The Prize Fighter

X-Ray 2003

Dave on a skateboard LOS ANGELES, 10am. Listen carefully and all over the city, you can hear the rustle of rockers sleeping off the excesses of the night before. Whether nestled exclusively in the hills or lying on the ground, they're fending off the bright sunshine, keeping the blinds drawn, hangovers and headaches assuaged by the knowledge that this, surely, is living the life. This is what it's all about. This is rock'n'roll, no?
  "Hi!" sparkles Dave Grohl, a clear-eyed blur of energy striding into the hotel lobby right on the dot of ten. A "horrible sleeper" at the best of times, his natural hyperactivity has combined with jetlag from a recent Japanese visit to ensure he's woken before the sun every day this week. Other musicians would crumble into dust at the nere suggestion that there was a ten o'clock in he morning, too, but Dave doesn't mind, he has stuff to do. His only objection is how his bandmates - bassist Nate Mendel, drummer Taylor Hawkins and guitarist Chris Shiflett - have settled back into their routines without losing a wink of sleep.
  "It drives me crazy! I think it's just because I'm a little more highly strung than everyone else," he smiles.

Poolside in an art deco hotel seems a curious place to meet Grohl, the eternal ethical rock kid. Yet after the band ditched his Virginia home studio and decided to make another stab at their tortured fourth album, they came straight here. Now it's starting to feel so much like home, Grohl is planning on putting down permanent roots.
  "There are things about Los Angeles that I like now," he says, sipping his iced tea. "I've just discovered neighbourhoods, whereas before it was this swingin' singles fuckin' tequila party every night. And my sister lives here now, so I have family here. Just through mellowing myself, it seems Los Angeles has mellowed as well."
  This mellowing isn't immediately apparent. If a healthy handsomeness overrides the goofy shadow of his teen self, he still looks like he should have been moulded out of springs and latex, prone to bursts of sudden air-drumming and enthusiastically grisly conversations about tattoo maintenance. "You should wash off the slime - that's the haemoglobin or something - wipe them down with Listerine and man, in three days they've healed," he says excitedly, jabbing at his own beautifully inked arms. He's not gearing up for a sober middle age.
"I used to say we'd stop when I turned 33, but I might have to file for an extension. I only have four months left of being 33," He laughs. "I've never been good with deadlines." What would you do, though? Isn't this your life?
"I can imagine a thousand things," he says emphatically. "Raising a family, starting a music school, building a studio, producing other bands, scoring films, learning to make furniture or learning to work on old cars. But musicians never really stop making music. There are very few who break up their band and sell their guitar." Grohl has mapped out his entire adult life in bands - the rugged hardcore of DC heroes Scream, the extreme terrain of Nirvana, the apparently solid ground of Foo Fighters - and now, well into his second decade of musicianship, he finds his stock at an all-time high. Yet with One By One, the Foo Fighters' tremendous fourth album, ready to go and tickets for the world tour waiting at the travel agents', Grohl is strangely bewildered by the surge of attention.
  "I'm surprised at the response we're getting - in England, especially," he muses. "I just never imagined it getting to that point. Having it happen later rather than sooner is surprising to me. The fact we're doing this arena tour that's sold out is a surprise. Because I've always felt that this band would remain in its own comfortable corner for ever."
  It's not just this new flood of attention that has threatened the Foo Fighters' "comfortable corner". The past eighteen months has been rife with the kind of trouble that seemed to belong to another band altogether, trouble that started when the exuberant Hawkins - Grohl's blond double, "Dave Lee Roth trying to get out" - overdosed after V2001.
  "For a band that's been so glamour and drama-free, for something like that to happen was a shock," Dave says, his uncommonly linear sentences suddenly disintegrating. "All of my...all of my...I don't know how to explain me it just had nothing to do with the band. I didn't think it was a result of the band. I just remember saying that day, 'for right now, our band doesn't exist and I don't want to talk to anyone about any band things at all'. And we didn't. We just wanted things to happen naturally and not force it."
  Despite their best intentions, however, the early sessions for One By One left them cold. They were too clean, too contained, with too many singles for these die-hard rock kids to bear. When Grohl got the call to tour with his old friends and new rock kings Queens Of The Stone Age, he jumped at the chance - "It was absolutely the right thing to do," he states gravely. Not only did it allow him the chance to play with the only band that had moved him to a drumkit for eight years, but it provided a chance to claw back some perspective. Ironically, the rest of Planet Rock's perspective collapsed as panicky rumours about the Foos' demise grew. Grohl had scrapped the sessions, people said, deserted his band - surely it was all over. Yet Grohl's desire to be seen primarily as a musician has always meant he's happy to throw his car keys into the rock'n'roll swingers' bowl- not only has he collaborated with the Queens, Tenacious D, and Bowie, he's also a generous mentor to new bands: Andrew WK, The Datsuns, Cave In. Yet this time, his gleefully open relationship was seen as terminal rock infidelity.
