltbuckle, a member of the grindcore heroes Napalm Death, singer of the doom metal pioneers Cathedral and is currently a little less than enthusiastic. Because for 3 days he has sat here in this Hotel in London and told everyone the same story: How he got to be one of eleven singers on Dave Grohls Probot album and how it happened the same with Lee as it did to everyone else. He got an email at first and then a package. "So, here I am sitting in a hotel lobby because someone asked me if I wanted to talk about Probot." Lee obviously has more fun during the breaks, which he uses to exchange tour experiences from Japan and South America with Cronos. "I believe Probot is good for Dave, to break out of the rock star-routine. Because he simply is a rock star. Yesterday night we were drinking down in a bar just around the corner. That was unbelievable. We thought the people here in England wouldn't recognize him, but it only took minutes until a big crowd was building up around him until at some point the whole Bar was in a rage." Lee shakes his head. "But Dave stayed quiet and gave everyone an autograph. And he talked to the people. With every single one who asked him."

Five minutes later:
Dave Grohl: (laughs) Yeah, yesterday was a good night. There even was a small brawl, because someone dropped a beer. Tables were flying, glass broke, cigarettes were burning down - I knew that this was gonna be fun. When I'm doing promotion with the Foo Fighters it's just nice. People ask the usual questions, and I give them the usual answers. This time I do want to explain something.
So please explain the egoistic about Probot.
The egoistic? (thinks) When I was 16 I wasn't the singer of the Foo Fighters or the drummer of Nirvana. I was a fan of heavy music. I still am, but now I'm also the happiest man in the world. Because I have a studio in my basement in which I can make a record at any time. I also have friends that have small record labels to put out interesting stuff. And I'm lucky that I can call my management to say (changes voice): "Hey this is Dave Grohl. Could you please give me the phone number of Cronos? I wanna ask him something." And you know happens then? They give me Cronos' phone number! I'm very, very lucky. But it's important to make sure, that this is not a record by 'the Foo Figters guy'. The spotlight is supposed to be on the singers. I'm just the background band. Probot's not my status symbol, although it's a dream come true for me.
The dream of every fan: your own record with all your heroes.
If you would have told me that I could take a photo of Cronos and me when I was 16, I would've shit my pants. I would've totally freaked. And it was the same just three days ago. I almost died because I was so nervous. It was almost the same when I was allowed to sit in a studio with Lemmy. Just sitting there and staring at a legend, then it's something really huge. It's really, really cool.
Would you agree that Probot is not just a cool, but also a very healthy experience for you? The start of this project was pretty naive: You wrote the, in your opinion, best song for your favourite singers and recorded all of it by yourself but the singing. So you intentionally created the musical environment in which you wanted to hear your heroes. That's why the Probot sound is different every time, from the guitars to the drums. In the end you united eleven styles of music on one record with a lot of effort.
Healthy is a good word, because Probot is new, exciting and special. It's alive. Of the Foo Fighters records I know that they'll be there regularly. It's almost a little bit of routine, although it's a very nice one. But Probot happens only once and breaks every routine. It refreshes me, reloads my batteries. I'm living more intense now. Now that I think of it, I'd say, that Probot will even let me make better Foo Fighters records.
How did you get to the deal with the underground label 'Southern Lord'? It surely wasn't the only to apply for Dave Grohl's solo project.
My 80's hardcore band Scream worked with 'Southern Lord' and the owner Greg now plays in a band called Goatsnake, whose singer was the singer for Scream. We've known each other for over 15 years, we're some kind of family. It was important for me to keep Probot as personal as possible, not with a huge company. The underground-spirit of the record is straight. Metal was an underground-movement in the 80's. The loyalty was an example. Sixteen years ago I slept on Lee's floor. At that time he still was in Napalm Death. The metal family is all over the world, every member is making music out of the right reasons.
Which would be?
Making music - not money, not fucking platinum albums. I might sell a lot of records, but this doesn't make the basis less important to me.
Is it important to you to explain this opinion?
Why? Should it be?
It happens really quickly that a rock star is seen as just a rock star.
With the Foo Fighters I don't care about that. We make music in a basement in Virginia, play tours and sell records - I don't expect at all that people see us as an underground band, because we aren't one. But yeah, this time this point is important to me. Probot is pure, there is no intention, no aim. It's simply supposed to be my statement of my honest love of metal. I surely don't wave the punk-flag, when I do Foo Fighters interviews, but this is really underground. And that's what I want to transport. Because if it wasn't like that, Probot wouldn't make sense. All the musicians, all the singers, the record label - everything makes sense. The cover was designed by Michel Langevin, who also made all Voivod Covers.
