With his ultraheavy new side project, Dave Grohl indulges his inner headbanger
It's a bright, crisp Sunday in LA, and Dave Grohl is surveying a room full of young, half-naked women and smiling as if it's Christmas morning and Santa brought him a brand-new dirt bike - and left that dirt bike in a room full of young, half-naked women. Grohl who currently fronts the Foo Fighters and once played drums for a popular rock band from Washington State, is here to shoot a video for 'Shake Your Blood' the first single from his heavy-metal side project Probot.
The young, half-naked women are models from the indie-punk website SuicideGirls.com. They've left their bedrooms, their webcams, and their collections of Death Cab For Cutie 7-inches to come to this Hollywood soundstage and appear as backing dancers. Within the hour, they will be writhing and thrashing and playfully assailing one another with leather whips on a set tricked out with a round revolving stage and more than $10,000 worth of rented S&M dungeon equipment. Some of them will be in cages.
But right now, they're milling around the craft-service table, eating Gummi Bears and trail mix. The room looks like an open casting call for a horny hipster's naughtiest dream. There are giggling, goth-pale girls; pierced girls with Pippi Longstocking pigtails; girls clad in latex hot pants, fishnet stockings, spiked heels, and, in at least one case, nothing but panties, rope, and strategically placed X's of black electrical tape. Ducking into a makeshift dressing room, Grohl grins and says, "I feel like I'm running a fuckin' brothel." He politely declines the attentions of an on-set hairstylist "I just need to make my hair kinda wet, so it looks like I'm sweaty and gross."
Grohl's disinterest in grooming is understandable. At this moment, he's so clearly jacked that it's hard to imagine him sitting still. He's looking forward to the release of Probot, an exacting re-creation of vintage underground metal at its most savage and uncompromising; it's a vulgar display of ax-grinding power virtually guaranteed to frighten Foo Fighters fans. The album began, humbly, as a collection of heavy-metal instrumentals that Grohl and friends like ex-Zwan/Chavez guitarist Matt Sweeney recorded in the basement studio of Grohl's Virginia home. It then grew into a Satanic version of Santana's Supernatural after a friend urged Grohl to enlist the services of real metal vocalists, including Mercyful Fate howler King Diamond, Corrosion of Conformity growler Mike Dean, and Venom postapocalyptic mutant disemboweler Cronos.
Grohl is also excited because Scott "Wino" Weinrich, of Washington, D.C., doom-metal icons the Obsessed, is here to play guitar in the video. And most of all, he's psyched about the imminent arrival of Lemmy Kilmister-who sings on "Shake Your Blood" and who, as Motorhead's founder and frontman, has embodied the speed-maddened, power- drunk, umlaut-misplacing spirit of metal since before most of the Suicide Girls were born.
"I'm more relaxed and comfortable around him now," Grohl says, applying a borrowed lighter to a bummed smoke. "But that first day in the studio, I was really fuckin' nervous. It was like going in the studio with Paul McCartney. He walked in, said hello, and then said, 'Who wants a drink?' We went upstairs and mixed a couple Jack and Cokes. It was noon. We started talking about World War II and rock'n'roll. By three, I was fucking shit-faced, and he was ready to record."
Kilmister arrives a few minutes later. He's 58 and built like an equestrian statue, wearing tight black jeans and a white cowboy hat and matching boots. He looks ready to rock or throw chairs in a saloon brawl, whichever comes first He carries his bas&-guitar case in one hand and a copy of the dictionary-size Stephen King novel Wizard and Glass in the other. He cuts through the crowd of Suicide Girls, looking utterly indifferent, and heads for the back room purposefully, like a plumber with a pipe to fix.
Someone asks him if he's ready to shoot "They can shoot me anytime they want," he rumbles, "but they'll have to get a 12-gauge." He then begins mixing himself a cocktail.
When the cameras roll, two things are immediately clear about Dave Grohl, performer. First, he's focused: He attacks the drums with a feral fervor, barking lyrics through gnashed teeth. Second, he is not kid- ding. At one point, between takes, he gamely submits to a mock whipping at the hands of two Suicide Girls while the site's cofounder, Missy, snaps photos. But there's not a whiff of parody on display here, none of the deadpan rock fealty that pals Tenacious D have made their trademark. Grohl's not playing at being in a metal band-he's playing metal.
From the infamous Mentos Commercial video for the Foo Fighters' "Big Me" to his vaguely Ringo-esque I'm-just-playin'.me-drums stint with Queens of the Stone Age, it sometimes seems like Grohl, 35, has spent his entire post-Nirvana career struggling to be taken less seriously. It's as if he's tried to downplay his association with the most profound rock tragedy since John Lennon's murder by living as goofy a public life as possible. But while he's aware that his metal move will seem like another good-natured gag-especially since he's so closely identified with grunge, long posited by rock journalists as the genre that killed metal - he insists it's an utterly heartfelt tribute.
"There's this rock irony that's chic now," he concedes, stressing the "i" word like a contemptuous slur. "You have bands like the Darkness, supermodels wearing Motorhead shirts, Justin Timberlake in an MC5 tee. It doesn't really upset me, because I don't have anything to do with it. But to me, there's nothing ironic or funny about this album. I really do what I do, and I like the music that I like.
"When I drive through the canyons of Los Angeles, I don't listen to, you know, the new fuckin' Linkin Park record. I'm rockin' some old Trouble or Saint Vitus or some Voivod. Most people don't know much about me prior to 1991, and it's hard to imagine that someone in a band like the Foo Fighters grew up listening to Venom. It's just the energy, the spirit of the music, that I love, and that's something that I've never lost.”
A teenage Grohl first caught that spirit in the mid-'80s when he was drumming in hardcore bands like Washington, D.C.'s metal-edged Scream and listening to the fastest music he could find. According to Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff, the test pilots of Chuck Yeager's generation believed that demons were waiting for them beyond Mach 2; Grohl's quest for sound-barrier-pushing rock led him to Slayer, which is basically the same thing.
"From 1982 to 1989, the underground-metal scene was kind of hand in hand with the hardcore scene,. Grohl explains. "I remember the CroMags sharing a bill with Voivod and Venom or seeing 45 Grave and i the Obsessed or C.O.C. and Motorhead."
The bond was a matter of values, as well as necessity: "Sluggin' it out in vans," he says.. "Fuckin' doin' it yourself. An underground network of people getting it together to make it happen because they all love it so much."
By now, Grohl is the punk equivalent of landed gentry, but when he invokes the DIY good ol' days in talking about Probot, he's not just cranking the smoke machine. He sat on the finished record for almost two years, looking for a label willing to promote it as a metal album rather than the work of a Foo Fighter on a headbanger's holiday. Independent label Southern Lord ended up doing the honors, in conjunction with Grohl's own Roswell imprint.
Asked if Probot is his attempt to stoke an underground-metal renaissance, Grohl demurs. "I just wanted to make an album that sounded great," he says. "If it makes people want to go out and pick up some Trouble or Celtic Frost, kickass, but that's not my intention.
"It's funny - when I was on the Queens of the Stone Age tour, some woman came up to me. She was in her 50s, totally straight, seemed like somebody's mother. And she said, 'Hey, when's the Probot record. coming out?' And I said, 'Uh, I don't really know if you're gonna like it.' And she said, 'No, no, I heard about it. I read the interviews, and I . went out and bought Dimension Hatross by Voivod, and I love it!' And I I was like, 'Oh, my God-what have I done?'"
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