The Well-Rounded Interview

WellRounded.com 1999

The odds were stacked against Dave Grohl from the beginning. I mean, how many people really thought that the drummer from 'the band that saved rock ní roll' would rise from its tragic ashes and become the driving force behind one of the most successful rock bands of the last decade? Well, thatís exactly what Grohlís done, picking up the pieces after Nirvana came undone and putting them back together as the Foo Fighters. Across three albums fueled with the same passion, fury, and pathos that drove Nirvanaís best work, Grohl has injected a sense of playfulness and fun that his old band often lacked. With the Foo Fighters, a rock song doesnít have to be a life or death propisition, it can just be a way to forget your troubles for three-and-a-half minutes. In the midst of touring behind their most recent album, Thereís Nothing Left To Lose, Grohl took some time out to talk to WRE about the differences between life in Nirvana and Life as a Foo Fighter, and how that life has changed over the last five years.

The first Foo Fighters album was you pretty much playing everything. On the second album there was some friction apparently, because you went back and did some of the drum parts yourself. How much of the new album is played by you?
Well, basically, what happened with the last record was that we recorded the whole album once with our drummer, William, playing. And he wasnít used to working in that environment -- quick tracks and a producer and pretty military work ethic. So what happened is all the drums were thrown into ProTools and stripped down to nothing just to get a solid drum track, because it was sort of wandering all over the place. Had we recorded it live or our own way, it may have been different but the method that we were using kind of whittled his drumming down to something that wasnít enough. And since we had spent a month and a half and a couple hundred thousand dollars on it at that point, everyone said, 'Yíknow what? We have to get it done within the next three weeks because of the deadline and because of money. Okay Dave, you play the drums on these songs and weíll go down to Los Angeles and re-record a bunch of stuff' and we did.

So thatís what happened. With this record we went into my home studio and just started writing and recording music. We didnít have anything demoed, we didnít really know what was going to happen, we had no idea what kind of album it was going to be or what kind of songs we were going to wind up with at the end of the day. And as we were writing and arranging songs, Taylor and I, started assigning songs to each other. Like, 'Hey, why donít you play on this,' 'Okay, well, why donít you play on this?' And so most of the album is Taylor, I only play on a couple songs. So basically, instead of each of us recording a version, we assigned songs to each other so that there wouldnít be any weirdness.

Was it hard initially for you to relinquish control of your songs, and let other people play on them?
No. With Nate, when he does his bass tracks, we just leave the room. We donít give him any direction, we let him do what heís there to do. And when heís finished, he comes up and says, 'Okay, Iím done.' That kind of freedom that you give someone is sort of the ultimate, I suppose. When Taylor when he and I go down to write and arrange a song -- because he and I do most of the arranging -- the idea is for me to try to relay or communicate what I hear in my head to him and vice-versa. So if there are certain accents, or certain places that need to be accented or whatís the word Iím looking for?
Emphasis?
Yeah, emphasized, then I have to kind of relay it to him. 'This is what Iím hearing,' 'This is where I here it build.' or 'This is where I hear a hit,' or 'This is where I hear a breakdown,' thatís the kind of thing where he and I really have to lock heads.

So it sounds like the songwriting was more collaborative on this one than it had been in the past?
Oh yeah, definitely. Absolutely. Basically, what we do is I come down with a stupid idea and then weíd all just elaborate and turn it into something. And then arrange it and re-arrange it and rearrange it and rearrange it, and once we had an arrangement that we felt comfortable with, Nate would leave the room and go practice his bass part, Taylor and I would sit down there and get a drum track, and then Iíd put down my rhythm guitar track and then Nate would come down with the bass, and weíd just build from there.

It seemed like starting the Foo Fighters was an important emotional outlet for you in terms of moving on after Nirvana. Have the reasons why youíre compelled to make music changed or at least your sort of emotional priorities changed at all since then?
Not really. It was always done for the love of music. It was always done because I am not a lazy person and I am constantly writing or recording or playing. So most of the songs on the first record had been written four or five years before the thing even came out. They were sort of older songs. The actual idea of starting a band and going on tour, that had a lot more to do with the emotional need to get out and move on with things. But no, itís the challenge of writing a song, itís the challenge of stepping on stage and not making an ass out of yourself , and itís the challenge of musical growth, in general. So I think we stil do it for all the same reasons.

There was obviously a lot of pressure and expectation when the first Foo Fighters album came out. Do you think those pressures have changed or let up over time?
Hmmmm, maybe the expectations have lowered. (laughs). I donít know. No, I think, at first the pressure was kind of high, and the expectations were questionable. 'Can this guy go from being behind a drum set, to holding a guitar and fronting a band, vocally?' Itís not as scary anymore, but I think the pressures and expectations are probably the same as they always have been. I mean, the expectations get higher everytime you release a record and the pressureís on a little bit more to one-up your last release, and I personally think with every record weíve gotten better. So maybe that kind of pressure or expectation is healthy.

It seems that thereís always been some sort of a premium place on actually having fun in the Foo Fighters. Do you think thatís a reaction to the sort of brooding nature of Nirvana? It seems very different from the way things were with Nirvana.
Well, it is. Only because I think the original line-up of this band was formed all from the product of bands that ended prematurely. Got Pat [Smear] who played in the Germs, you have me, who played in Nirvana, and Nate [Mendel] and William [Goldsmith] from Sunny Day [Real Estate]. And all of us had our bands kind of pulled out from under our feet. And I think that the light-hearted feeling that people see in this band, is more of just a love of music and the need to do it. I mean, I love being in a band, it feels like family to me. And I need that in my life I guess. So we definitely take things with a grain of salt and have a little more fun than most bands. I think that to us, there are certain things that are very important, but things like making videos and going to award ceremonies and doing interviews, all that kind of stuff seems secondary to us. The most important thing is making music, and I think in order to keep it interesting, we sort of have to have fun with it. As much as itís a challenge and it can be trying and frustrating at times, we definitely try to see the bright side of it.

The bandmembers are relatively split-up geographically speaking, do you think that affects the band?
Yeah. I think it keeps us sane so when we have to go spend 2 months in a bus together, it doesnít get too close. No, we love each other very much and weíve spent the last five years of our fuckiní lives with each other and we usually donít have more than two weeks off anyway, so I think if we lived in the same city and we had two weeks off I donít know if weíd spent every day with each other anyway.

This most recent album was the first you recorded in your home studio. How did that affect the atmosphere and ultimately the record itself?
Uh, well, it was very casual. Very laid back. Just that really. Imagine having a studio at your disposal any time you wish. And no obligations at all. We didnít have a record contract, we didnít have a deadline, we didnít have anyone waiting on us, we didnít have anything but time. And weíd record something and then a month later record it again, and a month later do it again. So we had time to layer and build the songs into whatever we wanted them to be. I think if we had done it in the studio with a heavy-handed big name producer, it would have been so different. And it would not have been as good and I wouldnít have been as satisfied because obviously, we were free to do whatever we wanted to do, so when I listen to it now, thereís nothing that Iíd want to change, because I did everything I wanted to do.

So is that your plan for recording the next album, to do it the same way?
Umm, I donít know. Possibly. I mean, itíd be stupid to go spend 200,000 dollars somewhere when you can do it for free here. That was one of the reasons why we built the place.

Words:David Peisner

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