Originally published on March 1, 2000 at Ticketmaster’s LiveDaily.com
At the age of 31, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl has accomplished more than any musician could ever realistically hope to — and he’s done so twice. Grohl’s initial rise to fame occurred while seated behind the drum kit in Nirvana. After recording just one studio album with the band — 1991’s phenomenally successful “Nevermind” — he became a rock star overnight. In those days, he was known as the shaggy-haired skins-basher who flailed wildly behind Kurt Cobain. And while Cobain’s inability to cope with Nirvana’s success resulted in his tragic suicide, Grohl’s path forked in an entirely different direction.
In 1995, Grohl released “Foo Fighters,” an album recorded in six days and on which he sang and played all of the instruments. After completing the project, he formed an actual band and headed out on tour. Despite several personnel changes, the group has gone on to release two more platinum-selling albums: 1997’s “The Colour & the Shape” and last year’s “There Is Nothing Left to Lose.” The current lineup — comprised of Grohl, drummer Taylor Hawkins, bassist Nate Mendel and rhythm guitarist Chris Shifflet — seems solid, and the band is now on tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Riding high on the crest of his second wave of success, Grohl still comes across as an unpretentious, good-humored, down-to-earth guy. He’s someone you can easily picture hanging out with at a house party. Perhaps that’s because Grohl’s life basically IS a house party. After ditching his former digs in Los Angeles — a city he openly admits to hating — Grohl settled in Virginia, built a recording studio in his house and invited Hawkins and Mendel to move in with him (Shifflet joined the group just prior to the current tour). There, the three barbecued, drank beer, listened to a variety of ’70s-era rock and recorded “There Is Nothing Left to Lose.”
Speaking by phone from his Virginia home, Grohl talked about the unexpected success of his Foo Fighters project, his preference for living on the East Coast and why you won’t see him gracing the silver screen anytime soon.
JZ: On your first album, 1995’s “Foo Fighters,” you wrote and performed all the songs yourself. At that point, did you intend to put together a band, make more albums and tour?
Dave Grohl: No, the first record was kind of an experiment. I had been recording stuff on my own for about four or five years before that. I had an 8-track studio in my basement and I would go down there and write and record songs all day long. I’d record the drums first and layer guitars and bass and vocals over it. For years, I’d been building up this mass of songs — maybe 40 or more songs — some good, some of which totally sucked. I would experiment with different styles. I’d say, “Let’s make a heavy metal song,” or “Let’s do a punk rock song,” or “Let’s do an acoustic thing.” In 1994, I decided to go down the street to this really nice 24-track recording studio and record them there on my own. I was gonna release it as a vinyl-only release on my own label, maybe 10,000 or 15,000 copies. I wasn’t going to put my name or picture on it and call it “Foo Fighters” so it sounded like a group of people. I wanted people to grab it, listen to it and judge it solely for its musical content and quality.
Look back at that point in time and then compare it to where Foo Fighters is today. How do you feel about the transformation that has taken place?
It’s kind of surprising. I never expected it to go this long. I never knew it was going to last for five years. After we finished our previous album, I said, “This is gonna be our last record.” We didn’t have any songs written for this record and we weren’t under contract. I thought, “We could stop it now. We don’t have songs. We’re not under any contract. We could just quit. We could retire at 30. That’d be great.”
So your deal with Capitol was just for your first two albums?
No, actually, we had another one that we were supposed to give them, but we had a “key-man” clause in our contract wherein it stated that if the president, Gary Gersh, were to leave, then we were allowed to leave too. He was an old friend of ours. He actually signed Nirvana to Geffen. So he split and we thought, “Fuck, let’s go. Come on. Let’s get outta here.” Anything you can do to get out of contract, you should do it. So we got out of that contract and built a studio in my house and made a record. Then, once we finished the record, we started negotiating with labels. Now we’ve signed a two-record deal, so we have to make one more record, and I think that’s definitely going to be our last record … or this is going to be our last record … or the next one will be our last record [laughter]. It just kind of keeps going. Someone reminded me recently that, in an interview I did three years ago, the interviewer asked how long this band would last, and I said, “I think I’ll stop doing this when I’m 33.” I just pulled that number out of my ass. And now, shit, that’s two years away, man! I don’t want to go back on my word, so I guess the day I turn 33, we’ll stop being a band.
