A great deal of relection from the Foo Fighting stick-master
What drives you as a drummer?
"The pursuit of my own sort of perfection, I guess; always wanting to play better, to make a song sound better, and to be better at all of the things that that entails - be it feel, time or consistency. Those are the skills that make a drummer good, or great, and that's what drives me because I don't feel like I am anywhere near where I would like to be… And I don't know if I ever will be, I think it will forever be a work in progress. I look at other drummers and wonder how they got to that place, you know? But as you get older, the other thing you realise is that you are who you are as a musician; your heart beats a certain way and you feel music a certain way, so there are always things that you are never going to be able to change. But you work on and improve the things that you can, and there is always someone out there to learn from. The one thing I do know is that I'm the best Taylor Hawkins drummer there is, and that is all I can hope to be. And when it comes to music, musicianship and skill, there is no such thing as better or worse because so much is personal opinion, and I can see that now. When I was a kid, of course I wanted to be the fastest, the loudest and the one with the biggest drum set, but obviously my aspirations have changed a bit since then. Well, some of them anyway…"
"Your heart beats a certain way and you feel music a certain way"If you could go back and teach your younger drumming self one important lesson, what would it be?
"In hindsight, if I could go back in time and relay a message to my younger self, I would tell him to work on his time keeping, and that the job of a drummer is not to be the one that gets noticed the most on stage, or to be the fastest, or the loudest. Above all, it is to be the timekeeper. I figured that out later in life and I have had to go back, and in some ways relearn, especially in the studio.
"The bummer is that when I was 13, I was unteachable… I just didn't want to know. Drums were the only thing that was mine, just mine, and I learned from my heroes by listening and playing along to my favourite records. There is a certain originality that you get playing by ear – some of the most creative drumming I've heard has come out of that method of learning, and playing from the heart. But I would say to any young drummer, even if you don't want to take lessons, even if you are not interested in that sort of teaching, play along to a metronome for half an hour a day. Don't think about it, don't worry about it, just do it - to help develop your internal clock. Time is relative in drumming and, of course, there are drummers I love who are exciting and speed up... Live it's one thing but, in the studio, it's really important to be able to keep things steady. Nobody is going to have perfect time; some drummers are close and I think Dave (Grohl) is actually; he has one of the steadiest meters in the business, and that's something I really look up to."
What have been your biggest achievements to date?
"My biggest highlight is actually just getting paid to play the drums - that still amazes me! The three big ones as far as the Faa Fighters are concerned have been headlining the Reading Festival for the first time in 2002, our Hyde Park show in 2006 and then the two nights we played at Wembley Stadium in the summer of 2008. It doesn't get much bigger than that."
What are you working on at the moment?
"I just got home from the last leg of The Coattail Riders shows in Europe. I love playing with those guys (Chris Chaney, bass; Gannin Arnold and Nate Wood, guitars). There is a real chemistry between the four of us; they play so well and I feel that they elevate me to a different level. I'm lucky, because I have been able to achieve everything that I wanted to with the band, which was just to make records and go out and play. The best reception we've had has been in the UK, no question. It's where the Foo Fighters are most successful and our fans have come out to support me, which is great. My main home is obviously the Foo Fighters but, when time permits, I hope to do more of the same with the Coattails in the future."
You've now started work on the new Foo's record. After your stint with the Coattails, does it feel good to be back in Fooland?
"In the Foo Fighters, my job is very different; it's supportive. I'm there to play the drums, to support Dave's songwriting and to make the songs sound the very best they can. With the Coattails I'm able do whatever I want, but I'm now ready to relinquish that side of my brain and get back to being a part of the Foo Fighters. We are all excited about the new record, there is a very positive vibe, and we are getting together for some pretty intense demo sessions at the moment. Dave has lots of songs - as he always does - and I'm telling you that one of them is up there in the top five songs he has ever written. We did a quick demo and just knew in our hearts that it was special."
How do you keep on top of everything?
"With the Foo Fighters and The Coattail Riders, everything is fairly well scheduled, so it hasn't been too crazy. I still manage to get plenty of time at home with my kids, and that definitely keeps me sane. The other thing that really clears my head is mountain biking. I'll head off to the hills near where I live in LA, away from all the cars. It balances things out for me."
How does it feel to have influenced so many drummers over the years, and who are your drumming icons?
"It's hard for me to fathom because I still see myself as a fan, and I'm still just like the 17-year-old kid who used to sneak into Jane's Addiction concerts.
It's difficult for me to imagine a world where I am actually an influence on people but, if I am - wow! That's amazing and a huge compliment - just try not to pick up my bad habits, okay?
"Top of my list would have to be Stewart Copeland, Roger Taylor, Phil Collins and Stephen Perkins. All different players, but what they have in common is that they are all very melodic players. When you hear them playing, you just know it's them drumming and as a drummer there can be no greater compliment."
How do you see the next 25 years of your drumming career panning out?
"I've been lucky enough to have fulfilled so many ambitions, and gone way past anything I ever thought I would do. I could never have imagined the career that I've had with the Foo Fighters - playing stadiums and having songs on the radio. It's amazing, and my goal is really just to carry on playing. I want to keep playing until I'm dead. Will I retire from going on tour? Probably, but I'll never retire from playing music."
You have featured on a number of Rhythm covers. Which ones have been your favourites and what memories do you have of doing them?
"My favourite would have to be the issue where I was Guest Editor and got to interview my classic rock heroes - Phil Collins, Stewart Copeland, Roger Taylor and Stephen Perkins - and to pay tribute to Jim Gordon, who is sadly only remembered for the tragic events in his life, not the fact that he was an incredibly important drummer. Doing that issue was great fun, and I hope the readers enjoyed it as much as I did. I think it was neat because you got a very different magazine looking at just one player's influences… Am I allowed to do it again one day?"