Foo Fighters drummer and bon viveur Taylor Hawkins lets metal Hammer have a nose around his "rootsy and rural" Cali pad.
Make no mistake: Foo Fighters' famously badass drummer
Taylor Hawkins enjoys an idyllic,
affluent California lifestyle. His three bedroom home, which he
shares with girlfriend Alison, is nestled in a small and disarmingly
tranquil residential neighbourhood in the still semi-rural Topanga
Canyon, half an hour northwest of LA. Nothing yells 'rock star home' as
we approach: no parked Hummers or Harleys, no gated entrance or
pretentious statues, no giggling girlies; there's little to differentiate
this house from its neighbours.
Answering the door in just board shorts, with hair freshly dyed ultra-blonde, the tanned and trim Taylor's at once energised and laid-back: part rock star, part beach bum. We're whisked straight through to the back yard, which was one of the main attractions of the home to when he bought it three years ago, along with the location: "I wanted to live in Topanga Canyon because I just like it up here - it's kind of the last place in Los Angeles that retains some of its... it's still slightly untouched, still rootsy and rural. And this is really the only suburban type neighbourhood - the rest is really pretty rural and untouched by development and stuff like that.
While much of Topanga Canyon resembles a Woodstock hangover, Taylor didn't want to go quite that far: "I didn't want to do the hippy thing, but I wanted to be close to it. Plus I'm close to the [San Fernando] Valley, 20 minutes or half an hour from Hollywood if necessary, and 15 minutes from the beach - which is nice 'cos I spend a lot of time down there too."
His sizable, split-level yard, bordered on one side with neat poplar trees, boasts a large swimming pool, hot tub, trampoline and hammock - not to mention fantastic views across the canyon. Landscaping is currently under way alongside one edge of the property which, though well established, is still something of a work in progress. Taylor and Alison appear utterly at ease with each other and their surroundings, constantly petting and playing with their two dogs, Bud and Phaira. The dogs love to swim in the pool, a habit initially encouraged by Foo's frontman Dave Grohl, who Taylor describes as their "favourite uncle". Though Taylor's not an original Foo Fighter, he and Dave and clearly great friends, and Grohl's name crops up frequently. Seeing the bulky Phaira repeatedly belly-flop into the pool in pursuit of a tennis ball never gets old, and soon Taylor joins his pets in the water.
Relaxing in this dream setting, could Taylor, looking back, have ever imagined that playing the drums would bring him all this? "No, no. You always, in the back of your head, are going 'wouldn't it be bitchin'to actually make a decent living with playing music', but, no, I don't think you can bank on it that way. I mean, I knew all I wanted to do really was play music, but I always figured that I'd probably run a music store or something: something related, so I'd at least be around music a lot. Probably play in bar bands and stuff and just do that sort of thing, y'know? I always had confidence and I always felt that I had as good a chance as any, but you can't count on anything like that. You have to just play and see what happens. And I got lucky - extremely, extremely, extremely lucky."
Although originally from Texas, Taylor's family moved to Laguna Beach, 50 miles south of LA, when he was five or six. Happy though he was growing up there, Taylor harbours no ambitions to return permanently: "It's a small beach town. It's really beautiful and very uppity- very upper class. It's become that way more even since I left. I don't want to hang out with everyone I went to high school with! I see 'em enough, y'know: a lot of my best friends still live down there and I go see 'em and stuff. And it's really fuckin' expensive: in Laguna Beach a place like this would be, like, $2million, whereas here... I got this place cheap, basically." Asked about his idea of a dream home, Taylor doesn't hesitate: "This is my dream home", he blurts, before revealing more ambitious desires: "Well, my 'dream home' would actually be to have four of them! I'd have one here, I'd have one on the beach - in Laguna Beach - then I'd have a flat in London and then maybe a place out in the rocky mountains - in Colorado, 'cos I like Colorado. I like the desert too. That's what's so cool about living right here though: you get a desert vibe, but it's rural and then you've got the beach real close too. So you kinda get a little bit of everything. I love it up here. It's just really mellow, y'know? I mean, I'm not a hippy by any stretch, but it's mellow and quiet and I have really nice neighbours. they're pretty forgiving - though we don't have many parties. It's a pretty laid-back lifestyle really,'
Returning to the welcome air conditioning of the house, Taylor's den says much about the man's musical influences: posters of the Police, Pink Floyd and Queen adorn the walls. There are also vintage horror movie posters around, as Taylor's a huge horror buff, raving! about the re-make of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! which he's just watched. A large rack of videos is rich not only in Queen and the Police, but also includes many Genesis tapes, Led Zeppelin and even ElO. Police sticksman Stewart Copeland was Taylor's number one influence as he learned to play drums: "He was probably my earliest, like, real drum influence, He was my first drum hero and that had a lot to do with my brother who's five years older than me - I still have the 'Police Around The World' video which I remember him getting me as a kid when I was first learning to play."
