Dave Grohl Likes To Play…
originally published in 2007 for Gasoline Magazine
The main Foo Fighter on his mellower new sound, selling out arenas, and how his music helped save two trapped Australian miners.
From Scream to Nirvana, to a brief stint in Queens of the Stone Age and a thrash metal side project called Probot, Dave Grohl has done his fair share to shape the sound of rock and roll we hear on the radio today…
Declared the “nicest guy in rock and roll” by many sources, Grohl has managed to bring heavy music to the masses, without ever losing his musical credibility.
With the latest release from his band Foo Fighters – comprised of Taylor Hawkins on drums, Nate Mendel on bass, and Chris Shiflett on lead guitar – Grohl once again explores new territory by diverging from the straightforward rock and roll ethics that have served him so well in the past. The band’s sixth studio album, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, is more about making music than it is about making noise.
With an album title that sounds more New Age than New Rock, should fans of the band be concerned? After all, echoes and silence are hardly what one would expect from a band that has been on the forefront of hard rock music for over a decade. Has maturity created a kinder and gentler Foo Fighter?
“ I’ve been stepping on distortion pedals for fucking 20 years, and it gets to the point where there’s a lot more to music than just that”
“I hate to consider what we do mature, but I think we’re getting old enough where we can,” says Grohl over the phone from his house in LA, where he has just put his daughter to bed. “At this point for me, personally, it’s all about musicality – digging deeper lyrically and exploring the songs melodically more so than before – You know, I’ve been stepping on distortion pedals for fucking 20 years,” he says with a laugh. “And it gets to the point where there’s a lot more to music than just that.”
Despite the fact that Foo Fighters’ previous albums have won legions of fans, critical acclaim and four Grammy awards, Grohl and company have set out to do things differently this time around. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace has no qualms about its slow melodiousness, letting the familiar, “in-your-face” guitars take a backseat to lush harmonies.
“The focus of the foundation of this album was purely musical, and I think that I finally learned how to write honestly from the heart, more so than I ever have,” explains Grohl.
“It took us awhile to find a title that made sense. For lack of a better word, I think the title is poetic. I think that it represents some sort of diversity, whether musically or emotionally.”
And this album truly revels in its diversity. “We had 30 or 40 demos that ranged from country waltzes to fucking walls of noise,” Grohl says.
“It was a huge question mark going into the recording thinking, ‘OK, well, are we making an acoustic album? Are we making a rock album? Are we going to divide the two specifically like we did with the last album or just let it happen?’ and we sent the songs through a filter that was basically just musical and lyrical, so if the song had a good lyric and a beautiful melody, then it would make it to the album.” Grohl continues.
“It didn’t matter if it was played on piano or if it was a thirteen guitar-track stacked on top of each other – just as long as it was moving – as long as it meant something and it was powerful. So the dynamic of the album really found itself.”
“You know what? This is going to be fun. I got these fuckers in the palm of my hands.”
The risk has paid off. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace reached the #1 spot on the UK album charts, selling over 135,685 units in its first week. It has also reach #3 in America, thanks to the strength of the album’s first single “The Pretender.”
Grohl attributes this success to musical ‘honesty.’ With this album, Foo Fighters made it a point to record only the songs that meant the most to them.
“We’ve got trophies and we got all these things in our wake that we’re all really proud of, but eventually, you sort of shun those needs…at this point I can honestly say that I’m proud of [this record], and I could not give a fuck what anybody else thinks about it.”
One of the most personal songs on the new album has to be “The Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners,” an instrumental piece written by Grohl after hearing that two miners trapped in a collapsed Austrailian mine requested an iPod with Foo Fighters songs to accompany them while waiting to be rescued.
“I was genuinely moved,” says Grohl. “Every once in a while someone will come up to me and say, ‘Hey man that song, or that album, really helped me through some difficult shit’ and I’ve been there too man. I’ve had albums save my life before.” Grohl recollects.
“But this is a pretty extreme situation. Considering these two guys were trapped hundreds of metres underground in a fucking cage, and the first thing they ask for is our band’s music? That really touched me.” Grohl pauses for a moment.
“There are certain things that we’ve done that made me feel legitimized, but this was the one that made me think that maybe what we do is more than just lasers and Jägermeister.” Dave laughs.
“I sent them a note while they were still in the mine that said, ‘You’re in our thoughts and our prayers, and when you guys come out, there’s a couple of tickets and a couple of cold beers waiting for you.’”
Grohl goes on to describe playing “The Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners” in concert for the first time at the Sydney Opera House, with one of the rescued miners in attendance.
After a drunken evening following the show at the bar, Grohl promised the fellow that he’d put the song on the band’s next album. (The track also features guest guitars by Kaiki King, whom Grohl describes as a “5-foot-tall female Eddie Van Halen.”)
So what’s next for the Foo Fighters? Having wrapped up the video shoot for their second single, “Long Road to Ruin,” they will be embarking on a tour to support Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.
“Fuck, man. My schedule goes until 2009, so we’re going to be kind of busy, We’ll be doing some Canadian shows before the year is done,” Grohl promises.
The question is, will they be able to take an album containing such intimate and personal songs and project it across an arena of over 20,000 fans?
Grohl is confident that they can do the album justice, as he and his bandmates are not intimidated by the prospect of playing to large crowds. That was not always the case though.
“I used to feel more comfortable in clubs because I didn’t know what to do in an arena.” Grohl explains.
“I remember the first tour where we ever headlined arenas, on our own, was for the One By One album. We went over to the UK where we’re more popular than anywhere else and we sold out this arena tour really quickly, and I thought, ‘Holy shit! I can’t believe we’re playing to like 20,000 people a night!’” Grohl says proudly.
“That’s something I never imagined happening and we’re not opening for anyone – we’re headlining – so, fuck, I gotta do this. I remember it feeling so foreign. I mean, I’m not Freddy Mercury, how the fuck am I supposed to command an arena full of people? It was great, but it felt really strange to me. I didn’t feel comfortable because we’ve been doing theatres and clubs for so long.”
It did not take long for Grohl to change his mind regarding venue sizes though. “After doing seven or eight shows, our next gig was in Belgium at a typical 2000 capacity venue, and I was so relieved we were going in to play this place. After the show, I thought, ‘Man, I kinda miss those arenas!’”
But even a seasoned performer like Grohl is not immune to feeling overwhelmed by the sheer scale of one recent show.
“When we played that Live Earth show, we had to go on after the fucking Pussy Cat Dolls and right before Madonna. I thought, ‘This is insane! There’s 80,000 people here! What are we doing here?’ and we walked out there and within 30 seconds, I knew it and I thought, ‘You know what? This is going to be fun. I got these fuckers in the palm of my hands.’ I love playing dives as much as I love playing stadiums…I just like to play.”
Leave it to Dave Grohl to take the act of performing in front of 80,000 people at Wembley Stadium and turn it into something personal. To Grohl, this entire journey has only ever been about his love of playing music. Everything else is just icing on the cake.
“As time goes on, the direction becomes a lot more inward,” Grohl reflects. “So that when we’re in our own studio, working with our own producer, we have the ability to shut off the outside world. That’s what keeps everything intact. I think that’s what keeps us going, because we’ve achieved things that we thought we’d never ever imagined possible.”