The vast suburban sprawl of Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley makes an unlikely base of operations for one of rock's biggest
bands. But it's here, in a tastefully appointed house located amid the burger chains, retirement homes and mom-and-pop
grocery stores, that you'll find Dave Grohl directing affairs for the globe-straddling enterprise that is the Foo Fighters.
Hardly work-shy at the best of times, 42-year-old Grohl is especially busy right now. The Foo Fighters have just released their seventh album, Wasting Light, and there are videos to plan, tours to rehearse for, interviews to sit through and - as a doting father of two -kids' meals to cook.
Recorded literally in the garage of Grohl's house, Wasting light adds muscle to the Foos' arena-size anthems. The result is the heaviest album of their career. The frontman hit the contact book hard, enlisting former Nirvana producer Butch Vig to oversee proceedings, bringing errant Foos guitarist Pat Smear back into the fold, getting his old Nirvana colleague Krist Novoselic and former Husker Du singer Bob Mould to make cameo appearances on two tracks, and even tapping up his old buddy Lemmy to play the part of a chauffeur in the knockabout video for the track White Limo.
Today, relaxing in the surroundings of his own home, Grohl finally seems at ease with his role as an A-list rock star. "I said in an interview: 'We're going to make a heavy rock record,'" he explains. "And Butch really held me to it. I would bring him songs, and he'd say: 'Nope, not heavy enough."'
When did you start working on the new album?
Some of these songs were written on the last Foo Fighters tour, which was three years ago. We came home and we had maybe 14 or 15 songs that we had written at soundchecks. And I thought: "Okay, we can do one of two things: we can not touch these songs until we're ready to make another record, or we can record them right now and forget about them." So a week later we immediately went into the studio and recorded 14 songs and just put them away. And then I went and played with Them Crooked Vultures. But while I was on the road with Vultures, I was in my hotel room every day working on Foo Fighters stuff. I had this little laptop with me, and I would take our demos, and I'd sing over them and write them and chop them up and compose them. And then I'd come home, and Taylor [Hawkins, Foos drummer] and I would work on them.
Were you tempted to make another Them Crooked Vultures album before you made a new Foo Fighters one?
The Foo Fighters have always been my priority. The bond that we have as people is even stronger than the bond we have as a band. And sometimes music isn't enough to keep a band together for 16 years, or whatever it is. It has to be more than just music, it has to be more than just the excitement of playing, it has to be more than money and fame and all that shit. There has to be a real human connection between the people in the band. And we really have that as people. The Vultures was like going off and fucking some beautiful chick for a while, but there's no way that I would feel the love that I have for my wife or my family with some hot fucking girl.
You recorded this album in the garage here at your house. Why didn't you do it at your own 606 Studios in LA?
We could have. But I truly believe that the environment and the atmosphere in which you make a record should dictate and define what the album sounds like. If you're being real, then the way you feel comes out. You can hear it. We've done work in big, fancy studios before, and there's something about it that it's just not us. 606 is a great studio, but we made two records there, and the last thing I want to do is have another experience just like the last one.
Wasting Light is the heaviest Foo Fighters album yet. How come?
As we get older there's this urge to mellow, because it just seems age-appropriate. But then I thought, Tuck that! I'm 42 now. I don't know if I'm going to be able to make this record when I'm 46 or 49. It's my last chance. So I'm going to go for it. We were making a record with Butch, Pat's back in the band, I have all these huge fucking rock riffs, I can still scream for three hours-let's go!'
The album is like a semi-Nirvana reunion: Butch Vig producing, Krist Novoselic playing bass and accordion on I Should Have Known...
Krist and I have always been very close. And Butch too. When we made Nevermind, that record has changed everybody's lives in the most profound way. It wasn't something anybody expected to happen. And when it did it was just crazy. When we see each other now, we hug each other because we're excited that we're still friends. But we also sort of do it to console each other. Because when Kurt died, it just fucking destroyed our lives. We've always remained close. But we've never been in the studio together since Nevermind. The three of us together sitting in front of speakers and a mixing desk, that hasn't happened in 20 years.
