Dave Grohl – My Life in the Foo Fighters
“I was supposed to just join another band and be a drummer the rest of my life,” Grohl”
“I thought that I would rather do what nobody expected me to do. I enjoy writing music and I enjoy trying to sing, and there’s nothing anyone can really do to discourage me.”
Dave Grohl joined Nirvana as the group’s drummer in 1990.The breakthrough album for them was, of course, Nevermind. Initially, DGC Records was hoping to sell 250,000 copies of Nevermind, which was the same level they had achieved with Sonic Youth’s Goo. However, the album’s first single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” quickly gained momentum, thanks in part to significant airplay of the song’s music video on MTV. As it toured Europe during late 1991, the band found that its shows were dangerously oversold, that television crews were becoming a constant presence onstage, and that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was almost omnipresent on radio and music television. The month Nevermind reached number one, Billboard proclaimed, “Nirvana is that rare band that has everything: critical acclaim, industry respect, pop radio appeal, and a rock-solid college/alternative base. The album would eventually sell over 8.5 million copies in the United States and over 1/2 million Concert Tickets.
“With Nevermind I thought In Bloom was going to be the ‘smash hit’ off the record, or Lithium. I thought Smells Like Teen Spirit was just another album track cut. We recorded it pretty quickly, and I think it was one of producer Butch Vig’s favourites, and it soon became pretty clear that it would be the special song on the record. But of course at that point we didn’t think anything was going to happen with the record. “I thought Teen Spirit might get on MTVs 120 Minutes and allow us to tour with Sonic Youth, but no one thought it was a hit single because [that] was just unimaginable.
However Cobain was found dead in his Seattle home on April 8, 1994, and Nirvana subsequently split. “After Nirvana was over I was getting offers from all these different people to join their band as a drummer – Tom Petty, Danzig – but I didn’t want to stay behind the drumkit and think about Nirvana for the rest of my life. I thought that this would be some sort of cathartic therapy, to go out and record these songs that I’d written by myself. So I booked six days at Robert Lang studios in Seattle, which to me was an eternity – I’d never been in a studio myself for more than six hours. I went in with [producer] Barrett Jones. We got there at nine in the morning and by noon we were ready to go. We wound up recording four songs a day. I was insecure about my voice. You know how people double their vocals to make them stronger? That album the vocals are quadrupled. I didn’t want to be a lead singer, I couldn’t fucking sing.”
Grohl hoped to keep his anonymity and release the songs in a limited run under the title “Foo Fighters”, taken from the World War II term “foo fighter”, used to refer to UFO’s . However, the demo tape circulated in the music industry, creating interest among record labels. Grohl formed a band to support the album. Initially, Grohl talked to former Nirvana band mate Krist Novoselic about joining the group, but both decided against it. Having heard about the disbanding of Seattle-based emo band Sunny Day Real Estate, Grohl drafted the group’s bass player, Nate Mendel, and drummer, William Goldsmith. Grohl asked Pat Smear, who served as a touring guitarist for Nirvana after the release of its 1993 album In Utero, to join as the group’s second guitarist.
Foo Fighters made their live debut on March 3, 1995 during a show at The Satyricon in Portland. They followed that with a show at the Velvet Elvis in Seattle on March 4.Foo Fighters undertook their first major tour in the spring of 1995, opening for Mike Watt. The band’s first single “This Is a Call” was released in June 1995, and its debut album Foo Fighters was released the next month. “I’ll Stick Around”, “For All The Cows” and “Big Me” were released as subsequent singles. The band spent the following months on tour, including their first appearance at the Reading Festival in England in August.
The Foo’s were now beginning to really “cut the mustard” live. A long time ago, somebody tipped Grohl off about the secret of a long life in rock’n’roll: It’s not about how many albums you sell; it’s about how many tickets you sell. Ever since, he’s devoted much of his time to transforming the Foos from a solo studio endeavor into a well-oiled stage machine. “When I joined the band, we sucked live,” Hawkins recalls. “And we’re still not Rush. We’re sloppy, rough around the edges. That’s part of our charm. But we’ve gotten really good, and I think on our best shows , we can take anybody.”
After touring through the spring of 1996, Foo Fighters entered a studio in Woodinville, Washington with producer Gil Norton to record its second album. While Grohl once again wrote all the songs, the rest of the band collaborated on the arrangements. With the sessions nearly over , Grohl took the rough mixes with him to Los Angeles, intending to finish up his vocal and guitar parts. While there, Grohl realized that he wasn’t happy with how the mixes were turning out, and the band “basically re-recorded almost everything”. During the L.A. sessions, Grohl played drums on some of the songs. Goldsmith said Grohl did not tell him that he recorded new drum parts for the record and, feeling betrayed, left the band.
In need of a replacement for Goldsmith, Grohl contacted Alanis Morissette’s touring drummer Taylor Hawkins to see if he could recommend anybody. Grohl was surprised when Hawkins volunteered his own services as drummer. Hawkins made his debut with the group in time for the release of its next album, The Colour and the Shape, in May 1997. The album spawned the singles “Monkey Wrench”, “My Hero”, and “Everlong”.
Pat Smear announced to the rest of the group that he wanted to leave the band to pursue other interests. Four months later in September 1997 at the MTV Video Music Awards, Smear simultaneously publicly announced his departure from the band and introduced his replacement, Grohl’s former Scream bandmate Franz Stahl. Stahl toured with the band for the next few months, and appeared on two tracks that the band recorded for movie soundtracks, a re-recording of “Walking After You” for The X-Files and “A320” for Godzilla.
