Three years ago Taylor Hawkins was a hotly-tipped newcomer making a name with megastar-in-waiting Alanis Morissette. Now he's a fully-fledged Foo Fighter and one of the most high profile drummers on earth. Louise King gets the lowdown on Alanis, Grohl and "kneeling at the altar of Roger Taylor"
There are very few players who have caught people's attention as dramatically as Taylor Hawkins did three years ago, when he exploded onto the international drumming stage with Alanis Morissette. And when it came to his playing, it was definitely a case of once seen, never forgotten; after only a handful of live appearances in the UK, his immense energy, power and flair made him one of the decade's most talked about percussive stars. Taylor first graced the front cover of Rhythm back in July 1996, and went on to win the Best New Drummer category in our Reader's Poll later that year. That victory was shortly followed by the sensational news that, after the departure of William Goldsmith from the band, he'd secured the coveted throne with the Foo Fighters.
"I've always wanted to be part of a band," Taylor explained at the time. "And I love the Foo Fighters. Even when I was playing with Alanis, I always said that if there was one other band I would like to join, it would be them." Dave Grohl was equally complimentary about the Foos' new recruit: "He's a fucking incredible drummer. I'm blown away by him," he said. "Plus he is just funny. He's so incredibly hyperactive, and totally out of control." After the nightmare of a rain-drenched set at this year's Glastonbury, the Foo Fighters-Grohl (vocals, guitar), Franz Stahl (guitar), Nate Mendel (bass) and Taylor - are back in the country again, this time for the Reading Festival. As I walk into Subterranea (tonight's venue for a low-key warm-up gig before the main stage shenanigans at Reading tomorrow) the band are kicking serious ass, and the tiny club is positively creaking under the strain. Egged on by an animated Grohl, the characteristically bare-chested Hawkins is battering the hell out his kit; blonde hair obscuring his face, sticks flailing and sweat flying. And this is just the soundcheck...
Everything sorted, he bounds off stage to greet Rhythm, grabs the back issues we've brought along, and rushes off to show Grohl a copy of the recent ]ohn Bonham retrospective. "I'll just go dry off a bit," he promises. "And I'll be right with you." Escaping from the venue, we set up camp in a nearby sushi bar, where Taylor encourages me to sample the delights of miso soup.
"You must have some," he assures me with a grin "You'll love it."
It was while he was touring with Morissette, on the European festival circuit, that Taylor first met up with the Foo Fighters. He'd always been a big fan of Nirvana, and indeed raved about Grohl's drumming talents in his first interview with Rhythm.
"He's fucking ridiculous," he enthused. "I love him for the simplicity and beauty of his playing. The fills that he does are damn great."
What immediately impressed Taylor when he saw the Foo Fighters play for the first time, was the vitality of the group as a whole.
"They had a cool, free energy going on within the band," he remembers. "They were having such a great time out there" Ever since the early days of his career, when he'd taught himself to play drums by listening to the likes of Queen and The Police, Taylor had dreamed of being in a band When Goldsmith left the Foo Fighters, a vacancy that was almost too good to be true was suddenly up for grabs. Ironically Grohl, not realising that Taylor might be interested in the gig, rang him to ask if he knew any drummers who might want to fill the slot.
"I didn't think he'd want to do it," Grohl declared at the time. "But he said he wasn't doing anything so I said, 'Do you want to come down and, like, jam with us a little then'"
He did, it worked out, and the rest, as they say, is rock'n' roll history.
"It wasn't that I was ever unhappy playing with Alanis," Taylor stresses. "She's very talented. But when you're working for somebody, it's a completely different atmosphere to being in a band. With Alanis I had to watch what i did and said. With the Foo Fighters I'm my own boss, and it feels good to be part of a family."
Landing the touring slot with Morissette was a major achievement for Taylor, and he's quick to acknowledge how fantastic an opportunity it was for him. To this day the drummer has nothing but praise for Ms Morissette on a personal as well as a professional level.
"The cool thing with Alanis," he explains, "was that she was very open to my playing, and let me do whatever I wanted. She allowed me to way overplay stuff, and I fucked up so many of her song live," he smiles ruefully. "I really should have had a bit more taste than I did. I listen to some of those live tapes now, and I can't believe she let me get away with it - but she was sweet, and wanted me to enjoy what I was doing."
