THE FOO FIGHTERS' DRUM STAR TALKS TO OLD PAL DANNY GOFFEY ABOUT THE FOOS' NEW ALBUM AND LIVING THE ROCK DREAM. LOUISE KING TAKES NOTES...
Taylor Hawkins is enjoying a well-deserved day off. He's had a rollercoaster week of press commitments, awards shows and several gigs to boot - including a secret three-hour rock marathon at Dingwalls where the Foo Fighters powered through new record Wasting Light in its entirety, followed by a full greatest hits set. But rather than catching up on some sleep after serious jetlag on this trip, he's invited Rhythm and dose friend Danny Goffey (of Supergrass fame) to hang out.
"I always like to do something a bit different when it comes to Rhythm magazine," Taylor explains. "I loved being your Guest Editor a few years ago, and having the chance to interview my drum heroes for that special issue was awesome. This time, seeing as you are sweet enough to still be interested in me, I thought it would be fun to have my old pal Danny throw some questions in my direction. I hope you'll be able to turn our ramblings into something readable, though!"
It was back in 1996 that Taylor Hawkins first exploded onto the scene, after landing the gig with Canadian songstress Alanis Morissette. His visual and energetic style behind the tubs immediately made the drum community sit up and take notice. Less than two years later, a certain Mr Dave Grohl called to ask Taylor if he knew of any drummers who might be interested in filling the vacant throne in his new band, Foo Fighters. "Yes," Taylor replied. "Me!" Fourteen years and six albums later, the rest, as they say, is history.
The Summer of 2008 saw the Foo Fighters play their biggest ever shows: two sold-out nights at Wembley Stadium where the band were joined onstage by none other than Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, with Taylor stepping out from behind his kit for lead vocal duties on the Zep classic, 'Rock And Roll'.
"I've been lucky enough to have fulfilled so many ambitions and gone way past anything I ever thought I would do," he told Rhythm when he appeared as part of the magazine's 25th anniversary celebrations last year. "I could never have imagined the career that I've had with the Foo Fighters -playing stadiums and having songs on the radio. Those Wembley shows are definitely a real highlight for me; it doesn't get much bigger than that."
After the triumphant Wembley gigs the Foos decided it was time to take a break, giving all four members the opportunity to concentrate on their individual side projects; Dave with Them Crooked Vultures, Nate Mendel (bass) with Sunny Day Real Estate, Chris Shiflett (guitar) with Jackson United and Taylor with his Coattail Riders (featuring Chris Chaney on bass and Gannin Arnold and Nate Wood on guitars). The Coattail Riders' second album, Red Light Fever- featuring some very special guests including Dave Grohl and Queen's Roger Taylor and Brian May - was released in May 2010, and live dates quickly followed. "There is a real chemistry between the four of us," said Taylor of his band. "They play so well and I feel that they elevate me to a different level."
When work on the new Foo Fighters record began in the Autumn of 2010, the band took the radical decision to record their seventh studio album in Dave's garage, entirely on analogue tape and without any computers. Drummer and producer extraordinaire Butch Vig was duly appointed as their producer. Before Wasting Light was even released, 130,000 tickets for the band's two headline shows at Milton Keynes on 2 and 3 July - with support from, among others, Danny Goffey and Gaz Coombes' The HotRats - sold out within an hour of going onsale.
So, as Taylor and Danny sit down to chat, with a pot of English tea and a plate of scones on hand for refreshment, there is plenty to talk about, and where better to start than to find out when the two of them first met...
Back In The Day
Taylor: "Well, I was playing with Alanis when I first met Danny. I worshipped Supergrass. My audio wallpaper for that year - 1996 - basically comprised four albums: The Foo Fighters' first record [Foo Fighters], Jeff Buckley's Grace, Radiohead's The Bends, and Supergrass's I Should Coco. When I first heard Danny's drumming I was like, 'Wow - he plays like Keith Moon, with that controlled recklessness."
Danny: "But without any technical skill!"
Taylor: "But I don't have any technical skill either -all I have is stolen from my drum heroes, just like you. What I love about your style is that you play a song more like a piano player than a proper time-keeping drummer with their standard seven fills or whatever. You are much more lyrical, and all instinct, vibe and feel."
