This interview took place on the same day as a bunch of other Radio One interviews.
STEVE LAMACQ It's 'Headwires' and it's from the new Foo Fighters album 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose. We're talking to Dave about what I think is possibly the best modern rock record of the late nineties. Hello
DAVE GROHL Hi.
SL You've raised an eyebrow.
DG Sorry. You threw me off with that.(laughs)
SL Feel free to squirm.
DG I'm all a blush.
SL So I was going to start by asking has it been a learning curve? We'll talk about the new Foo Fighters record in a second, but has it been a learning curve since the end of Nirvana?
DG Well the first Foo Fighters record was kind of a fluke, it was something that I'd recorded down the street from my house. The original idea was to start my own label and release that with no name and no photo, call it 'Foo Fighters' so people would think it was a group of people and distribute them independently and see what would happen. So the second album 'The Colour And The Shape' was really the first album for the band, and it was the first time we'd gone into the studio and worked with a producer. So with this record we really took everything into our own hands and thought 'Ok, of everything we've learnt over the past four years we can probably make an album of our own'. Nate, Taylor and I could go and build a studio, something we didn't know how to do, and go in and write and arrange and produce these songs on our own with the help of our friend Adam Kasper.
So yeah. We've learnt a lot about melody, arrangement, production - where it's needed and where it's not, and where to establish some kind of perimeter - OK, we don't wanna go there, we wanna stay inside this boundary. So yeah. It's probably a result of the last four years of playing and being with each other.
SL You make it sound almost, like each album is a debut album.
DG Well actually we didn't have that much stuff prepared for this record before we went into the studio. One of the great advantages of having your own studio is that you can spend all the time in the world.
SL Isn't that a bit dangerous?
DG Yeah it is. I think everyone was expecting us to come out with some really insane 'White Album' or something like that. But we were also without a label so we weren't obligated to do anything, we had no deadline, we could spend as much time as we wanted. 'Hey you want to sing a vocal at four in the morning, let's do it'. So we wrote pretty much the whole album while we were in the studio, there were a couple that were almost ready before we went in but maybe only two. So it could be dangerous yeah. One of the most dangerous things about it is if you have no ideas and book yourself into a real studio you're gonna spend three million dollars making a record.
DG Exactly, but for us it was nothing because we got really old equipment and it worked.
SL You get to album three now, and in a way when you first listen to it through, in a pretty deft way, seems like an amalgamation of someone's record collection. It's got elements of new wave, punk, of nineties alternative rock.
DG All of us have a wide range of musical taste. I love everything from Roni Size to Foghat to Peter Frampton to Bad Brains to Queen. And Nate loves Built To Spill or Earth Wind And Fire or whatever, and Taylor loves Yes and early Genesis and the Police. So we didn't have anyone in there to tell us what we were doing was weird.(laughs) We thought it sounded perfectly natural and we were recording this album to make ourselves happy...
SL It sounds like it.
DG ...and at the time there was no-one else to make happy, no-one else shoving expectations in our face. And we did it one song at a time, so after each song we'd think 'What the hell was that?' and do another and think 'What was that?'. We had no intention to go in and make an album that was less rock or more mellow and acoustic or 'hey I'll sing more and stop screaming'. It was song by song and it was interesting that so many elements came out in it, like 'Headwires' the drum part is a Stewart Coupland drum track, or a song like 'Ain't It The Life' sounds like the Eagles or something (laughs) and I hate the Eagles. Or 'Stacked Actors' people were saying 'That sounds like the Zombies' things were coming in from all sides. The best thing about it was that it was so much fun to make and it's so much fun to play and at the end of the day I think that's most important.
SL So if you listen to it again, next time we play 'Headwires' it is 'Message In A Bottle' speeded up before it changes into a Foo Fighters song.
DG (laughs) That's pretty close. But the guitar sound is total 'Tattoo You' Rolling Stones 1982 or whatever.
SL There's two sides to this record there's the contemplative side and the slightly crazed, mad angry one.
DG I think had I lived in Los Angeles and we'd gone into a studio there, it would of turned out differently. But moving back to Virginia represented this search for something real, or the truth. Moving back to a place I'd never intended to leave, having ended up in Seattle because services were needed, I'm back to somewhere I'm so comfortable and that feels so real to me. So a lot of the album has to do with that and the love and search for truth. On the other had I came from a place like Los Angeles, that made me disgusted with celebrity and fame and what that has done to music, and how the focus has shifted from music to the superhero that makes it, or how the focus has shifted to the beautiful, glamorous cover star, and how people are more concerned with that than music.
SL Well do some of the tracks track by tack. So 'Stacked Actors' that's pretty self explanatory with what you were just saying about Hollywood and stuff.
DG That's that.
