Nate Mendel says there was a little relief in the Foo Fighters camp at the Grammy Awards ceremony earlier this month. “Well, we won, so that was good,” the bassist says of carting home trophies for Best Rock Album and Best Hard Rock Performance and performing with an orchestra conducted by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. “We didn’t get doughnuts, like we got last time (2006), which was zero for five.
“So we had a great time. It was a lot of fun.”
It’s certainly been an enjoyable ride for the Foo Fighters since former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl started the band in 1995 — as a one-man studio project for the initial “Foo Fighters” album and then expanding it into a full-scale band concern.
The group has won six Grammys during its career, including three for Best Rock Album. It also won a pair of Brit Awards -- the British equivalent of the Grammys, last week and has launched a consistent string of hit singles including “Everlong,” “Learn to Fly,” “Times Like These,” “Best of You” and “The Pretender” — and a reputation as a highly credible, arena-caliber rock band at a time when those are few and far between.
“I don’t know what it is, but it just keeps on getting better,” Grohl, 39, says. “And as it all sort of grows and changes, the four of us just stay the same, and we look at each other every time something happens ...
“Like a Grammy nomination or a big show selling out, we look at each other and we’re like, ‘Can you believe that? Isn’t that nuts?,’ ’cause we don’t feel any different, you know?”
Mendel — who came from the band Sunny Day Real Estate and is the only member besides Grohl left from the original Foos lineup — credits a visionary business arrangement with helping the band maintain its integrity. The Foos have their own label, Roswell Records (named after the New Mexico town known for its notorious 1947 UFO encounter), that licenses the albums to parent company RCA.
That, Mendel explains, insulates the Foo Fighters from the kind of pressures most bands face.
“(RCA) can put it out or not put it out — they don’t have anything more to do with it than that,” Mendel, 39, explains. “So we don’t have to worry about writing hits. Thankfully, Dave’s a good songwriter, and he writes catchy songs, but we don’t have that pressure or somebody breathing over our shoulder.
“I think that really is something that destroys a lot of bands. There’s a lot of things that had to fall into place for us to still be a band 13 years into it, but I always look to that as being one of the main things.”
The arrangement, according to Mendel, has allowed the Foos to experiment with and expand its sound as the group sees fit. On the 2005 double-disc “In Your Honor,” the band recorded one album of hard rock tracks and another of mellower, acoustic songs — which it supported with acoustic shows with an expanded lineup that included string players.
Last year’s gold-certified “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace,” meanwhile, brought those two forms together on one album, resulting in an even broader dynamic range.
“Last time,” Mendel explains, “the quiet side was an experiment, like, ‘Let’s try different instrumentation. Let’s try a different dynamic.’ And we did that and learned different things from it until we were able to bring some of those qualities into this album, so it isn’t just another rock album.”
It is a rock success, however; besides the Grammys, the first single, “The Pretender,” spent 18 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative/Modern Rock Tracks chart, setting a new record.
“ ‘The Pretender’ was clearly the sort of standout radio song,” notes Mendel, who prides himself on being “clueless” when it comes to predicting which Foos songs will work as singles. “It’s pretty much my favorite song on the record.”
The Foos are continuing to use an expanded lineup while touring to promote “Echoes, Silence ...,” which Mendel says “gives us more range and makes touring a lot more fun.” Among them is Pat Smear, the former Germs guitarist who was a Nirvana sideman and a full-time Foos member from 1995-97.
“He’s the most enthusiastic one, which is funny,” Mendel notes. “He should be a crusty old bitter rock guy, but every day is like Christmas on tour. It’s fun having him out for that reason alone.”
All of this has left the Foos with an open landscape for what to do next. The shine has hardly faded, but Mendel says the group is “already working on songs” during the tour, “which has never really happened.” It means a new Foos album may come sooner rather than later, though Mendel cautions that after spending most of 2008 on the road, “we’re gonna need a break” before any serious recording gets underway.
But, he adds, “The band’s in a good place. Everyone’s really excited about making music, so we’re already getting going, and we’ll see where we end up.”
Foo Fighters, Serj Tankian and Against Me! perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 24) at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $45, $38.50 and $25. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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