On I Should Have Known, you sing: 'I should have known that it would end this way... I should have known, look at the shape you're in.' Are you talking about Kurt Cobain?
When I first wrote that, I was sitting in my bedroom, and I had someone else in mind when I was singing it. But then as I elaborated on it I thought, there are definitely connections. I've definitely felt that way before, especially with Kurt, where, you know, I was afraid this was going to happen. So to have Krist come down and play on that song was kind of a risky move. I explained to him, I said: "Yeah, you know, it's one of those songs that I'm sure people are going to think it's about Kurt." And he basically said: "Oh, fuck it. That's okay."
But you finally got it out.
Yeah. I listen to it now and it's exactly what I wanted to say. And it's exactly how I wanted it to sound. A lot of the album does reference the past, it has a lot to do with life and death. Being with Butch and being here in this environment made me think a lot about starting over, and rebirth, and making your way through tragedy and coming out the other side. And realising: "God, I never want to die." There definitely seems to be a theme. And then there's some girls in the middle of it somewhere, you know.
The Rosemary on Dear Rosemary?
Yeah, Rosemary. Bob Mould came in to play on that song. I was a huge Husker Du fan. I met him for the first time last summer in Washington DC. And he's the nicest fucking guy in the world. There was this great moment where he walked in the studio with his guitar; everybody was sort of star-struck. The minute he opened his mouth on the microphone, it sounded exactly like Husker Du. I grew up with The Beatles, I loved Led Zeppelin, I fucking loved the Bad Brains and punk rock, but when it comes to guitar playing and song structure, Husker Du might be my biggest influence. It was an honour to have him on the record.
Foo Fighters bassist Nate Mendel has said that there are "silly songs" on the record too. Such as White Limo.
I don't even know the lyrics to that song. I wrote them in two minutes. The first Foo Fighters record [self-titled, 1995] was not meant to be an album, it was an experiment and for fun. I was just fucking around. Some of the lyrics weren't even real words. But then for the second record someone said to me: "Maybe you should really try to write lyrics..."
Sometimes I feel like I have a responsibility to write songs that will connect with people. I have people come up to me and say: "My brother died of cancer, and he listened to Best Of You every day before he died." Nate sent me an email saying: "Dave, I don't want you to feel like you always have to write We Are The fucking World every time you write a song." That made me a lot more comfortable writing, a lot more laid back. Nate's smart. He knows how the Foo Fighters really are and really should be. He's like my consigliere or whatever it is.
You recorded the new album old-school, on analogue tape.
I've always thought that computers were more complicated. Analogue seems so easy. And it's tangible, you can feel it. And it's just cool. What goes to tape is what goes to tape: if you're a shitty drummer, you sound like a shitty drummer; if you can't sing in key, you sound like a shitty singer. We're not the best band in the world, we're not perfect players. I like the imperfection. And that's why I wanted to do it to tape. We took the tapes to a studio in Hollywood for Alan Moulder to mix. He's a legend. He's done Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins. He's mixing it, and I'm listening and thinking: That doesn't sound like my garage... "Alan, make it sound like my garage". And he said: "You want to make it sound like your garage? Mix it in your garage!" So we just hit stop on the machine, packed up the tapes and came right up here, and we mixed a song that night.
What was it like working at home?
Basically my routine was, I'd wake up at about 5.30 in the morning, then sit down and watch Sesame Street with [youngest daughter] Harper. [Eldest daughter] Violet would wake up, I'd make her some fucking pancakes and get her dressed for school. I'd take a shower. I'd come up here, clean up all the fucking beer bottles and vacuum this room, mop the fucking floor. And I'd work until six o'clock, go down and have dinner with the family, read them stories and gives them baths and put them to bed. And come back up here, work until 10 and then go to sleep. That was it.
