The Elle Interview: Dave Grohl

Elle UK

Dave Grohl Dave Grohl is showing me around his home with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. 'Kitchen, lounge, pictures of my wife, this is my daughter Harper's room, this is a picture that Violet drew of a cat...' It's a pretty standard LA mansion, nothing too flashy or garish; rock-star he may be, but the Cribs crew would be somewhat disappointed.
  You wanna see my garage?' He bounces - the man's energy is palpable — through the door to reveal a drum kit, some guitars, a couple of amps, some graffiti,an old rug and a fridge full of beer. It looks, in short, like your typical wannabe-band-practising-in-the-garage-type set up. Except, of course, Grohl is one of the most influential musicians of all time. You'll have been influenced by him whether you know it or not. Have you ever worn Dr Martens? Perhaps you've bought a checked shirt or deliberately let your hair colour grow out to reveal the dark roots? No? Really? Well, have you listened to any rock'n'roll since the early 1990s? Of course you have, which means that in some way, however indirect, you have been touched by the band that propelled Grohl to fame as its long-haired, goofy-looking drummer. That band, of course, is Nirvana, undoubtedly one of the most crucial bands to have ever existed - musically or stylistically. After the band's abrupt demise following lead singer Kurt Cobain's death in 1994, a 25-year-old Grohl refused offers from the likes of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, left his role at the back became the front man - singer, songwriter, driving force — of a band he started as a 'temporary measure'. Seventeen years later, the Foo Fighters have released six albums, all of which have been Grammy nominated and three of which won the award for Best Rock Album. Right now, the five members are recording album number seven — in Grohl's garage.
  We bounce some more, up a staircaseand through a playroom belonging to his daughters Violet, four, and Harper, 22 months, where I spy a tiny drum kit and toy kitchen. Another door leads into his office, which is similarly furnished, albeit the drum kit is adult-sized. 'The missus has been really cool about me recording the album here. There were 25 people at my house every day,' Grohl grins and laughs. 'She understands that it's my job. But more than that, it's the one thing I do. I don't do anything else. I don't go hiking or have hobbies or sports or friends, I just do this.'
  Grohl's voice is both lulling and relaxing and punctuated with alternating swear words and chuckles. But don't let that fool you — this man is serious about his music. It may have been made in a garage, but the imminent album release a heavy, dirty, rock'n'roll affair afforded a certain raw quality thanks to being recorded on tape, rather than digitally - has 42-year-old Grohl nervous. 'Now [the record's] almost finished that's the scariest thing,' he admits. 'Because then everyone else gets to hear it and you can't change it and it stays forever. And what if they don't like it?'
  Dressed in black with shoulder-length hair and a trimmed goatee, Grohl looks like a rock Jesus, which, of course, is what he is. He has sung to 70,000 people in Hyde Park, is one quarter of the Josh Homme/ John Paul Jones/Alain Johannes super­group that is Them Crooked Vultures and has worked with, among others, Brian May, Thurston Moore, Lemmy, Killing Joke, Tenacious D, Cat Power, Queens of the Stone Age, Garbage, Juliette and the Licks, The Prodigy and Paul McCartney, And David Bowie. And Lenny Kravitz. How has he managed to stay musically relevant for so long? With Nirvana, he built up a fan base with a band that voiced the concerns of their generation; with the Foo Fighters he took that fan base and gave them the music they loved, loud and proud. As a live performer, few can top him. When you see or hear a band you want to be able to relate to the lead singer, and there is something of a sonic tractor beam that comes out of Grohl and sucks you in. He has it.
  Like many drummers I've met, Grohl is in constant motion as he speaks, tapping on his thigh, swinging on his chair. He is also in constant conversation about music. He loves it — making it, writing it, talking about it. It threads through everything for him. 'Studio memories are really vivid and they last forever,' he says. 'So when I hear a song on the radio that we've made, I remember that day. I remember what I was wearing, what I ate. Making this album here in the house, that was part of the concept. The experience dictates what the music sounds like, so rather than it being some cold mechanical process that ends up like sheet paper in a book, it's more like a real experience that comes through in the way you play your guitar or the way you sing. When I listen to any of the stuff here, I remember things like the day my daughter took the splicing tape and tied all the door knobs together and it was our last roll of tape... that stuff is so hard to find!' He chuckles again.