With new material from Morissette imminent, Taylor is eager to see how she will follow the phenomenal success of her debut release lagged Lillle Pill,
"I'm really looking forward to seeing how she has grown on her next record," he declares. "I know it's not that long ago that we worked together, but we were both very young, and I feel that I've grown a lot as a player since then "
Comparing the demands of the Foo Fighters with Morissette. Taylor doesn't actually feel that either gig represents his style of playing any more accurately than the other,
"They're different, but they're both just part of a big journey for me," he explains "I suppose the whole spazzy energy of the Foo Fighters is more me but then it requires a more straightforward style of drumming than Alanis' material did. For me that's good, because I have to focus purely on playing the songs well. With Alanis, it was a case of, 'How many woodblocks can I throw in here, then!'" Taylor's been with the Foo Fighters for nearly eighteen months now, but is still constantly asked if it's tough being the drummer in a band where the frontman is actually an established player in his own right. And if it wasn't enough that Grohl is still revered by the drumming community, it's also common knowledge that he played drums on the majority of tracks on the band's two releases to date - Foo Fighters and The Colour And The Shape. Taylor, however, is not phased by this in the slightest. If anything, he sees the presence of two drummers in the band as a positive thing.
"Hell yeah, it's great," he states. "We can bounce ideas off one another. Sometimes there are moments when we're working on new things, when I find myself stuck between the paradox of what Dave would do and what I would do. But Dave wants me to be me, and to play what I want, to play. Obviously he has some ideas of his own, but we can meet somewhere in the middle, and I don't see it as being a problem."
And, much to the delight of the fans, Foos gigs have been known to see Grohl momentarily put aside his guitar and get down to some serious double drumming action with Taylor.
"That was cool," Taylor laughs. "We had two kits on stage, and it was a lot of fun. As much as Dave maybe misses an aspect of playing drums live, he's now a singer and a songwriter. Business-wise, we're all partners, but Dave is the focus of the band, the fulcrum, and he's having a good time doing that."
After spending the last four years predominantly as a live drummer, Taylor relished the chance to record two tracks with the Foos: 'Walking After You', from the X-Files soundtrack, and 'A320' from the Godzilla movie.
"As Dave says to me," Taylor muses, '"You're everyone's favourite drummer... that they've never heard!' And it's so true: I've been seen a lot, but I haven't done much in the studio."
On the odd occasion when he does get the chance to spend some time at home, Taylor confesses that he actually plays more guitar than kit. Over the last couple of years he has recorded a lot of his own tracks, and thoroughly enjoys writing songs, singing and playing guitar. Rest assured though, this doesn't mean that he has any intention of hanging up his sticks permanently.
"God no! I'm happy being a drummer," he affirms. "I don't want to be a frontman or anything like that. When it comes to being on stage, I like being behind the drums, it's a safe place. It's just that I really enjoy other things too."
Taylor cites John Bonham, Stewart Copeland and Roger Taylor as three of his biggest influences. A meeting with one of his all-time drumming heroes at an awards bash led to Taylor receiving a flattering invitation from another rock icon and former member of Queen.
"I met Roger Taylor and knelt at the altar, as you do," Taylor laughs. "He is such a sweetheart, but he doesn't like talking about drums that much. He's like me, he'd rather write songs and play guitar than just drum all the time. Anyway, Roger brought Brian May along to one of our shows. I had a good chat with him, and we got along really well. The next thing I know, he's on the phone asking if I'd play on a track for him. He's the nicest guy in the world, and for someone who is rock 'n' roll royalty, he's very down to earth and still very into his music.
"Do you know what the worse thing is though?" Taylor cries in dismay. "I totally-sucked on the track! Brian was great, but I sucked."
May himself though was more than happy with Taylor's endeavours, as he told Rhythm's sister magazine Guitarist: "He played on 'Cyborg'," the big-haired axe-man raved. "He's astounding, the loudest thing I've ever heard. He puts his whole body into his every hit."
"What's totally crazy," Taylor continues, "is that Brian came over while I was at home one time and laid down a guitar solo for a demo of mine. Brian May-one of the greatest guitar players of all time-on my song..."
After their touring commitments for the year are completed, the Foos are taking a well earned break before starting work on their third album. Grohl is building a studio at his house, to remove the 'time is money' scenario of hiring a studio, which the band feel can detract from the creative process of producing a record.