So you’re going to stick to that?
Who knows? No, because I’ll probably sign some other contract for more money and get stuck in it till I’m 50.
I assume you’ll just keep doing it for as long as you’re having fun with it.
Exactly. We’re definitely having fun.
That’s so obvious from watching your videos. They’re a riot. Have you given any thought to acting in films?
I just got asked to be in a movie with Mark Wahlberg. They wanted me to be a truck driver. Fuck that! I think that rock people who wind up in movies are fucking jerks. The last thing in the world I want to see in a movie is some rock guy. Like Jon Bon Jovi? I don’t want to see him in a movie. It’ll ruin it for me. He’s Jon Bon Jovi! He’s not anybody else. If I go to see a movie, I want to sit down and lose myself in a film. If Mick Jagger walks through the scene, it’s gonna ruin it for me. As a musician, you spend your life trying to establish yourself as an individual. That’s what being a musician is all about. You’re growing as an individual, musically. Actors and actresses spend their lives being other people. What the fuck is that? So fuck that. I don’t want to be in a film. I’m rich enough. I don’t need to act in any movies.
This seems like a natural point at which to discuss your distaste for L.A.
Yeah, I hate it. That’s why I live in Virginia now. There’s just something about the East Coast. It’s been here for a while. People are used to it and are comfortable with being human beings. That’s just the way it is. Everybody that I know here and everybody that I bump into everyday seem like good fucking American human beings to me — whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. In Los Angeles, it’s so fucking superficial and people are so concerned with everything on the outside. I had some great friends there and I had a lot of fun there, but do I want to live there? No. Do I want to consider that my home? No. Do I want to be “from” Los Angeles? Fuck no! Everyone who lives in Los Angeles is like, “God, I fucking hate it. I can’t wait to get out.” Well go! Jesus Christ. If I did anything other than being a musician, I probably wouldn’t have as much trouble there, but being in Los Angeles and seeing its seedy influence infiltrate the soul of rock music makes me sick because I hate the “Los Angeles rock scene” per se. I just hate it!
You’re not that “hang at the Rainbow” guy?
Fuck no! That’s so gauche. When I first moved down there in the beginning of 1997, this friend of mine worked at the Viper Room. I’d go to the Viper Room and get fucked up almost every night. I went through this raging tequila phase for about two months. For those two months, it was great. I had a blast. It’s where I discovered the comedy group Tenacious D, met a lot of really nice people and made a lot of very cool friends. But after that, I just said, “Ugghhh.” It’s like waking up from a really nasty hangover when you’ve got someone or something all over you and you just want to take a shower and fucking run home, you know?
In addition to playing guitar and singing, you played five of the drum tracks on “There Is Nothing Left to Lose.” What instrument do you enjoy playing the most?
I feel most confident playing the drums. Next to that, I like playing guitar because it’s portable and relaxing. And I fucking hate singing.
Why are you doing it?
‘Cause I get paid [laughter]. No, I don’t know. It was supposed to be this great challenge at first, and it’s still very challenging. I just don’t like the sound of my own voice. I don’t know many people that do like the sound of their own voice.
You guys have a great vocal sound and melodies.
Well, the important thing is to find an interesting melody line. I think that as long as the hook is there, then people will forget that the sound of your voice is like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Taylor’s been singing a song or two in concert during this tour, right?
Yeah. Dude, I think what should happen for the next record is that Taylor should be the singer of the Foo Fighters and I should be the drummer. Then I can drop out of the band and Nate, Taylor, Chris and some other drummer can continue being the Foo Fighters. Then I can go see the band play — and still get a percentage of ticket sales and T-shirt prices. [laughter]
Is [guitarist] Chris Shifflet a full-fledged Foo Fighter now?
Yes, he is. We’ve been recording all week. We did a new, beautiful ’70s cover. “Lonely Boy” by Andrew Gold. It’s good.
I’ve noticed you’re into the ’70s vibe.
Well, dude, c’mon. How old are you?
Well, you know the ’70s vibe. It was fun. I love the AM ’70s soft rock. That’s what I grew up listening to driving around in my mom’s Ford Maverick with her on her way to yoga class playing Phoebe Snow or something like that. We’re working on our stage costumes right now. It’s going to be a full Bruce Springsteen ’70s vibe. I’m telling you, it really is. You just wait. You’re in for a surprise.