Every iconic band has the classic rock ‘n roll archetypes. There is the affable drink-addicted bad boy; the sullen silent musical genius; the goofy, tragically forgettable drummer. Although usually rife with cliché, it becomes easy to label each member of the band according to what character they project to their fans.
Ironically, one of the biggest rock stars of the modern world, [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Dave Grohl[/lastfm] of the [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Foo Fighters[/lastfm], doesn’t fit these studied, prototypical stereotypes of what a musician should be.
Grohl is a brilliant, passionate musician but he is also a self-organized business man. He is a carefree, devil-may-care rock star but he is also a loving father. Howling out choruses with a kind of baritone-level rage befitting a wild, angry animal, you could imagine that Grohl is a prime-candidate for anger management. On the flip-side, Dave Grohl is probably one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.
Joining L.A. radio hosts Kevin & Bean in the studio with Oscar-winning director James Moll, Grohl discussed the band’s 3-D documentary and live musical experience, Foo Fighters: Back And Forth, which was in theaters for one night only.
Grohl also elaborated on going back to his garage rock roots while recording the impenetrable rock monster that is Wasting Light, which mysterious member of his past may have trash-talked him in the documentary, and finally divulged some information–after more than a decade of near silence–about [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Nirvana[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Kurt Cobain[/lastfm].
When I walked into Studio R to watch the interview, Grohl immediately greeted me in his warm-hearted way that sets everyone in the room at ease.
Wearing a plaid shirt with rolled up sleeves, Grohl has looked the same for the last sixteen years. Despite the rock star status ever equated with hard-living, Grohl has barely aged. This is no doubt partly because of his laid-back, humble attitude towards life. The rest of it is pure luck, something Grohl seems to have a well-deserved multitude of.
For Grohl, musical success has nothing to do with money or the misleading façade of fame; Success has to do with pure, unadulterated passion for the craft.
[pullquote quote=”You make Nazi movies? You’d be perfect for this Foo Fighters thing! You should meet Dave!”]”You know, I’ve never been one for costumes and smoke and mirrors. I like it when bands seems like people…You could be [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]David Bowie [/lastfm]with face paint or you could be [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Neil Young[/lastfm] with a flannel shirt. As long as the music is good, I don’t buy into any of the rock ‘n roll mystery stuff. I guess it’s fun to read those sort of biographies but for me I just want to see a band jam. And if that guy is pumping my gas on Friday afternoon, that’s all good. I’m cool with that.”
This could easily explain why Grohl made such a shockingly disparate artistic choice for the Foo Fighters documentary director. Oscar and Emmy-award winning director, James Moll, is not known for his light, superficially entertaining film fare.
While incredibly talent, Moll says his background is “in historical documentaries” and that he “got a call from a producer–Nigel Sinclair from Spitfire Pictures. He had seen a film I made about the daughter of a Nazi perpetrator. Really heavy, heavy subject. He said, ‘Well, what do you want to do next?’ I said, ‘Something completely different.’ He said, ‘You like the Foo Fighters?‘”
Grohl quipped that “that’s how the big deals are made right there: ‘Really? You make Nazi movies? You’d be perfect for this Foo Fighters thing! You should meet Dave!'”
In the end, talent recognizes talent regardless of the forum and Grohl explained the process of wanting to create a documentary and eventually signing Moll on for the job.
“We got a big list. We started thinking about it like maybe a year and a half ago and I thought It was finally time to do a history of the band documentary because I don’t know if anyone has seen that Tom Petty movie? Did you see the [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Tom Petty[/lastfm] documetary? It was four hours long. It was amazing. It was awesome. Thirty years long.”
“And I thought, ‘Maybe we should do it now before we wind up with the ‘Ben Hur’ of rock documentaries. We should probably try to get it finished now…So they gave us a list of directors and then I got the call like, ‘You should come meet this guy James.’ I’m like, ‘What’s he done?’ ‘Oh, just a bunch of Nazi movies.'”
[pullquote quote=”You know, you can’t really write documentaries. They sort of write themselves.”]”The cool thing about it was that rather than go get someone who would have made a really formulaic sort of behind the music type of thing…It was funny because at the meeting I remember saying, ‘OK. Here’s the deal: This is what we’ve done and we’re making the next record in my garage with analog tape and the movie should be like this.’ And James was like, ‘You know, you can’t really write documentaries. They sort of write themselves.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, OK.’ But it made sense.”
“I said to James before, ‘You know, I don’t tell Sony how to make flat screens. They don’t tell me how to make rock records.’ So I won’t tell James how to make movies.”
It seems like it could be difficult dealing with a band in the recording process of what could be their next great album, but Moll stated sincerely that “all the way through the process, they let me do my thing” and called the Foo Fighters consummate professionals despite the presence of a camera.