In 1998, Foo Fighters traveled to Grohl’s home state of Virginia to write music for its third album. However, Grohl and Stahl were unable to co-operate as songwriters; Grohl told Kerrang!in 1999, “in those few weeks it just seemed like the three of us were moving in one direction and Franz wasn’t”. Grohl was distraught about the decision to fire Stahl, as the two had been friends since childhood. The remaining trio of Grohl, Mendel, and Hawkins spent the next several months recording the band’s third album, There Is Nothing Left to Lose, in Grohl’s Virginia home studio. The album spawned several singles, including “Learn to Fly”, the band’s first single to reach the US Hot 100.
After recording was completed , the band auditioned a number of potential guitarists, and eventually settled on Chris Shiflett, who performs with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and previously performed with California punk band, No Use for a Name. Shiflett initially joined the band as touring guitarist, but achieved full-time status prior to the recording of the group’s fourth album.
Shiflett, 36, is a bantam build and his baby blues lend him a passing resemblance to Roger Daltrey. “Right now we’re in that weird place where we’ve made this new album and we don’t know how to play it yet,” he notes between bites of ham-and-egg sandwich. “I looked at the set list, and I’m like, ‘Whoa. Don’t know how to play that one or that one, and, oh, that one we don’t have down either.’
Near the end of 2001, the band reconvened to record their fourth album. After spending four months in a Los Angeles studio completing the album, Grohl spent some time helping Queens of the Stone Age complete their 2002 album Songs for the Deaf. The final album was released in October of 2002 under the title One by One. Singles from the album included “All My Life”, “Times Like These”, “Low”, and “Have It All”.
The band later expressed displeasure with the album. Grohl told Rolling Stone in 2005, “Four of the songs were good, and the other seven I never played again in my life. We rushed into it, and we rushed out of it.”
Having spent a year and a half touring behind One By One, Grohl did not want to rush into recording another Foo Fighters record. Initially Grohl intended to write acoustic material by himself, but eventually the project involved the entire band. To record its fifth album, the band shifted to Los Angeles and built a recording studio, dubbed Studio 606 West. Grohl insisted that the album be divided into two discs–one full of rock songs, the other featuring acoustic tracks. In Your Honor was released in June 2005. The album’s singles included “Best of You”, “DOA”, “Resolve”, “No Way Back/Cold Day in the Sun”, and “Miracle”.
For the follow-up to In Your Honor, the band decided to call in The Colour and the Shape producer Gil Norton. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace was released on September 25, 2007. The album’s first single, “The Pretender”, was issued to radio in early August. In mid-to-late 2007 “The Pretender” topped Billboards Modern Rock chart for a record 18 weeks; it also gave the band their third consecutive year at the top (a record).
Foo fighters spent the Summer of 2008 on the festival circuit and moved into the big league in the UK.Here he recalls his T in the Park stint.THE KILLERS take the stage. “Man, that band gets the loudest singalongs,” he says. “Our dressing room was right behind the stage last night (at T In The Park) and all you could hear was the crowd singing along to every word – not just the choruses, they even shout out the verses. I’m glad we don’t have to go on after them. Luckily, we’re on after Keane . Their crowd are a bit more sensible than ours. They all stand towards the back and sway while all the grimy kids who are down the front get twitchy for guitars. That’s when we come on and nail them!”
On 17 September 2008 Dave Grohl announced on The Chris Moyles Show that the band would be taking a long break from music so that they could return with a new sense of purpose, and also informed fans not to expect any new music for a while. “We’ve never really taken a long break, I think it’s time,” Grohl commented. “After doing Wembley, we shouldn’t come back there for 10 years because we’ve played to everybody. We’re over in the UK every year, every summer, so I think it’s time to take a break and come back over when people really miss us.”
The band began recording their seventh studio album in July 2010 with producer Butch Vig, who had previously produced the two new tracks for the band’s Greatest Hits album. The album was recorded in Dave Grohl’s garage using only analog equipment. Vig said in an interview with MTV that the album was entirely analog until post-mastering. Pat Smear was present in many photos posted by Grohl on Twitter and a press release in December confirmed Smear played on every track on the record and was considered a core member of the band once again, having initially left as a full time member in 1997 before returning as a touring guitarist in 2006.
With 2011’s line-up of Taylor Hawkins on drums, Nate Mendel on bass, Chris Shiflett and the returning Pat Smear on lead guitar, the Foo Fighters have rarely been so surefooted going into an album launch. It has been a long time since 23 October 94, when the sessions for the self-titled debut were concluded. Grohl protests that he is not one for retrospection, but to coincide with the album’s release he has commissioned a forthcoming Foo Fighters documentary, and it’s put him in a reflective mood.
He explains: “I thought, ‘Now is a good time to make a history-of-the-band documentary because if we wait any longer it’ll just be too long’. There are still people who are shocked to hear that I was the drummer of Nirvana. I just laugh. I assume that people like the Foo Fighters because I was the drummer of Nirvana, and every now and then I’ll meet people who had no idea that I was even in [the band], so maybe it’s time to tell the story. If you think about it, Butch [Vig] and I have this incredible story between the two of us; the first time the two of us got together to work was to make an album 20 years ago and so much has happened to us in that time. ‘Nevermind’ was such a huge part of our lives and it changed them forever.”
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