Very domesticated. But now the album is out, you're back to being a rock star the five-star hotels, the VIP treatment, the interviews... the 24/7 treadmill.
I know. But I like it. Honestly. I work hard at this shit. I'm a high-school dropout. I never imagined that music could really pay the rent, but I played it anyway cos I felt like I had to. It was this passion of mine from the time I was 12 or 13: get in a shitty band and go play gigs, then come home and work a shitty job, and then go back out. But in the early 90s it got really easy to start a band and get a record deal. And I started thinking: "Wow, well that guy, he could have been a lawyer, but instead he decided to start a shitty band and get on MTV and get some pussy for about a year. And then get dropped and then become a lawyer." And it's more than just being a rocker; it's being a lifer.
Is that why you've played on so many albums over the years?
Yeah. I've never considered it work. Sometimes you're doing 15 interviews a day and you're jet-lagged and you miss your family. That's when you start feeling like: "Okay, this is kind of like a job right now." But all the rest of the time, when you're up on stage in front of a fucking massive festival and they're singing your songs, that doesn't feel like work. When you're hanging out with your buddies all day long, drinking and making a record, it's not like work. You think my wife thinks I work? [chuckles] Sometimes I tell her: "Babe, it's my job." She's like: "That's not a fucking job." I'm like: "Yeah, you're right."
Are you open to people calling you to ask if you'll play on their record?
Yeah. Sometimes I get upset they didn't call me: "Damn it, I thought they were going to call." The best story is the Michael Jackson song.
When was that?
Last year. I met Lenny Kravitz at some movie award ceremony thing. He's like: " Yo, man, give me your number, let's jam some time." So I gave him my number. And he leaves a message saying: "Dude, call me right now. I have a project." So I call him up, and he says: "Do you want to play drums on a Michael Jackson song? There's this song that me and Michael worked on in 1992, but it never came out and I want to finish it. And I'd love to have your huge drums on the chorus."
So Lenny sends over the track, and I sit down with Butch Vig and we record all this huge fucking shit. I sent it to Lenny and he's like: "Dude, this is going to be awesome." I'm like: "I'm on a Michael Jackson track!" So a month goes by, and another, and another, and I still haven't heard anything from anyone. Finally, I hear the song online. You know what they used? One snare hit. That's it. I don't know who's playing drums on it, but it ain't me. It says: 'Featuring Dave Grohl'. And it's like: "It does? I can't hear me in that!" It's funny.
Do you have a secret wish-list of people you'd love to work with?
When I was a kid I learned how to play drums from listening to my favourite bands' albums - Bad Brains, Minor Threat and stuff like that. And then I'd go to see that band in a tiny club like [legendary Washington DC punk den] the 9:30 Club or something. And in the back of my mind I always had this fantasy - wow, what if the singer came out and said: "Sorry, you guys, we can't play tonight, our drummer is sick... unless there's someone that knows all of our songs." And then I would get up and [mimes playing a drum kit] bam, bam, bam, bam. And I feel that way with all of my favourite bands. Like, if I went to go see AC/DC and they needed a drummer that night, I would be the drummer of AC/DC for one night. Or Killing Joke. Or Motorhead. There's part of me that wants to do it with everybody, you know.
You've got a reputation as being the nicest man in rock. Can you be difficult as well?
Oh shit, yeah. I think my biggest problem is when I'm working at what I do, I expect people to work as hard at what I do as 1 do. If I have these 15 things that I have to do today, and you have your 15 things that you're supposed to do today, if I finish my 15 things and you don't finish your 15 things, you're in deep shit. I'm no saint, man. I could be a fucking jerk. But for the most part, my mom and dad raised me to treat people with respect and compassion. And just to be fucking polite, you know.
With that, our time is up. The busiest man in music has to prepare for the Foo Fighters' forthcoming US tour and the subsequent outdoor shows in Europe this summer. "Everything we do, we do. We make 'em here in this house," he says. "We're on our own label, we make the records the way want to make 'em. "We control our own destiny."