“Well, these guys are pros. I’m sure they were always aware of the camera. I mean, I dunno. You’ll have to ask Dave. From our perspective, in my very first meeting with the band, I said ‘I need two things from you guys. One: You need to wear microphones. I need to be able to hear what you are saying. Nobody wants to wear a microphone. But second is–ignore me. Let me be a fly on the wall, don’t play to the cameras. Just do whatever you would do. And eventually I felt kind of ignored.”
“Every now and then, someone would say, ‘Is that going to be in the movie?'”
While the documentary was focused around the Foo Fighters recording Wasting Light in Grohl’s garage, there was also an extensive amount of musical history in the movie. Inevitably, some of the topics made the band members uncomfortable, but Grohl told them that no matter how they felt, they couldn’t have any “mulligans,” or take backs. [pullquote quote=”Everything sort of started coming full circle maybe about a year ago where I thought, ‘OK. First of all, I want to do something that we’ve never done before.'” credit=”Dave Grohl”]
[pullquote quote=”It starts twenty years ago. It starts with Butch and I making ‘Nevermind’ back in 1991.”]“It starts twenty years ago. It starts with Butch and I making ‘Nevermind’ back in 1991. Butch Vig, the producer, he produced ‘Nevermind’ and he also produced the new Foo Fighters record, ‘Wasting Light,’ and we haven’t made an album together in twenty years, so it was actually quite a big part of the movie that we got back together. And the fact that we did it in my garage. We didn’t go to a big studio.”
“I pulled my minivan out of the garage and put the drums in there. We used tape, we didn’t use any computers. So there were a lot of stories in there, I think.”
“When James was first finished with it, he said: ‘OK, you gotta come see the cut. Do you wanna come by yourself or the whole band?’ I said, ‘No, no, no. Let me come by myself.’ Because I didn’t want it to break up the band because we did all of our interviews separately. The only people interviewed in the movie are the people in the band. Or the people that have been in the band. It was like ‘Usual Suspects.'”
“Everybody has their uncomfortable moment…I came to rehearsal the next day and said, ‘You guys. I saw the movie.’ And they said, ‘Ahh! How was it?’ I said, ‘It’s great, but I just want you guys to know that everyone is going to wanna change something, but don’t change anything.'”
“Nate wanted the golf rule. What is it? The mulligan or whatever? ‘Can we just get one?’ I said, ‘No. No do over. Let’s try to keep it.'”
One of the most monumental, driving plot points of the documentary is the fact that for the first time in years, Grohl and some of the other members of the Foo Fighters actually opened up to Moll about the goings on in Nirvana. Moll tells the story of how the issue came up, “Starting back with the Nirvana days, I mean that was a question mark because people were saying to me, ‘Whoa. You’re going to interview Dave Grohl? Is he going to talk about Kurt Cobain? Is he going to talk about Nirvana?’ In the end, nothing was off limits.”
Curious, Kevin & Bean told Grohl:
“That does make this momentous, because Dave, you have been, and we’ve discussed this on and off the air in the past, you’ve been notoriously silent on most of the history of Nirvana. You’ve kept it very, very private. I mean, you’ve not spoken much about it.”
“This is kind of breakthrough in terms of fans being able to get the first person perspective on what it was like.”
Still slightly evasive, Grohl answered, explaining why the Foo Fighters thought now as a good time to talk about Nirvana and Cobain:
“We talk about it a bunch in the beginning of the film. Pat too. You know, Pat Smear, our guitarist. He talks a lot about stuff too. You know, it was one of those things where I never really opened up about any of it and sitting down with James, he just somehow pulled it out of all of us. “
“Everything sort of started coming full circle maybe about a year ago where I thought, ‘OK. First of all, I want to do something that we’ve never done before.’ This is the Foo’s 7th record. I don’t want to just go into another big studio and use all the newest gear and make a new t-shirt and go on tour. Whatever. It just seems so boring.”
“So you try to create an experience that will make it more than just a record, you know? And them more that you surround yourself with that kind of experience, the better the album becomes.”[pullquote quote=”I’m a ruthless prick when it comes to working. Get out of my way!”]
“Or the album becomes that experience and so, I thought, ‘Well, if we get Butch and we do it in the garage. We do it to tape and we surround ourselves with our history. and all these things that are real–my children are running around my feet the whole time we’re recording–and Krist Novoselic came down and played on the record. So the whole thing, it really became a life experience.”
Despite his kindly, good-hearted demeanor, watching the documentary made Grohl face some of his demons, mostly in the form of the way he went about making past decisions in the band.
“Honestly, our first drummer William, you know we redid the drums on the second album…I don’t necessarily regret it, no, because the album turned out great. I don’t think we’d be here talking had I not done it, you know? But I do regret the way I went about the whole thing. As a man now, I probably would have dealt with things differently.”
“Now I’ve been a leader of this band for sixteen years, I probably would have done it better. That was probably the hardest thing for me.”
Joking, Grohl elaborated:
“I’m a ruthless prick when it comes to working. Get out of my way!…You know, I think the way it works in the Foo Fighters is that I’m a spazz…So when things start to happen you kind of got to jump on the train quick because if you don’t get on it, you’re just going to be left on the side of the road. And that’s just kind of what happens.”
