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Interview:
Twenty years on, times like these are still great for Foo Fighters
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Back in 1994, Dave Grohl could not have looked ahead to eight Foo Fighters albums, Grammy Award wins, Emmy Award nominations, making critically acclaimed documentaries and a status as one of rock's most ubiquitous personalities, loved and respected by audience and peers alike.

Twenty-one years ago, Grohl was just reeling from Nirvana bandmate Kurt Cobain's suicide in April of that year and wondering what to do next. He had an offer to join Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, but he also had a demo tape of his own music that felt like the more attractive -- and cathartic -- way to go.

"The first Foo Fighters record was a demo tape that I made because I felt like I needed to get off the couch after Nirvana and do something with my life that would make me feel like there was something to look forward to, and it was as simple as that," Grohl recalls by phone from New York City.

That self-titled debut album, which came out in 1995, was comprised of "simple songs I had written and recorded in my basement for fun that I took to a 24-track studio because I thought that's what felt right at the time. I thought, 'Well, maybe I'll try and stand up and sing with a guitar in my hands. And then I found some friends to play with and we did that first tour.

"We got home from that first tour and that was one of my life`s biggest victories. I was so happy and I was proud of myself. So I bought a Corvette!"

Though he says the Foo Fighters "was kind of a joke," there's no question Grohl and the group have thrived as well as survived. The Foos have sold more than 11 million albums -- five of which have debuted in the Top 5 of the Billboard 200 -- launched 20 Top 10 rock radio hits and won 11 Grammy Awards. The band has also been part of extended Grohl projects such as the "Sound City" recording studio documentary in 2013 and last year's acclaimed "Sonic Highways" HBO series, which chronicled the making of the Foos' album of the same name in historic studios around the country and is up for two Emmy Awards.

Moreover, the Foos have earned a reputation as a prototypical and iconic rock band in an age when rock is considered passe -- or certainly second-fiddle to genres such as pop, R&B and rap. But guided by Grohl's exuberance, the group turns nearly everything it does into some form of celebration, from three-hour-plus live shows to surprise club performances to Grohl's all-star populated 46th birthday party in early January. He's has jammed with a Who's Who list of fellow rockers, including Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen, produced an EP for country's Zac Brown Band and has been part of "supergroups" such as Them Crooked Vultures, Probot and Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp's new Hollywood Vampires.

And if further proof of Grohl's dedication is required, he's currently touring with a severely broken leg after a stage fall on June 12 in Sweden, performing in a custom-made throne decked out with its own pyrotechnics.

"I really like Dave and those guys," said John Fogerty, who was also part of the "Sound City" project and worked with the Foos on his 2013 album "Wrote a Song For Everyone." "He's a happy guy. His music is happy, a very upbeat kind of thing. he's serious about what he's doing, and he's a thoughtful guy.

"The stuff he's doing doesn't jsut happen, but he's having fun doing it. It's fun to let loose and really not worry about anything and play with all the joy that's in us."

Taylor Hawkins, the Foos' drummer since 1997, calls Grohl "our fearless leader. Dave's always thinking of cool stuff for us to do. He's been right about everything so far, so we just trust him and go with it."

For Grohl, anything he does -- in music and creatively in general -- is the ongoing culmination of a seed that was planted in 1975, when he heard the Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein" on a K-Tel compilation and "just freaked out". That led to the Springfield, Va.-raised son of a teacher mother and journalist/speechwriter father, getting a guitar, writing songs "about my bike, about my dog, about my dad" and making primitive multi-track recordings at home.

"I liked my new voice, because no matter how bad it sounded, it was mine," Grohl says.

He became a rock 'n' roll goner shortly after that, when a cousin took him to a Naked Ray Guns concert in Chicago and then when he attended a Rock Against Reagan concert during 1983 in Washington. He was so consumed by music that he put school in the rearview mirror and became a young one-man musical operation, teaching himself to play drums along the way.

"I burned inside," Grohl, who subsequently joined the band Scream before heading west and hooking up with Nirvana in 1990, related in his 2014 South By Southwest conference keynote speech. "I was possessed and empowered and inspired and engaged and so in love with life and so in love with music. This was rock'n' roll; No matter what shirt you had or what f***ing haircut you had, this was f***ing real. It had the power to incite a f***ing riot or an emotion or to incite or start a revolution -- or just to save a young boy's life."

That life has certainly been enriched by successes -- most of which came as a surprised to Grohl. He recalls a record company executive once asking Cobain about his ambitions for Nirvana. "Kurt...looked up and said, 'We want to be the biggest band in the world.' I laughed. I thought he was f***ing kidding. He wasn't."

Grohl, however, maintains he's never set any kind of similar mark for his own work. "With almost everything I've done, it just happened," the twice-married father of three says with a laugh. "I never aspired to be the lead singer of a rock band. I was a drummer who played guitar. I was perfectly happy doing those things. I don't really put too much thought into scheduling the next five years of my life. I jsut kind of go to places that feel right."

With Foo Fighters, Grohl adds, ""We try not to overthink things. We just start playing and when it sounds like the Foo Fighters, then we have a song. There's never really to much forced decision because then it seems contrived or maybe not real. And I think that's what keeps it going rather than having some big, strategic kind of plan."

Foos bassist Nate Mendel, the only remaining member from the group's original lineup (though the current sextet has been together since 2005), says that seat-of-the-pants approach has something to do with the group's longevity.

"The ideas obviously become more broad, and we're not getting stuck in a rut, so I'm proud of the band," says Mendel, who recently launched a side band, Lieutenant. "I think we've learned from the past what to do, what not to do. The band still has some creative vitality, so let's shoot for another 20 (years), what the hell."

Grohl's philosophy is the same for his other work, meanwhile. "I never aspired to direct a documentary movie; 'Sound City' just fell into my lap, and I had so much fun doing it," he explains. "And I never imagined that I'd have an HBO series but it happened and I had a blast. I jsut kind of go to the places that feel right."

Grohl has some new places in mind for what he wants to do next. He's said there will be another season of "Sonic Highways," though no details have been released yet. And both he and his bandmates are sure other ideas will present themselves that will lead the Foos in even more unexpected directions.

"I'm not gonna say that I'm addicted to the challenge -- but I'm f***ing addicted to the challenge!" Grohl says with a laugh. "I keep thinking, 'Well, I can't just do the same thing again. I can't go make something I've already done again.' I have a couple ideas now that are f***ing crazy, honestly. This time I'm going pretty large. You'll hear about it.

"At this point I just want to see how much I can pull of, y'know? That's the turn-on."

Foo Fighters and Royal Blood

7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 24.

DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township.

Tickets are sold out.

Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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