I worked as a section editor on Melody Maker between 1996-99 and continued as a freelance feature writer until 2000. I wrote countless articles, but I was particularly proud of this cover feature, not least because it was the last-ever inkie cover of the title before it turned into a glossy magazine. This interview with Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters was first published in Melody Maker, 23 October 1999.
IT’S a sparkly autumnal London morning. In a back road off Oxford Street, a band are huddled in a radio production company recording an interview which explains what they’ve been doing since their last sighting on these shores at Reading 98. Said interview will be dispatched as a ready-made package to a squillion local radio stations the length and breadth of the country.
“Hi, this is David Eric Grohl from Foo Fighters,” says David Eric Grohl from Foo Fighters before adding the name of a local radio DJ and the station on which their show appears. This process continues for an age. Each time a different station, each time a different DJ.
“What’s this? Lie-sess-ter Sound?” asks David.
“Less-ter,” helps the interviewer.
“Less-ter? OK. . . Hello, this is Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters, you are listening to Lie-cess. . . shit. Hi, this is Dave. . .”
And so it goes on.
DAVID Eric Grohl was, in a previous life, the drummer in a fairly successful band. They stopped being a fairly successful band on April 8, 1994. Don’t mention it seems to be the go. Too close to the knuckle. Tip-toe around it is best plan.
We’re certainly not going to mention it. Dave Grohl is, in no way, going to mention it. Not when there’s money on it. Namely, a shiny pound coin from yer Maker, one from Dave, one from their tour manager, Gus, and one each from drummer Taylor Hawkins and new guitarist Chris Shiflett. It would have been six pounds, but basser, Nate Mendel is poorly.
So that’s five pounds for the person whose guess is nearest to the total number of times interviewers mention that previously fairly successful band during today’s umpteen radio interviews to let the UK know that the Foo Fighters are back.
And are they ever. After a year out, Foo Fighters are <i>back<i> with a new single, the fizzy swoop of “Learn To Fly”. In November they’ll be <i>back<i> with album of the year contender “There Is Nothing Left To Lose”. In late November they’ll be <i>back<i> to play a handful of live shows. Back. Back. Back.
OUR first port today is Radio 1 for a pre-recorded record-playing session to be aired the following night on Mary-Ann Hobbs’ rock show, then Dave goes it alone for a live interview on Jo Whiley’s lunchtime show.
Radio 1 is nothing like you’d imagine. You get an idea as to how far below the streets you are when the floors shake every time a tube train passes underneath. Once in the lounge, from which you can peer into the studios coo-eee Mr Mayo, – Dave Grohl paces about like a caged lion.
“I woke up this morning with so much energy,” he explains. “The first thing I did was to lie in the dark, smoke a cigarette and listen to Motorhead on my walkman.”
The whole time he’s talking, he’s fidgeting, illustrating his story by drumming out a rhythm on his legs, singing lines from Motorhead songs. His eyes are everywhere. Nobody moves without him clocking them. Nothing happens without him noticing. Surely having to sit still for an hour should put a lid on things.
After an hour of chat and playing records with Mary Ann Hobbs – herself no stranger to boundless energy and enthusiasm – Dave is still in full bounce.
“That’s once,” he grins after the first show of the day is over. “She only mentioned them once, man.”
Bet up and running, then.
With barely a second to catch breath, Dave has flopped into Jo Whiley’s studio.
“Stop staring at me like that,” she laughs on air.
“Like what?” asks Grohl leaning across the desk, bugging his eyes out. “Are you going to play another song from the album?”
“We’ll play something another time,” she laughs.
“Go on then, play some Whitney Houston crap instead,” beams Grohl knowingly. Having already played the single and used up her free play with album track, “Breakout”, from here on in, it’s playlist only. Although, to be fair, the whole album would’ve got an airing if she’d had her way.
“Oh I know,” she admits off-air. “It’s so frustrating.”
But not nearly as frustrating as trying to tell Grohl what to do. His new label, RCA, insist that he can’t announce the forthcoming tour dates. Moments after he is on air, he’s announced them. Spends the rest of the day announcing them in fact.
MUCH has happened in the Foo Fighters’ camp in the year they’ve been away. Dave’s left LA to move back home to Virginia. The Foos have built a recording studio in his basement. They’ve jumped labels. As a three-piece, they’ve recorded the new album. In the new studio, natch. And to top it all they’ve recruited a new guitarist.
In a nutshell, that’s everything everyone wants to know today. In a nutshell, the above is what they’re told in a myriad of different ways. Don’t they get sick of answering the same questions over and over and over again?
“The funny thing is,” begins Dave, “once you’ve done a few interviews, you kinda know which questions are going to be asked. We’ve learnt to answer the first question by also answering the next eight. You can see people crossing them off as you’re talking!”
RADIO 1 duties done for the time being, and it’s off for lunch. A delightful Italian eatery in which, famously, Radio 2 jock Johnny Walker was collared by News Of the World for, erm, having a bit of a runny nose. “Johnny Who?” asks Dave as the smell of pizza, pasta and garlic bread fill the air. This is not food to sniff at we explain. Ahem.
Next stop, XFM. Despite the fact we have a car to ferry us around, Dave is still bursting with energy.
“I wanna walk” he says. “Can we walk?”
We can. Up towards Oxford Street, across, down through Carnaby Street and into Golden Square, left along Piccadilly and into Leicester (Less-ter, Dave, Less-ter) Square.
“You know what?” he says as we cut through the London bustle, “Before I decided to get a house and build a studio, I almost bought a farm. Then I realised I don’t even have time to comb my hair let alone farm anything. I figured I could grow something that wouldn’t take up too much of my time. Maybe Christmas trees. All I’d need to do was cut them down each December and sit by a road selling them.”