Danny: "It's true that I don't ever know what fill I'm going to do... It's something that I thought I might be able to stop doing eventually, but I can't. For me every fill is going to be different, and it's quite scary sometimes because I really don't know if I am going to make it and be back on time."
Taylor: "Very much like Stewart Copeland - he never, ever played the same song twice. Much to the chagrin of Sting, I think. But that's what made Stewart so magical."
Danny: "I think the first time we actually saw each other play was at the 9.30 Club in Washington, when Supergrass were supporting the Foos. It was on that tour that we really became friends and built up a great musical rapport. What immediately struck me about your style of playing was the power you have, and how electrifying you are to watch. You are working so hard up there and that effort is clearly etched on your face. What was so funny -and what made people think we were slightly in love with each other - was that while one of us was onstage playing the gig, the other would always be behind the curtain, shouting advice and encouragement! It was like having the best seat in the house every night."
Taylor: "We were just babies then - out there having fun!"
Danny: "So tell me about the new record, Wasting Light. It sounds great - much heavier - and it's interesting that you recorded it on tape in Dave's garage without a computer in sight. What happened to your fancy studio?"
Taylor: "Thanks, man. Well, we built this amazing studio a few years ago [Studio 606], and then took the decision to go and record this album in Dave's garage! The record is definitely pretty heavy, but we did a lot of stuff with acoustic guitars on the last couple of albums, and that was cool, but this time -along with the decision to record on analogue tape and bypass computers - we just wanted to make a raw, rocking record. Not every song is like that and there are moments that are quieter but, for the most part, it's heavy. There's actually not one acoustic guitar on this album, and it hasn't been that way since The Colour And The Shape."
Danny: "Are you singing on the album too?"
Taylor: "I've done a lot more singing this time -background vocals and stuff. My voice fits well with Dave's in the harmonies and I do all the high bits. On the first single, 'Rope', I actually share the lead vocal with Dave in the verse. The song is a bit different for us, too - kind of Zeppelin-esque."
Danny: "What was it like working with Butch Vig?"
Taylor: "We had a blast. Butch is an amazing engineer and producer, and made a couple of the most important rock albums of the '90s - especially drum-wise, with Dave on Nevermind and Jimmy Chamberlin on Gish. The music that I'd listen to on the radio at that time was just unbelievable and, after growing up with Neil Peart, Stewart Copeland, Roger Taylor and Phil Collins, I suddenly had this new breed of drum heroes. Those albums sounded perfect to me then but, when you listen to them now - compared to today's music - what you realise is that they have feel, and the drummers each have their own individual style and personality. That's what I miss in rock music today.
"Like all good producers Butch Vig has been at the cutting edge of his craft but, when his name was mentioned for this record, I have to admit I was nervous. He did a couple of tracks for our Greatest Hits, and I kind of fought the whole approach of making things sound perfect. I have nothing against recording onto a computer and using it like a tape machine - in fact that's how I recorded both of the Coattail Riders' records - but I don't like all the trickery. With Pro-Tools and all the other stuff, it's like everyone's feel has been taken away from them.
"The decision to record to tape kind of took us all back, though, and I ended up having a really great relationship with Butch. He fitted right into the Foo family, and we found common ground with drummers that we both liked. It's funny because on this record I do a lot of these buzz roll snare fills that I've never really done before, and I think a lot of that comes from Butch's love of Ian Paice... Not that I could ever get close to the magnificently awesome Mr Paice, of course!"
Danny: "You must be really happy with the drums, they sound great!"
Taylor: "I am - they have feel and you can really hear them, you know? Some people don't believe us, but we never touched a computer and, even though I'm sure there are lots of other people doing the same thing, we are making a big deal about that fact. In some ways it feels like we are this bunch of old guys preaching to the kids about what it was like back in the day..."
In The Studio
Danny: "So how did Wasting Light come together?"
Taylor: "The process for all our records is that Dave and I get together for a month or so and do demos, just quick ones. I kind of work as Dave's drum machine because he will have these ideas on the guitar and he needs someone to sit there and go through them with him. So we'll arrange the songs, and then the rest of the guys will come in and we'll do another month or so of pre-production with the whole band and live demos.
