Foo Fighters Are Still Not About Image

You may already know this about the Foo Fighters, but in case you don't, listen up: The band is all about the music, OK? No image tinkering for this group, thank you very much.

Sure, the Foo Fighters have platinum albums, Grammys, loyal fans, love from critics. And the guys appreciate all of it. But at the end of the day, after all the praise and controversy, after folks get over the fact that the Foo Fighters are not Nirvana, you get a quartet that rocks hard and with energy to spare.

"I think we're one of the best live bands out there," says drummer Taylor Hawkins, phoning from a hotel room in California. "When you have a band that's confident, you're gonna get a good show, the best of what we can do. I always think of us as the Stones meet Rush. That's kind of a high compliment, but, well ... whatever, you know?"

Still high on the success of its fourth album, One by One (whose single "All My Life" snagged a Grammy for best hard-rock performance a few months back), the band likes to keep things spontaneous, charged and moving. On the latest disc, the Foo Fighters were focused on an organic blend that was raw but cohesive at the same time.

"Dave [Grohl, the group's leader and famed former drummer for Nirvana] at first wanted to make this perfect record," says Hawkins, 31. "You know, so much of today's music got a boob job or a face lift, so to speak. Everything sounds so perfect. We started out making this record so dead-sounding. Then we just stopped and took a break. We didn't know where we were going."

In the meantime, Grohl went on tour as the drummer for Queens of the Stone Age. The band didn't know if there was even going to be another Foo Fighters album. Hawkins, who almost died from an overdose of booze and painkillers last August, spent some time in rehab. After he got himself together, the Texas-born musician retreated to his home in Topanga Canyon, Calif., and smoked cigarettes, lounged on the beach, frolicked by the pool, played drums in his tiny studio late into the night. When Grohl had a two-week period off the road with Queens, he joined his buddy in Topanga, and the two refocused on the album.

"The genesis of the ideas, the riff and melodies, came from me and Dave in the studio," Hawkins says. "The germ of the ideas are his, but I would add an idea here and there, a drum idea. And if he didn't like something, he'd let me know. We have that kind of relationship. After this, like, two-week dream of music, we got there. We had the energy we were looking for."

The result has been mistakenly called "angry" by some critics. Sonically, the CD may be the darkest and most aggressive one the group has recorded. But there isn't much angst in the lyrics. "Tired of You," for instance, is actually about never getting tired of a girlfriend. The bulk of the songs on One by One center on the more positive side of relationships. When the Foo Fighters picked up their Grammy last February, Grohl thanked his girlfriend for inspiring some of the lyrics. After eight years and a few personnel changes, the Foo Fighters have become elders of grunge rock, the band that continues to stretch and evolve despite legal battles and the long shadow of Nirvana. Perhaps years from now, the Foo Fighters' contributions to the genre may rise to the level of the legendary Seattle band that rocketed to superstardom in the mid-'90s but crashed after front man Kurt Cobain killed himself. It's impossible not to hear traces of Nirvana on One by One or any other Foo Fighters album. But the group is steadily moving into its own groove.

"Eight years, that's a long time in a business like this," Hawkins says. "But you can't look at [stuff] like that. It can trip you out. One of the keys to our success is that we are not huge. We've always been a working band; we're road dogs. And that's fine with us. It keeps us creative. The beauty of not having sold, like, 7 million copies of one album is that we get to make a different one every time. We're dedicated to the music. It's who we are."

return to Hawkins' Poor Brain