Dave Grohl talks about Probot, Foo Fighters, moonlighting with Queens Of The Stone Age and the 10th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death.
How did the Probot project (an album of collaborations with Grohl's favourite underground metal vocalists) come about?
I wrote a bunch of instrumentals for fun, seven songs. Then the next session was five more songs that I wrote after having come up with the idea of getting vocalists to sing on them. So those songs I wrote with composition in mind more so than the first batch. Like [ex-Napalm Death/Cathedral singer] Lee Dorrian's song, "Ice Cold Man", that was written more as a song, not just an instrumental. Whereas "The Emerald Law" [featuring ex-St. Vitus/The Obsessed vocalist/guitarist Wino] kind of runs like an instrumental. I wanted to match vocalists with songs that were within their realm without making it seem like I was parodying them.
No ballads, then?
No ballads. No "Changes". [sings] 'I'm going through chaaaaangeeeessss' [laughs]. I didn't forget about Ozzy! I wanted that guy! But I really had to stick to the specific genre. Going outside of that would've sort of ruined it.
Probot aside, you've been taking part in a lot of extra-curricular projects recently. Does this indicate a shift in your attitude to The Foo Fighters?
Well, no, because I always return to Foo Fighters. It's kind of a family thing. I don't know why I didn't do more collaborations in the late '90s. I was usually busy with Foo Fighters, touring and making records. The time with Queens Of The Stone Age really kind of opened me up, because I hadn't really played the drums with anyone seriously for eight years. When Queens asked, they were the only band I would've done it for. They're the only band that I would join and play drums with. But y'know, it was great to play with those guys and when you're in a band with people and it just fuckin' clicks, and you don't have to talk or say anything, it's easy to make music. After doing that I realised, like, 'That was great fun, we toured, we made a record… I'd like to do that more often.' I love playing the drums. I don't even have to think about it. I'm not [famously virtuoso Rush sticksman] Neil Peart or anything like that, but when I play guitar and sing, I'm fuckin' trying, y'know? I am concentrating, I'm really trying. With the drums, I just let go and let it happen and it's fine. When Killing Joke calls up and asks you to play on their record, I mean, fuck, it's Killing Joke! I'm not jumping into the studio with every Joe that needs a fuckin' drum track, but when it's special and it's either someone I know or someone that I just completely fucking idolise, I'll do it.
Being such a busy guy, do you imagine a time when you'll want to slow down?
For me, slowing down is basically just not touring as much. I look forward to waking up every day and making music whether it's in my little studio in the house or collaborating with someone else. If you have the luxury to do it every day, Hallelujah! I just love doing it and I can't get enough of it. I wanna do it all the time. But y'know, there is such a thing as an expiration date on everyone. You know when you've worn out your welcome. But I still feel like a kid, I don't feel any different than I did when I was in Scream [Dave's pre-Nirvana Washington DC hardcore band]. I just have money to eat and that's fuckin' great, y'know? [laughs]
That energy and enthusiasm sets you somewhat apart from your more careerist contemporaries.
Well, because I didn't start playing music as a profession. It wasn't a career option. We all started playing music because we just wanted to fuckin' play, we had some friends who wanted to play, too. When you're in a hardcore band in 1984, there was no career! There was no way! You couldn't aspire to be the next U2 or something like that, it just wasn't on the cards. So you just fuckin' got in a band and had a good time for a couple of months. And that's never changed. There's a lot of musicians that play music for the sake of making money, or the lifestyle or whatever, but I've never considered it a profession. It's mostly just a passion, and if I weren't where I am today, I'd still be doin' it. I'd just probably have to do it on weekends [laughs].
So do you see yourself carrying on making music until you are a greybearded old duffer?
Well, y'know I always look at Neil Young as a great example of someone who makes music and lives life for all the right reasons. He's really the musician that I look up to the most. Of course he's had an amazing 40 years, he lives on a beautiful farm with his beautiful family and he makes records. He's grown old gracefully. And he's not done yet.
He's still capable of out-noising the likes of Mogwai despite some fairly staid recent records.
He's just possessed by his own fuckin' music, and it's amazing. That's what I look forward to. I look forward to making music for the rest of my life. You can have a band and not tour, not make videos, not do interviews. Making music is enough, y'know? All the other stuff's irrelevant. Y'know, it's fun, I'll come to London for 4 days and get drunk every night and do interviews, It's great! But my favourite part is making the music. If I couldn't do all the interviews and couldn't do all the other stuff, I'd still be happy.
As well as being the tenth anniversary of The Foo Fighters, 2004 marks 10 years passed since the death of Kurt Cobain. That must be somewhat bittersweet for you, to say the least?
Yeah, it's kinda strange enough. But to have anniversaries like that…it makes me feel stranger. So, y'know, it's the kind of thing that I talk about to my friends and family. I never really get too into it in public. But of course, he'll always be remembered, he was a good friend and a great person and it's really hard to imagine that 10 years has gone by. A lot's happened in the last 10 years, and when I think about my time in Nirvana from 1990 to 1994, all of that happened in three and a half fuckin' years, you know? That's crazy to me. All of that happened so quickly and it was over too soon, y'know? When we first got big I thought it was hilarious! It was fun, it was ridiculous. The venues getting bigger and scarier, we were playing these big gigs. But yeah, that's the kind of anniversary you spend with friends and family.