Dave Grohl reclaims his tough side with Probot, his all-star underground-metal tribute
During the last four years, a tantalizing rumor crept through the heavy-metal community: Dave Grohl, the hard-hitting Nirvana drummer who had gone on to popular success as frontman of the Foo Fighters, was preparing an all-star heavy-metal project. It reportedly involved an impressive list of underground icons, including King Diamond, Motörhead's Lemmy, Venom's Cronos and Celtic Frost's Tom G. Warrior. This month, the rumor bore fruit, as Probot finally reached record stores via the tiny, Los Angeles–based doom-metal indie label, Southern Lord. Loud, rough and defiantly outsider, the album taps into the spirit and style of the hardcore and metal bands Grohl most admired while growing up.
While Nirvana and Seattle grunge replaced metal as radio's preferred form of rock during the '90s, Grohl never lost sight of the bands that inspired him. "When I first started recording this music, I was doing it at home for fun," Grohl says via cell phone while being driven through Manhattan. "With the Foo Fighters, we focus on melodies and arrangements. I hadn't played anything with [this kind of] fuckin' all-out insanity in a long time. I recorded seven instrumentals, wrote PROBOT on the spine of the reel and didn't really consider doing anything with it."
Thanks to Grohl's friends, however, the project took on a life of its own. "A couple of late-night drinking sessions later, we came up with the idea for the ultimate dream team with all my favorite vocalists," Grohl says. He wrote five more songs to fill out the album, then set about matching the tracks with stylistically appropriate singers. In addition to the aforementioned frontmen, Probot includes contributions from Lee Dorrian (Napalm Death, Cathedral), Snake (Voivod), Eric Wagner (Trouble) and Wino (The Obsessed, St. Vitus).
Grohl's own hardscrabble past probably explains why his requests were taken seriously by performers who might otherwise have viewed his overtures as patronizing handouts from a slumming star. ("I'm absolutely sure they all thought that at first," he insists.) Early Grohl bands like Scream shared bills with the Obsessed and St. Vitus in Washington, D.C. "Snake I'd met over the years," Grohl recalls, "and through Scream's trips to Montreal, I'd met [Voivod's] drummer, Away, who did the artwork for the album. And I actually slept on Lee Dorrian's floor in 1987."
More than just Grohl's personal heavy-metal fantasy camp, Probot also acknowledges the underground punk scene that nurtured Scream and the fledgling Nirvana. "It was really a community of musicians," Grohl explains. "That was the allure: It wasn't corporations and rock stars; it was about musicians doing it for themselves. There were vans and shitty clubs and sleeping bags and piss-stained mattresses. But the music was good, and that kept everybody going."
Finding the right label to release Probot proved challenging. Both major corporations and larger metal indies expressed interest, but Grohl wanted to work with someone who shared his passion. Community once again provided the answer, in the form of Sunn O))) guitarist Greg Anderson's Southern Lord label. Anderson had once played in a band with original Foo Fighters bassist Nate Mendel; Scream vocalist Pete Stahl had gone on to front Anderson's Goatsnake. "Explaining the Probot record to some 42-year-old father of three in a suit, sitting at his fuckin' oak desk on top of a skyscraper, just didn't make sense," Grohl says. "Greg and I grew up listening to the same kind of music, so I didn't have to explain anything to him."
A recent Headbangers Ball appearance by Grohl, Wagner, Wino, Anderson and producer Nick Raskulinecz on MTV2 will likely be the band's sole live appearance; logistics clearly rule out a tour. "It took four years to make the record," Grohl says. "I can't even imagine getting all of these people in the same room! Heavy-metal Wu-Tang Clan!" He also insists that there will never be a sequel: "It wasn't intended to be an album in the first place, and it's turned into something so beautiful that I'd hate to taint it by trying to do it again." Grohl pauses, then adds, "It's the coolest thing I've ever done in my life."
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