"The big difference for me when we started recording this album was that we worked on one song a week; before we'd always done assembly-line albums, it would be drums for two weeks solid at the beginning and then I'd be done. This way was really fun, though. On Monday we always did drums, on Tuesday it would be Dave's guitars and maybe Chris's guitars, the next day bass, the next lead vocal, and then backing vocals and whatever else. The only thing I did find hard was that by the time I started again on a Monday, I hadn't played my drums for a week. It was like starting from scratch every time... There was a great vibe from the start, though, and we got the whole album done in like two months - much quicker than when we were using computers."
Danny: "So were you playing with the band and just recording the drums?"
Taylor: "Most of the time I just played with Dave, actually, and then once we'd got the drum track the other guys started laying down on the top of that."
A Supporting Role
Danny: "How was the whole editing process?"
Taylor: "It was real old school, splicing tape and stuff, but we only edited the first couple of drum tracks - we just felt that it took too long and slowed things down."
Danny: "So you preferred to just go back in and record it again?"
Taylor: "Or to drop in... Now that was a whole other hurdle!"
Danny: "I know, I used to drop in a lot - mostly because I'd gone really out of time or the dynamic was too much. We used to do whole band drops as well."
Taylor: "Of course, you can do that too, and it just felt great to have the ballsiness to really go for it on this record, you know? And it was so exciting to be able to listen to a finished drum track at the end of each Monday. Did you guys do all the Supergrass records on tape?"
Danny: "No, we did the first two on tape, and then recorded the rest on tape and edited them on a computer. We worked on them song by song, usually somewhat live with drums, bass and one guitar going down. That would be like a three-piece backing track but, of course, if someone messed up we had to start again! By doing it more as backing tracks there would be fewer things to put on top, and we could come up with different ideas and stuff. The problem was that we could have 14 songs in an embryonic state, which got very confusing, and it could get quite annoying because all of us would be into different songs."
Taylor: "But you guys wrote very democratically; you all worked together on the songs, the lyrics and the music. The Foo Fighters isn't really like that - my role is to support Dave's songwriting and to make the songs feel and sound the very best they can. Some things, like 'All My Life', do come out of organic jams and there are a couple of things on this record that came from little ideas that I had but, for the most part, they are really Dave's songs. One day I would love to make a record with the Foo Fighters more like you guys did, with a live backing track. But with the Foos it's all about precision..."
Danny: "It's funny you should say that, because we'd listen to those backing tracks and think that they were quite spontaneous and live, but in places they sound really dodgy! I suppose that was the charm of them, though."
Taylor: "And when I think of Supergrass, I think more of The Who or the Stones - it's a live feel -whereas we tend to make things more precise. It's just a whole different thing."
Danny: "In the end it was virtually impossible to do another album with Supergrass, though, because we were still using that democratic process and it was getting harder and harder to keep everyone happy. I do think that method has a shelf-life and we were lucky enough to be able to do it for 15 years. We actually started a new record but it just didn't work and, in the end, it was a relief when we decided to call it a day. We are all on good terms, though, and haven't cancelled out ever playing together again."
Taylor: "The last time we actually saw each other was when the Coattail Riders supported Supergrass at Brixton on your farewell tour... That show was amazing, man; I laughed, I cried - I loved it! No question I hope you guys play together again some day."
Danny: "I think it's so great that you managed to get the whole Coattail Riders thing off the ground - I found it hard to find the confidence to finish the Van Goffey stuff that I started a few years ago."
Taylor: "Well, now's the time - all the drummers are making albums. Look at my buddy from The Killers, Ronnie Vannucci. He's so cool, and has such a great groove and feel - a bit Mitch Mitchell-y I think. He's one of my favourite players in the world right now.
"When it comes to the Coattail Riders it's pure fun for me and, when time permits, I'd love to do more. Some people have said that I should just find a drummer and get out from behind the kit, because it would make it more entertaining. I don't agree, though, and I'll never do that. I think it's cooler the way it is and it's unique."
Danny: "I'm with you. It makes it unusual to watch and, as a drummer, you are really watchable."