"I don't know how it's all going to work really, having never recorded an album with them before," Taylor says with disarming honesty "We're going to take our time though, and make sure it's right I have a lot of ideas and Dave's heard some of them already. I definitely want to play on a lot of stuff, but I figure Dave might do some drums too, which is fine with me."
The new album will be the first to feature the Foo Fighters' two new members. Grohl's old Scream bandmate Franz Stahl replaced founder guitarist Pat Smear earlier this year when he dramatically quit the band after the MTV Video Music Awards.
"I love Pat, I totally love Pat," Taylor confides "but when he was in the band, our gigs were very up and down. When Pat wanted to play, he played great, but when he didn't want to be up there - which was about 80 percent of the time - we totally sucked, and there were times when I just wanted off that stage."
Taylor feels that the band's current repertoire is best suited to the club and theatre circuit. While he is looking forward to making his debut at Reading, he feels that the best Foo Fighters gigs take place in small venues.
"We haven't got to the point where we're great arena rockers yet," he states. "We don't have enough mid-tempo songs. Dave is a great frontman, and we're a great band, but all our songs are fast, punchy little numbers which sound good in clubs where people can jump around and get hot. Our music relies very heavily on energy, too - it's a demanding gig physically, and if we're tired, we end up being sloppy bastards."
So, what happens when the gig is done and dusted. Are the four of them big party animals?
"We used to be, until the other three started bringing their girlfriends out on the road with them," Taylor laughs "They're no fun at all now - we're so not a rock band any more."
Taylor, however, has plans of his own, and is already plotting a visit to his favourite London club: top celeb hang-out Browns. Playing festivals in the UK also gives him the chance to catch up with friends this side of the pond. He is particularly looking forward to seeing his great mate Danny Goffey when Supergrass and the Foo Fighters share the same bill at Reading tomorrow.
"I love Danny's drumming, and I can't wait to see Supergrass play," Taylor raves. "He has such a distinctive style. Some people might call it sloppy, but to me it just flows and makes their music sound even more original than it already is."
Michael Lee is another player that Taylor has great respect for - he puts the Page and Plant sticksman in his top three.
"He's the fucking best - this big tall drumming machine," he enthuses. "He has such a cool feel Did you see that video he did with Page and Plant? Totally awesome; I'm definitely going to catch them when they come through LA."
Even though he's not a huge Pearl Jam fan Taylor has nothing but good things to say about Matt Cameron's endeavours with the band, and insists that he's the best technical rock drummer around today.
"He's just so fluid, and does shit which I didn't understand at all. I love to watch him play drums Weckl and all those cats may be technically amazing, but today you have to be able to connect with people too," Taylor stresses. "If you want to sound like Gadd, go ahead - it just depends what your goal is. If all you want to do is to sound like somebody else, then that's cool. But what I love about drummers like Danny, is that they are individuals - it's them or nothing."
While he wants to be forward thinking in terms of computers and how they're used to create and enhance music in the studio, Taylor is slightly dubious about the use of directive technology such as Pro-Tools.
"I really don't know if it's a hindrance or if it's good to be able to make something perfect," he admits. "I'm sure if it was around when Pink Floyd did Dark Side Of The Moon, they probably would have used it. What I hate is when these disposable - as I like to call them - rock bands sequence everything.
"I always use The Police's first album as an example. It basically sounds like a shitty demo, but it fucking rocks. It's amazing - and with rock 'n' roll it's all about energy, isn't it? When you hear the energy off the drums and music like that, you just want to put it on loud and drive down the street with it blasting. It's like, 'Hey dudes, this rocks!"
As we draw to a close - Sushi and Miso soup demolished and drained - Taylor feels it's about time he headed back to the venue to prepare for tonight's show. He may have been touring continuously for the last four years, but he still confesses to pre-gig tension.
"It's important to me that I play well," he explains. "I'm always afraid of fucking up I still get very nervous and excited before every show."
As we walk back towards Subterranea. I ask Taylor what's happened to his distinctive Orange County drum kit. He looks at me hesitantly.
"Right now, I don't actually have a kit... I burnt it in Canada at the end of the last tour," he reveals. "We were on the road with Green Day, you see, and Tre Cool was burning his kit every night. On the last date, we were on before them and thought we'd steal their glory by burning our drums first. But they burnt their gear way better than us. I guess you just have to practise burning drums."