  "I had no idea anyone was concerned," Dave smiles, clinking the cubes in his glass. "Hearing the rumours about the demise of the band, we'd had no idea people were paying attention. We come home from being on the road and we feel like we just disappear. Unless we're on tour in front of people, it just doesn't seem like it matters." Yet it did matter as at last, people seemed to realise what they risked losing. "People just consider our band reliable, in a way. Or just like a friend you always call on if you need one," he says. "I really consider myself a pretty regular person, and people expect me to be a focal point to the band, but I'm a pretty bland one. I enjoy making music but fuck, would you rather go and see our band or Queen? I think I'd rather go and see Queen!"
  You're really selling yourselves...
"I've always been that way," he laughs. "I have a hard time taking compliments, and I've always made fun of myself from the time I was fucking I2-years-old." Grohl isn't saying anything that his detractors haven't already muttered, yet the key to Foo Fighters always seemed to be the idea of a safe space after the chaos that surrounded Nirvana, the idea of a band who were straightforward almost to a fault.
  "Well, I look at what happened in Nirvana and I look at the quote unquote 'legacy' and it seems a little warped to me," Grohl says. "People don't necessarily consider Nirvana a band, they almost consider us some sort of political movement. And they don't consider Kurt a human being, they consider him an image or an idol. Which to me is not how it was, of course. I remember being in Nirvana as being in a band, just like my band before that, or the band before that.... Of course, it was the most special experience I've ever had musically, so maybe the self-deprecating attitude of Foo Fighters is a response to that. Because we're out to convince people that bands are just bands. That music can be made by human beings." This humanity was threatened by the legal battle between Groh! and Nirvana bassist Krist Noveselic and Courtney Love for control of Nirvana's back catalogue. Now settled with a box set prontised for the end of the year, it all seems as far away from Nirvana's point of origin as the moon.
  "In the ten years that I've been dealing with big corporate business, I never experienced anything like that," he says evenly. ., America is the land of litigation; everyone's so quick to sue everyone else. It's a pretty good indication of where people's hearts are at. Fortunately I had Foo Fighters or Queens Of The Stone Age to make me feel like life was worth living. I'd hate to get stuck in the quicksand of 1994; it's something I've been trying to work past for a long time. So there were times I'd get angry and times when it didn't matter to me who ran the fucking cash register because my contribution had already been made. Playing music, making those albums - that lasts forever, you know? Longer than any CEO will ever live. But at the same time, it was very important that I be involved, because I have to Dave giving the finger represent the band somehow. But things have moved in a very positive direction, which I'm happy for. It's not how I like to spend my time or money. The last person you want to give your money to is a fucking lawyer."
  Given the tension of the past year, it's unsurprising that "screaming my balls of" has become a favourite Grohl phrase to describe One By One. The slingshot riffs of 'All My Life' or howled ennui of 'Disenchanted Lullaby' might sound furious, but lyrically, the record largely directs its passion into love, lust and creeping maturity rather than the bratty squall of nu-metal angst. There's talk of wedding rings on 'Disenchanted Lullaby', while the reach-for-the-sky catharsis of' All My Life' and the commitment ceremony promise of 'Tired Of You' indicate a more settled perspective. Are there new responsibilities on Dave's mind?
  "I've been in a time warp for the last ten years:' he says "It's hard to grow up when you don't have to. I don't necessarily act like I'm 22 any more, but I think at some point it's almost instinctive; there are certain things in life you crave, whether it's normalcy or domesticity. That's foreign to me. "When I was a kid, I didn't want to go to college, because l knew there were other ways of making it. My ambition was never to become a fucking young urban professional with a beautiful car and a beautiful wife and a beautiful family. I thought, 'I can just about do anything I want and get by. I'm not an idiot - I'll figure it out: My father wasn't too into that idea.. ." Momentarily, he morphs into the long-haired teen rebel. "That's why I left high school - I knew that in ten years, I wouldn't be using much trigonometry"
How about that old parental classic of "something to fall back on"?
  "I'd always worked in furniture warehouses or newspaper plants, just blue-collar shit, So I always knew that was there. I always knew music might not support me but it would keep me happy. And really having been raised with very little, I never knew what much meant" He laughs. "I don't live much differently than I did when I was 20 years old - other than that I can pay the rent and I quit smoking pot"
What's your idea of luxury?
  "Luxury, to me, is sleeping in the same bed for more than two and half weeks at a time. Luxury to me is stability"

At last, it looks like the Foo Fighters might have gained that stability for the long-term. Ask Dave Grohl what he's most proud of in his career and his answer is instant. "I'm most proud that I've remained close to my family and friends, and none of this stuff has ever made me felt alienated from them" says the man who played on Nevermind, powered Songs For The Deaf and has a brand- new, brilliant Foo Fighters album under his low-slung belt. "I've just always remained intact. I've never got fucked up on drugs or got into such a bad place I felt trapped and couldn't get's not rocket science - anybody can do this - but I'm proud that I've survived this long. And surprised, a lot of people might have bowed out before now. Yup, that's my greatest accomplishment," he grins, mocking himself again.
"Not going away."

Words:Victoria Segal

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