Taylor: "It's just a blast and the guys that I play with in the Coattails are ridiculous musicians. We have our prog rock thing going on and there is a real chemistry between us. I just love playing with them and for all of us it's the chance to loosen our ties', and just get out there and do whatever we want. And if we don't sell any records, or nobody turns up to our shows, it really doesn't matter."
Danny: "You had some serious rock royalty guest on the Coattails' second record, and at the first show the band played in the UK, didn't you?"
Taylor: "It was great. Roger Taylor and Brian May played on the album, and were also kind enough to come and join us at the first show we did over here. Roger and I played double drums, Brian did his thing, and we also had Roger's son, Rufus - who is a great drummer himself - get up.
"One thing that was really funny is that the Coattails also did this gig at Hyde Park supporting Pink. We went on and the audience was all women. Now, you'd think that that would be good, but these empowered ladies had not come to see us do our prog rock, jam-test, muso shit, and I literally had 85,000 pissed off chicks staring back at me..."
Danny: "Ha ha - the gig where you can hear the baby crying at the back!"
Taylor: "You got it! End of the song, nothing... And I could see Roger Taylor at the side of the stage p**sing himself laughing. I know Pink - she's really cool - and she kindly put us on the bill, but we definitely endured 15 minutes of serious opposition that day. They hated us!"
Danny: "I've never had that with Supergrass, but my brother and I DJ'd at Glastonbury once. We were a little apprehensive and played in this huge tent to about 5,000 people. Everyone was really pumped u when we came on but, as soon as we started our '60s garage/psychedelic set, everyone started to leave. It just totally emptied before our eyes until there were only these two very sunburnt Scottish girls at the front yelling, 'Fuck off!' at us."
Taylor: "Awesome! I think the last walk out I had wa back in high school, when my band decided to play some of our 'original' material. That's another thing love about the Coattails - it takes us all back to whei it started. It's like being in your high school band, travelling in a van and stopping at all the little motorway places along the way..."
Danny: "I know just what you mean. When we did the HotRats tour we settled on a total of five people - me, Gaz, two crew and our manager -so we could all get in one taxi if we needed to! It made things so simple."
Taylor: "It's great The HotRats are going to be on the bill at our shows in July..."
Danny: "Well, we are just regrouping now and, when we play with you at Milton Keynes, I think we'll do a mixture of covers from the first album and then throw in some of our own songs too. It was when poor Mick was out of action after breaking his back that Gaz and I first did some stuff just the two of us, and then Nigel [Godrich, producer] persuaded us to record our favourite songs after seeing us do a crazy version of Michael Jackson's 'Beat It' at one of our shows. Like the Coattails, doing the record was a brilliant experience and great fun from start to finish - coming up with mad ideas, and changing the structure and melody of the songs to suit two people."
Living The Dream
Taylor: "Do you ever think that if you knew what you know now at the age of 18, you'd try and explain to your younger self how nigh-on-impossible that dream of his is? But you just don't think that way then, do you? You don't doubt yourself for a second."
Danny: "No, and if you are really into it then nothing stops you. From the age of about 14, all I wanted to do was get a band together, and the second school finished for the day we'd be round at each other's houses practising. I never doubted myself. When we were in The Jennifers [pre-Supergrass band] we managed to do these three gigs at the Paradise in Amsterdam. Gaz was only 15 at the time and I was just 17. We rented a van and left on a Friday after school - it was amazing, and there was no going back after that.
"I think it's great that you guys have been doing these small club shows - last night you played straight for nearly three hours at Dingwalls. Why do you do that to yourselves? In a place like that you are supposed to do about 40 minutes..."
Taylor: "I think it's become a macho thing for us now and I, for one, am totally addicted to feeling like I just got run over by a truck! Seriously, though, I love it and there is no better way to rehearse than being in front of people. Playing the new record from start to finish has been a blast too. It's not something that we've ever done before, but this album is the most straight-ahead rock'n'roll record we have made in a long time, and it works. We are so enamoured and in love with the new songs right now, but we really need to put some work in on the old stuff too!"
Danny: "You must be looking forward to the Milton Keynes shows?"
Taylor: "I'm scared, that's for sure! It's great, though, and of course I'm excited, but I'm still struggling to get my head around the fact that this is our reality now. To me, we are still just a bunch of dudes jamming in the garage..."