[pullquote quote=”It’s weird. I honestly don’t feel any different than I did in 1995 or whatever.”]”We have a great relationship, this band. We’re a really functional band. It’s not a dysfunctional band. We each help each other and every person serves their part in the band and they look to me just to sort of steer the thing along.”
“It’s hard to imagine that the last sixteen years have been spent doing this. It’s weird. I honestly don’t feel any different than I did in 1995 or whatever…It was one of the great things about the beginning of the band, ‘Well, they’re going to suck.'”
“They didn’t know that we’d be that good. People were like, ‘Well, they don’t suck that bad.’ So we’re winning right out of the gate!”
The Foo Fighters have always had the reputation of being the big band that doesn’t mind helping out smaller bands. Part of this probably has to do with the fact that none of them really consider themselves rock stars, even going so far as to head back into the garage to record. Grohl elucidated:
“I think there was something cool about being a band that could play in stadiums and headline festivals and be this arena rock band that still goes back to making records in a garage…We don’t have to do anything.”
“I mean, that’s the cool thing about the band. We’re lucky. We never have anyone telling us what to do. We’ve been on my record label for sixteen years…I’m the president of the record label that we record for. It’s ridiculous. It’s maybe a crime.”
Making the record in such a technically antiquated, grassroots way seems a powerful metaphor for Grohl on the state of the music industry and his freedom to do whatever he wants:
“I think after awhile you have this radar where you start playing stuff on a guitar and you think, ‘Oh, that’s kind of cool.’ I don’t even know how to read music, so when I write something…if it’s not worth remembering then I just don’t even care about it.”
“I have a tiny little cassette recorder that if I think something is cool, I’ll put it on that. You know…it’s the same way you would have done it if you were 14-years-old in a garage band.”
[pullquote quote=”Both sides of the brain, dude. Left and right, yo. Whole! Big old brain. Pumping. Stuff!” credit=”Dave Grohl”]“This album is different where we recorded one song at a time. A lot of bands don’t do that. They’ll record all the drums first. And then they’ll put the bass on and then they’ll put the guitar. “
“This one, we wouldn’t move on to the next song until the one we were working on was finished…That was one of the things about using the analog tape was we didn’t have unlimited amounts of tracks”
“It’s twenty-four track tape, so you had twenty-four spaces to fill. Ten of them were drums. Four of them were guitars. Two of them were bass or whatever. And the rest were vocals. That was just all you get.”
“And so, you just had to make sure that what you were going to do made sense. You had to make it count, you know? It was great and I was writing the lyrics to each song as we were recording and after we finished, I listened to it all and said, ‘Oh. I just wrote an album about the making of an album.'”
What was it like for Moll to have such an in-depth view of Grohl’s music writing process and ultimately, his day-to-day activities? Moll said that Grohl is a master at the balancing act of life, effortlessly taking care of many aspects:
“It was interesting to see the process because they would be recording a little bit and say, ‘OK. I’m going to go write some lyrics.’ So, it’s a process. It’s a creative process. I found it rather interesting.”
[pullquote quote=”We’ll do it in the garage and I’m sure it will turn out fine. And it’s amazing. Best record we ever made.”]”It was interesting watching Dave work because on the one hand, you know, he’s like this consummate musician who takes the music very seriously…but he’s also extremely well-organized. He’s got these graphs on the wall and these charts and everything happens right when he says.”
“He’s always got his lap-book open, looking at the calendar and saying, ‘OK. On Wednesday…’ He would text me at like six in the morning saying, ‘OK. Rise and shine!’ Yeah, so it’s a split kind of thing.”Laughing outrageously, Grohl got the whole studio laughing when he replied:
“Both sides of the brain, dude. Left and right, yo. Whole! Big old brain…pumping…stuff!”
One part of it, is that Grohl can do his own thing, essentially running his own record label and making all the major decisions for the Foo Fighters without any pressure from the music business machine.
“We’ve been really lucky for years. The people that we work with have been cool enough to let us do our own thing. The people at the big label just know, ‘OK. They’re going to make a record in the garage? OK. Leave them alone. When they come out, I’m sure it will be a Foo Fighters record and it will be OK. “
“But, I mean, this band has gotten to this point that we never imagined being around this long. We never imagined being as popular as we are and we’re just as shocked as anyone else that we’re a famous rock band, you know? And to me, it was like, ‘OK. Well, there’s a lot of expectation on the band now.’ Then people are like, ‘Oh. You’re the Foo Fighters? Then you must be this great rock band.'”
In the end, despite the haters of the past, the pressure of the present, or continued success in the future, Grohl is just excited to have made the best record of his life.
“And we’ve never felt like the greatest rock band in the world, so to diffuse some of that expectation, I thought, ‘You know, let’s just be cool about it.’ We’ll do it in the garage and I’m sure it will turn out fine. And it’s amazing. Best record we ever made.”