What's Lemmy like?
(excited): He is... He is exactly...
Is he Lemmy?
(grins) Yeah, man. He's it. The real deal. The only one. Since I was 16 I've met a lot of people from many rock bands. But when I met Lemmy, I understood, that it's him who's the one and only rock star that I'll ever meet in my life. He might be the only rocker in the entire world. He came into the studio at noon, made himself the biggest Whiskey-Coke-mix I've ever seen, drank three of those and sang the song two times. Played the bass two times and then we drank. That's Rock 'n' Roll, man! That's the way it's gotta be. I also recorded the instruments in half an hour: drums, two guitar tracks, the he came (snaps his fingers) and BOOM, that's it. And then I drank with Lemmy. He drank more than I did, but I did it.
If you die today...
... I'd be a happy man. I once met Keith Richard of the Rolling Stones. The damn hardest rocker in this world - that's what I was thinking. But he's just number two.
The only dream partners for you, that you did not get to work with were Tom Araya and Phil Anselmo.
The organisation of it all just didn't work. Everyone of these people, who I asked, has a lot to do, and some of them live on the other side of this planet. I've not met some of them to this day. I sent packages with tapes and hoped that that adressee would like them. That's why it took three years from the first take until the last take. I also sent a tape to Tom Araya, but it didn't work in the end. It wasn't easy to fill his place. It had to be someone who fits into the family. It took a while, but then I thought of Kurt Brecht from D.R.I. D.R.I., Corrosion Of Conformity and the Cro-Mags - these were the three best bands from the Punk or hardcore-side, that in reality were making metal.
Why is metal so important?
(thinks) The most important thing for me about metal is the energy, the spirit and the creativity. It's about metal and not about bad parents or young love. It's about sick shit. About stories. If you read the lyrics of this record, you'll find a lot of fantasy. If I listen to a Merciful Fate record, I listen to the lyrics closely. They open up horizons for me. It's about things, that I didn't know before.
Like the pharaoh walking to the pyramid?
(laughs) Yes! Of course that's funny. But it's real. The thing is that Voivod were a completely new thing in the 80's. They were - I hate this word - but they were a real Alternative. Metal at that time was Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. But for me Voivod, Venom, Mercyful Fate and Trouble were metal. I talked about the special thing in Metal with the singers on this record. The feeling that I have is the same feeling that you have or that Cronos has - it's exactly the same. It's the spirit. Metal becomes a part of your life. Metal is always there. Yesterday I talked to a lady who is a professional wine tester. She said that special wines remind her of explicit situations in her life. Her sense of taste to her is what my ears are to me. When I listen to a record, then I'm suddenly where I was 10 years ago.
At home.
Yeah, it's a feeling of security.
Who is the best metal band?
Oh, man. (thinks for a long time) I can't decide. I want to say Motörhead, but they're not really metal.
What's the best decision you ever made?
Mhm.. Maybe joining Nirvana?`(laughs)
I don't know. I think so. Fortunately, I made a lot of right decisions in my life: I stopped taking drugs, I got married. But the day, that changed my life the most, was when I flew to Seattle. It changed my life drastically. Not my persona, but everything else. I feel the same, but now I have food, no bills and a studio. My mother doesn't have to work anymore and lives close to me, because I bought her a house close to mine. That might sound banal, but before that I was a bum in a van, who didn't have money for a hot dog. Probot also wouldn't be there without Nirvana.
Would it be tough for you if someone told you that you are an arrogant rock star?
That would be tough. I don't wanna be like that. Even when I was young, I wanted to be a rocker, but not a rock star. I could've never been a part of U2 or The Police. What I make... (thinks) there is just no option to become famous. There's people that exactly want that, who behave like stars. I have never dealt with that. I mean: If you listened to 'Bleach', would you have thought that Nirvana were gonna be huge? I didn't. I didn't know anyone who knew it. In our wet dreams we thought of 700 people in a full club, but we didn't believe in it.
Also not when "Nevermind" with twelve perfect guitar-pop songs was recorded?
No! Look what popular music at that time sounded like: Mariah Carey, Michael Bolton and Bon Jovi. Involuntarily we started a whole new thing. I thought: 'Cool, they might be playing 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' on the college radio station. That would be phat.' But would we ever have petrol and food? Where this is going is: If you want to be a big musician and you become one, it gets dangerous. If you don't want to be one, then... (thinks)
Obviously it gets dangerous, too.