One corner of the room has that classic musician accessory, the '60s style reproduction ball chair, in a vivid red and white and complete with built-in speakers. Another rock star favourite, the vintage jukebox, is also present, loaded with soft rock 45s from the late 70s and 80s ("It sounds like a pizza joint in '77" Taylor laughs). cranks it up and, sure enough, Journey's 'Who's Cryin' Now crackles forth, the ancient speaker struggling with the low frequencies. Various guitars and a bass hang on the wall, and there's a small keyboard beneath them, on which Taylor attempts to perfect a passage from Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.
Next door, separated by a narrow laundry room, is a small, but well appointed, rehearsal and recording studio complete with separate control room. The Foo Fighters still prefer to record their demos on to tape (as opposed to digitally), and a large 2" tape machine dominates one corner of the control room. Posters of Dio, Yes and Thomas Dolby decorate the walls. In the live room, Taylor can both practice alone and write songs with Dave Grohl and others. "We've done a lot of Foo Fighters demos here actually - for the last record we demoed a lot of stuff here. We wrote Low, Times like These and Disenchanted Lullaby here. With Disenchanted Lullaby Dave and me just sat down and I was like 'hey, check out this groove' [which Taylor obliging plays] and he had is hand on just one chord and it was, like, 'Hey, a song! And we need one!" The Foo's version of Prince's 'Darling Nikki' (currently allover LA radio) was actually recorded at Taylor's facility, though his set-up is really not meant to produce finished product: "We've done some cool recordings in here, not really album-worthy, more b-sides and stuff - I don't quite have the gear to make sorta album-worthy stuff yet.
Unlike many established stars, Taylor has no ambitions to produce other acts or start his own label. Apart from Foos activities, he restricts himself to "labours of love", such as the fledgling rock opera he's working on with ex-jane's Addiction bassist Eric Avery. Avery now plays for Alanis Morissette, the same gig which gave Taylor his big break and they remain close fiends to this day.
The live room is seriously loud, as Taylor happily demonstrates by briefly flexing his prodigious chops behind the kit. Thankfully, the room has been professionally soundproofed (though Taylor insists his neighbours are "very cool"), and rugs and blankets have been hung on the wall to deaden the tone: Before I put up all this shit it was just too high-endy, it was like, 'ow!' I need to get even more stuff - this is Just like a totally 70s sounding, dry drumming room." If you ignore the control room on the other side of the glass, this could be any garage band's cramped space, littered with various guitar amps, cables and an imposing bass rig.
Next stop is the immaculate kitchen, which Taylor claims is the primary gathering point in the house. The fridge door is a mosaic of photos and mementos, as is the custom in many US homes. Taylor even has a favourite chair in the kitchen: "This is where the first cigarette and coffee of the day go down - very important! I'm completely a homebody, but I don't cook really. But I do make a good pot of coffee!"
LIVING THE DREAM
Spending long periods of time on the road makes having a comfortable home to return to a priority for Taylor: "Touring makes home more important for sure. Touring is less and less something that...", he catches himself, "Well it's something I enjoy more in some ways, because I've relaxed so much and I don't do the partying and stuff I used to, so it's not like that 'sleep in your hotel room 'til four and wait for the sun to go down so you can go to soundcheck: For my entire 20s I was like a vampire on tour, yknow, which is fine and fun when you're 20 - I wouldn't take any of that away - but I've relaxed and mellowed a lot in my lifestyle. So touring is all about playing the shows now and if we have a day off somewhere nice I'll try and make use of it and see something wherever I am - take a little piece home, yknow? Like I was talking about Colorado: we had a day off in Denver and me and Nate, my drum tech, rented a car and drove up to Red Rock and went hiking and stuff. So on tour, culturally- which is a bit of a stretch 'cos you don't really have too much time to soak up the culture - I'm starting to see morre. But, at the same time, being home is so much' more of a pleasure."
The hallway and living room of the Hawkins home are tastefully furnished and accented, dominated by a high, vaulted ceiling and decorative leaded front window. Three well-used surf boards lean in one corner, though Taylor confesses that he does little wave-riding these days, now preferring mountain biking. He lounges with the dogs on low black sofas, Bud gnawing stubbornly at an already half-digested bone. Though in theory the home's main family space, it has the air of a rarely used spare room, as Taylor and Alison spend so much time outside, in the kitchen or Taylor's case) in the studio. Furniture and ornaments seem randomly placed, unplanned and uncoordinated. Neatly arrayed next to the French doors leading to the yard's upper level is a huge collection of vinyl albums stored in black plastic crates: everything from the Cars to Kiss, ZZ Top to the Osmonds. It's clear that Taylor has broad musical tastes and is an aficionado of 70s and 80s sounds in particular. First and foremost he's a huge fan of music, including some influences which might surprise Foos fans (umm, Supertramp anyone?)
An upstairs office, with a view over the pool and beyond, also stores four of Taylor's favourite drum kits, in neat stacks, which he keeps both out of nostalgia and for use in studio, where their varying depths and tones are useful. There's a functional computer table and state-of-the-art PC, but the room remains minimalist, functional and stark.
Taylor Hawkins is perhaps the model of the modern music star: constantly creative, enjoying the money he's made in worthwhile ways, and still a charming and humble guy to boot. This is what teenage wannabe musicians all over the world aspire to: Taylor Hawkins is quite literally 'living the dream: Got the life? Yup. Sure do.