SL Then 'Breakout' with it's great line 'I may be frayed around the ends' so that thing is still there....
DG See, I'm always this close to losing my mind anyway. I'm a nervous wreck.(laughs) That's me ladies and gentlemen. Hi how you doing?
SL Then the single which everybody knows, then 'Gimmie Stitches' which has a guitar part that sounds like 'Life's Been Good' by Joe Walsh.
DG To me it was 'Slow Ride' by Foghat. But thank you.
SL Then after that we go into vocoder territory with 'Generator'.
DG Actually it's a talkbox, it's this thing where there is a speaker in this metal box, a tube comes out the top of the box and through the tube comes a sound, you stick the tube in your mouth and the guitar sound comes through it. It looks disgusting, there's spit everywhere, it's gross. It looks like you're being fed!
SL It makes you wonder how someone invented that. 'I know I'll get a tube and stick it in a box and put it in my mouth'.
DG (laughs) Exactly.
SL This is 'Generator' from the new Foo Fighters album and there'll be more with Dave right after this.
SL Coming back to a point you made earlier about how rock stars are almost becoming bigger rock stars now. We went through a phase of the anti-hero rock star and now we have the rock star - rock star emerging.
DG Well y'know what? It's happened so many times in the last four or five years that someone will come out with a new record and say 'I am here to save rock'n'roll' but there's never any music to back it up. I'll tell you what, If I ever say that I'm coming to save rock'n'roll, I give you license to take a bayonet and chop my head off, watch it roll on the floor and then kick it into the sewer.
DG But I think people really aspire to be rock stars now.
SL So where do you fit in?
DG We don't. I don't care. I don't know. Probably nowhere. We just make records in my basement. (laughs) We're in the ideal position that it doesn't even matter what people think just as long as we make a record that we can be proud of. I am more proud of this record than anything I've ever done in my life because nobody helped.
SL The next track on the record is the nearest thing to a heartache song on the record, 'Aurora'
DG 'Aurora' was written at a weird time, my grandmother had just died and I was just questioning life. I was just in this profound place where everything seemed silly, everything just seemed kinda small and petty. And at the same time I was kinda nostalgic for Seattle, and I'd lived right off of this street called Aurora avenue. So that song was really deep. I remember as we were recording it I had no idea what I was going to sing, it was an instrumental' So I was thinking 'God how am I going to put vocals on this thing, it's six minutes long, and the arrangements really weird'. So I came up with this vocal pattern and then wrote some lyrics and Adam came down and said 'you wanna try it?'. So we thought we'd just do one pass through and I had to stop myself from crying as I was singing it and then when as we listened to it back I was really choked up. I just kept thinking 'How am I gonna do this in front of Adam without just crying? I'm gonna feel like such an idiot if he sees me breakdown in front of him' but we got it.
SL From there we get to 'Live In Skin'. That's a moving forward record.
DG That's kinda funny because it was written in between the time we had finished the album , and mixing the album. I came into the mixing studio saying 'Hey let's record one more song' so we did. It kinda sums up the whole record in one song in a way. Just because it has to do with this change we've been through, in the chorus it says 'I'm amounted' because after going through this whole recording process and feeling so proud that you've finally amounted to something then going and talking to the industry about releasing it, all of a sudden you're amounted and you've got this price tag on your head. Turning the inside to the outside, Trying to find the truth in every human being. I like that song a lot.
SL It moves from there to 'Next Year', 'Headwires', 'Ain't It The Life' and finally 'M.I.A' which is a terrific way to finish the record.
DG In the original sequence it wasn't toward the end but everyone was like 'Make that the end'. One of the things that's cool about the record is it starts with 'Stacked Actors' and it's like you flip a switch on and at the end of the record it just stops! It's like you turn it on and you turn it off. So I like that. But 'M.I.A' is a good example of me and how so often I'll just say 'You know what? I'm outta here, I'll be back whenever. And please don't call'.
SL So that's the new Foo Fighters record in a nutshell. What do you do next? Is it promotion?
DG We're going to Australia for some shows. We're coming here to do shows in the middle to end of November.
SL Good, looking forward to seeing you play live, it's been a while.
DG Last time we were here was Reading '98. That's the longest break we've had in our lives. We have a new guitar player too, Chris Shifflet.
SL Of course.
DG He's awesome. He's perfectly great.
SL Reading was when you were saying 'I'm going now, bye'. That was a don't call moment.
DG (laughs) Exactly.
SL 'I'm going away for a year' 'but surely you wanna do some shows?' 'I'm going away! You're not listening'.
DG I JUST WANNA GET SOME SLEEP!
SL I think that was virtually what you said at the time.
SL Dave Grohl, thanks for coming in.
DG Thanks man.
SL Doing rock music with dignity, this is from the new album, it's 'Aurora'.