AT XFM, Dave sees the video for “Learn To Fly” for the first time (“The music at the beginning is supposed to be lounge version of ‘Everlong’. It wasn’t, was it? We’ll have to get that changed.”). As is traditional with Foos videos, it’s laughing out loud funny. Won’t spoil it for you, but you do get to see what Dave looks like as a girl. And a fat person. And who is that convincing mincing air steward? Like we said, wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.
There’s two jobs to do here. First, Paul Anderson is recording an interview for a Foos weekend (at time of press, broadcast date was unconfirmed). During the interview Dave explains why the new Foos stuff feels so natural, so full of life.
“We didn’t have anyone else involved, just us, this basement and some old recording gear,” he tells Paul. “It was nice to be a band for the sake of being a band. I’m sure a lot of people feel restrained or tied to contracts. We had a clause in ours which said if the president of the label left, we were free to go as well. He went, so we went. After that, we could have done anything, we could’ve called it a day, broken up. It was a challenge because we really wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do all of this on our own. That’s why we called the record ‘There Is Nothing Left To Lose’.”
At one point, he talks about the new single: “‘Learn To Fly’ was one of the first songs we recorded, lyrically it just has to do with starting over, a new beginning. The song has to do with this search for inspiration, something that will make you feel alive, looking for a break for this new life.”
He pauses. For a moment, you get the feeling he can’t actually express exactly what he means. And that is the Foos to a T. They write songs which touch you in a way that we all understand without it being spoken. The new album especially is full of songs like that.
“Did that make sense?” asks Grohl, glancing in our direction, wrestling with his explanation. “It wasn’t actual horse shit was it? It <i>was<i> horse shit wasn’t it?”
It wasn’t. But we know what he means.
WITH the mentions-of-his-previous-band-o-meter remaining firmly at one, it’s high-time <i>someone<i> mentioned it. Thing is, the rules state Dave can’t mention them himself. Not directly anyways. Drastic measures are needed.
If the XFM interview were held in a courtroom, our brief would have been up and down like a yo-yo. Watch. . .
“I grew up in Virginia,” Dave tells Paul. “I never really intended to move to Seattle, I just kind of wound up there. . .”
“Objection your honour! Leading the witness.”
“I stayed inSeattlefor six years, then moved back to LA. . .”
“That’s the thing about bands from Seattle. . .”
“My previous band. . .”
Next, Dave is live on Robin Bank’s drivetime show. For those who are out of XFM earshot, Robin Banks is your indie Chris Moyles. Something you’d probably gleaned from his hilarious name. Neither party is quite going to realise what’s hit them over the next 15 minutes. . .
First, much to Dave’s bemusement, Robin tells a story about how his ex-girlfriend fell asleep to the Foos’ debut album, Dave explains how he was tricked into snogging Brian Molko (What, you mean there’s another way? Ed.) before talk turns to Dave and what he does in his time off. What does he do? Goes skeet shooting. Like you do. “That’s rock and roll,” blearts Banks. “It’s actually not,” replies Grohl. His quips continue to fall like lead weights. Drugs. Nope. Ozzy. Nope. Girlfriends. Not a bite. Time to move on. Swiftly. “Would you mind if I played you latest song?” chirups Banks.
“Sure,” smiles Dave. “Actually, no. You know what? Don’t play it. It’d do the record good so you might as well leave it off.”
BACK at Radio 1, two interviews to go; a news piece and another pre-record. Bizarrely, the news interview travels right around the houses in order to talk about a box-set which Dave’s previous band will have out in the new year. Bizarre if only for the fact that their name is never mentioned. Curse you Danny O’Conner.
Despite Grohl’s admirable efforts, there’s only been one mention of his previous band. <i>One<i>. And with Dave himself holding claim to a mere three mentions, his guess is closest. Time to wheel out our secret weapon.
All the Maker needs is a piffly five more mentions and it’s show us the money time. This has got to be a cert. . .
“We’re talking to Dave Grohl of the Foos about what is possibly one of the best modern rock records of the late Nineties,” begins Steve Lamacq. Come on my son.
“Hi. You put me off with that,” laughs Dave. “I’m all a blush.”
“Has it been a learning curve for you since the end of Nirvana?”
KER-CHING. Barely 30 seconds in and the mention-o-meter stands at two. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. And then not ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Scuppered with not another flippin’ mention all interview. Sheesh.
With the fiver firmly tucked in the pocket of Grohl, guess it proves a point. Guess it proves the Foos are finally a band in their own right. Guess it proves they can now hold their own without riding on the coat-tails of, oh, what was their name again? Guess it proves they’re well on their way to being one of the greatest rock bands of the Nineties. You think not? Grohl <i>was<i> in one of the greatest rock bands of the Nineties and today, nobody wants to talk about them. Yet it’s not out of respect and it’s not because it’s a no-go. It’s because Foo Fighters have finally arrived. Proof? Thank you.
YOU’D think, that after a day like that, the only thing on your mind would be an early night. Especially seeing as more interviews are scheduled for the morning before the band catch a flight to Australia in order to do it all again.
You’d think wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.
This is The Water Rats in London’s King’s Cross. We’re here, oh Jesus, to see a band called Spirit Caravan. Of all the places, one of Grohl’s favourite bands from back home happens to be playing tonight. Such is Dave’s admiration for their blend of low-down dirty rock riffing, the Foos have, fact fans, covered one of their songs.
And does Dave Grohl stand at the bar throughout the set? Does he heck. Right down the front. Which is exactly where the Foos are in the grand rock scheme of things. And not before time.