Foo Fighters are a busy bunch. Recently in Australia to play a surprise gig at Geelong’s Kardinia Park, the band also snuck in some promotion for their rock mockumentary 666.
Here, singer Dave Grohl talks facing death in the face, and tries to take the shirt off the back of Cream editor, Antonino Tati.
Please note: This article was published two weeks before the passing of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, may he rest in peace.
The time I get to interview Foo Fighters, they’re having a bit of a green day. Not as in that other rock band. But quite literally. Frontman Dave Grohl is wearing vibrant green baseball socks, and bassist Nate Mendel is donning what can only be described as ‘frog green’ sneakers. On the subject of freaky little critters, I myself am wearing a t-shirt that pays tribute to Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction album artwork – except the Gunners’ skulls have been replaced with illustrations of Freddo the Frog, Smurfette, Garfield and other cartoon icons. Dave says he really likes my t-shirt. I tell him he can’t have it.
To add insult to injury, when the king of grunge leaves the room, I nick the cigarette butt he’s left behind in an ashtray, along with his empty bottle of Santa Vittoria mineral water, and end up selling these on eBay as a combined collectible for two hundred bucks. In retrospect I regret it. Not the stealing of the booty. The selling of it. It’d be worth a greater amount already, I’m sure. Still, I’m glad the dude who bought them from me had faith in the story of who they were once consumed by.
But back to the rock stars themselves. Foo Fighters are big in that rock-outfit-as-massive-satellite kind of way. Few have made it so big and stayed there – maybe the Rolling Stones, Muse and Coldplay. The rest are, like, pretty much lost in cyberspace.
“When people are literally staring at death and ask for your music, it becomes pretty apparent that you’re reaching them on an emotional level. So I guess we’re doing a good thing.”
Dave Grohl is telling me how he used to make music as a kid, in a pseudo multi-track kind of way. He once made a cassette recording about his dog, appropriately called Bitch. First he’d record himself banging on some drums, then he’d play that back and dub it, this time with erratic guitar playing over the top. Then he’d play both those tracks back and record them with his vocals layered on top. I’m surprised he didn’t go a fourth round and get his dog to provide backing yelps.
Anyway, eventually Dave got out of the backyard and into a punk rock band called Scream. And then he found Nirvana, literally. The rest, as they say, is history.
While maintaining a powerful yet beautifully melodic style, Foo Fighters have always managed to take rock to the next level and, no, we’re not talking turning electro – although the temptation might have been there. Dave says he likes hearing his band’s sound evolve, but that “with each album we try to make things more direct, more powerful, or more beautiful, more delicate, or simply just louder”.
The keyword here, kids, is “more”. Although a near-deaf mute could identify a Foo Fighters riff on a dodgy polyphonic ringtone, this isn’t to say the guys haven’t evolved as a band. What started off as a fun experiment has turned into an outlet for emotional constipation, and fans can’t get enough of the shit. (Mind you, I’ve put that word in simply as a pun; Foo Fighters’ music is actually frigging brilliant).
Dave Grohl admits that with earlier records, “I’d play puzzles, like, I’d write in these little jigsaws and would try to make it as complicated to understand as possible”. He puzzlingly adds that with the band’s latter-day music he tries “to do the opposite.”
During our brief interview, I can’t help reverting to the Foos’ back catalogue, pinpointing one song in particular. On one of their albums, Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace, there is an instrumental called Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners which was a tribute to the two Australian miners trapped below ground in 2006 who requested, of all things, to hear “anything from the Foo Fighters” to keep them sane.
Says Dave, “When people are literally staring at death and ask for your music, it becomes pretty apparent that you’re reaching them on an emotional level. So I guess we’re doing a good thing, making music, because sometimes it can help people out.”
Well, no one has accused them of ever being too philosophical.
While Foo Fighters remain a tight-knit collective, it’s difficult to ignore Dave Grohl as its leading force. Throughout his career in music, he’s played the part of drummer, guitarist, singer, lyricist, producer and filmmaker. Still, when asked if he was multitalented as a child, he responds simply with an “Uhm . . . no”.
Great, now we can add ‘humble dude’ to that list.
This article was originally published in the music interview anthology ‘There’s Your Quote, Mate’ by Antonino Tati.