  Grohl is making this album with producer Butch Vig, who produced Nirvana's album Nevermind. It's the first time the two have been reunited since Neverminds release in 1991. Does this mean there's a lot of lyrical soul searching going on? 'A lot of the songs are written from the perspective of who I was then and who I am now. I have to sing a song later that I have no lyrics for, I have the first line, it starts off, "Once upon a time I was somebody else." I've got the chorus, too. It goes, "I want to do some back and forth with you, do you want some back and forth with me, turn around." He hums me the vocal line. Something uncontrollable happens and we both start singing Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart. I blush. Grohl air drums. He points out that I am blushing, which makes me blush more. Quick! Change the subject.
  'That's Brian May's underpants,' says Grohl, pointing to a pair of green pants above the door. 'We hang them up there like mistletoe. Brian came down to play on the record and he shows up at the studio wearing running shorts, socks and sneakers, with two huge bags. So he puts the bags down and says, "I'm going to change my clothes," then comes back in these, like, MC Hammer pants, plays the lead, hangs out and then has to split. An hour later, he called and said, "You guys, I left one of my bags in the room, just leave it in there, I'll come back and get it." So I was, like, OK, and hung up the phone and looked in there. And there they were.' It's one of a long line of slightly surreal anecdotes that Grohl shares with me - coupled with various pictures of him playing to Paul McCartney and Barack Obama at the White House, one of him dancing with a Muppet and the rendition of an incredibly rude limerick by Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, which is totally unprintable and incredibly funny. Occasionally, he turns the interview on me, asking me if I do drugs ('Come on, Hanna, you can tell me. I'm not your dad; I was in Nirvana') and what records I've listened to the most. He shows me a picture of his wife, Jordyn, and you can tell by the way his eyes beam every time he mentions her that they're very much in love. 'When I met her, I was wearing disgusting shorts and a T-shirt. I'd met up with a friend in this bar on Sunset, where all the waitresses wear little bunny outfits. I didn't really want to go, but he was seeing one of the bunny girls. So we went in and sat down, and these totally hot chicks appear, like a vision - my friend's date and her friend. They didn't really want to talk to me, probably because I looked gross, so I did what any man in my position would have done: I got them totally drunk. In the end, I wound up writing, "You're my future ex-wife" with my number on a piece of paper and giving it tojordyn.' So far, so cute, what happened next? 'We started to see each other but then I got a bit freaked out by being in a relationship and stopped calling.' Not so cute. 'Anyway, we went on tour and our drummer overdosed. It was bad. Really bad. And it made me put things into perspective. When we got back to LA, I called her up and said, "Let's go for a drink". Just to wind me up, she appeared wearing a wedding ring... and we've been together ever since.'
A happy, solid marriage and devoted hands-on dad? It doesn't sound very 'rock star'. 'Having had such a good relationship with my mom and dad, I always imagined I'd have a family myself one day.' he says. 'I just couldn't see it happening while I was playing in a band and going on tour and being a working, travelling musician. Then it dawned on me that you can do both and, fortunately, we are able to. A lot of people struggle with it and [the band] knows how fortunate we are that we can have the luxury of touring less and having our families come out when we want or need them to.' The Foo Fighters do indeed take their kids on the road with them - a far cry from the Nirvana days? 'h'^ much more just trying to get home without dying because you want your children to have parents,' he says.
  He leans in to me, disarmingly and asks 'Do you like coffee?' as if it's the latest legal high. Fresh Pots, a video of Grohl hopped up on coffee while in the studio with Josh Homme is a YouTube phenomenon, with over 1.6 million hits. In fact, it's an addiction that got so out of hand Grohl wound up in hospital wondering why he had chest pains. We get in his sports car and drive down to the bottom of the Californian valley to the nearest Starbucks. He orders an actual pint of coffee, so I follow suit. We collect our drinks and get back in the car where he speeds back up the hill to his home, the hot liquid spurting out of the cups like molten caffeinated lava. 'I used to be the guy from Nirvana, now I'm the guy from Fresh Pots. Even the kid at the grocery check out said the other day, "Hey Dave, you, uh, want some coffee?'"
  It's strange, sat next to a guy talking about his kids and coffee, to think that he was part of one of the notorious grunge rock bands ever to exist. 'One of the funny things when Nirvana became popular was that it was hard to imagine that we were selling millions of records or topping charts or whatever because we weren't doing anything any differently; we were doing the same thing that we were doing before anybody gave a shit So it always felt like everyone else changed and we stayed exactly the same.' He pauses. 'You feel like your world changes but you don't. Once your foundation is set, everything is based on that. And the world might change and you might become more of a person, but if the parts are still the same then it doesn't really feel that much has changed.' He grins a lovely grin. The nicest man in rock - that's one rumour with substance. He chuckles. 'You wanna hear that Steven Tyler limerick again?' I do. 'There was a young woman from Dallas, who used a firework as a...'