That can happen. But what I wanted to say: It's funny for a time. When Nirvana got huge, we thought that was funny. We felt punked. 'What the hell is this supposed to be?' I was eating breakfast in the living room with my mother and my sister and then there was this cheque in the mail for about one million Dollars. 'Oh, what's that? Oh!' (laughs) Guess why we make fun of ourselves with the Foo Fighters? Because we can't take ourselves seriously. If it's about music, then I'm serious. But if it's about image and some bums who give us money for a video, we make total nonsense with it and they say: 'Oh, you're so funny!' Fuckers! My life is really normal, but the people expect it to be something special. They forget that I made music long before someone listened and I'm going to make music long after they all stopped listening.
So you're overrated, rather than underrated?
Totally overrated. Completely! I'm not the best guitar player in this world, and I'm not the best singer in this world, for sure. And I'm not the best drummer in this world.
A lot of people claim the latter. Even very well respected Queens Of The Stone Age.
But that's just because I played in their band which was very popular. I'm a very simple, minimalistic drummer. I can do some cool things, and do them the way I do them. But I'm not the best one in the world. I can name you 5 better drummers in an instant: Dave Lombardo, Vinnie Paul from Pantera, Joey Jordison from Slipknot, John Coltrane and every jazz-drummer in this world. If you play in a band, which is popular, people tend to think that you are good. (shakes his head) But that's not true. Go to a jazz club. You'll see fantastic musicians there. Not at a rock show.
What are the best three songs you ever contributed to?
(thinks) Maybe 'Everlong', it's the best song that I wrote myself. Plus, for mentioned reasons, 'Shake Your Blood', the song with Lemmy. (thinks long) And 'Heart Shaped Box' by Nirvana. I'm very proud of these three songs.
How about your drum intro for 'Song For The Dead' of the last Queens-record?
Good suggestion. Josh only had a vague idea at that time. 'The beginnning should be long, the end should be long', he said, and he played the riff. And because it kinda was like the Black Flag song 'Slip It In' I played the exact same drum intro. (drums with fingers on the table). That was a joke, but Josh and Nick thought I should leave it like that. This here (rolls up sleeve) is a Black Flag-tattoo that I made myself when I was eleven. With a biro/ballpoint pen.
A line is missing there.
(laughs) Yeah, I know. It hurt so much I had to stop. It looks shitty like that! As for the end of the song: It was a good moment. We were so lost in the riff, that we just stopped playing it. We even started again after we were finished. That's how it was with Queens. We didn't think, we didn't analyze. We just did it.
Are you searching for moments and places where this is possible?
Fortunately, I don't have to think about that. It's enough if people like it when you do it.
You are a handsome person and you seem to try to give, everyone who asks you, a little bit. But how close are we to the real Dave Grohl now?
(thinks) I think I'm a communicative type of guy. I love people and talk to them. I'm not one of those who hates the human race. But, If I gave everyone everything, there would be nothing left for me. So I'm always trying to give a small bit.
Shortly after the death of Kurt Cobain Nirvana got an MTV Award for 'Heart Shaped Box'. The award was accepted by you and Krist Novoselic. Of course you had to go up on stage and say something. In the end it was you who to the opportunity and said something while Krist was silent.
It's a weird self-security-mechanism, that starts at particular moments.
This moment was also interesting from a different point of view. Because at that time the world heard the Nirvana drummer speak for the first and last time. How do you explain to yourself, that you, despite of all the expectations and experiences, made it to jump out of the shadow of one of the once most important bands in this world and being 'just' Dave Grohl?
(leans forward) You know what: I have no idea. I also didn't believe in it when the Foo Fighters started. (thinks) Maybe I was just lucky. But you know what? Fortunately I also don't have to think about that.
Would Kurt and Krist have understood why you made Probot?
I can't answer that (thinks) But I can say that Nirvana had a better time than everyone thinks. We were fine. We were no depressive, broken bums. Although there were bad moments of course.(thinks) A story comes to my mind: Kurt and Krist told me once that, before they recorded 'Bleach', they always listened to a cassette in their van. On one side was The Smithereens, with Celtic Frost on the other. And if you listen closely to 'Bleach' you'll hear it. It's a mix of these two records.So if I ask myself, what you just asked me: 'Yes, maybe. I think maybe they would've understood, what I'm doing.' But what's for sure?

words: Jochen Schliemann

back to the features index