When Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters took a film crew with them on the road as they criss-crossed the US to make their new al­bum, they didn’t ex­pect the White House to throw its doors wide open

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - LIVE & LOUD - KATHY MCCABE

Dave Grohl has an open in­vi­ta­tion to the White House. The Foo Fighters front­man and film­maker didn’t be­lieve it ei­ther when Pres­i­dent Barack Obama first sug­gested he could “just come over”. Bring the fam­ily. Hang out.

He tested the in­vite af­ter he was granted an in­ter­view with the Pres­i­dent of the United States for his Sonic High­ways doc­u­men­tary se­ries.

The se­ries both shines a light on the rich mu­si­cal his­tory of eight key cities in the US and cap­tures the mak­ing of the much-loved rock band’s eighth record.

Grohl wanted to talk to the coun­try’s boss about Amer­ica as the land of dreams. And pick his brain about mu­sic, par­tic­u­larly af­ter spy­ing a hefty vol­ume of Bob Dy­lan’s lyrics in a White House li­brary dur­ing a pre­vi­ous visit.

Their con­ver­sa­tion aired in the first episode of Sonic High­ways, filmed in Chicago where the Fooeys also recorded the al­bum’s open­ing track, Some­thing From Noth­ing.

“We talked about mu­sic for a while and af­ter­wards he said ‘Bring the fam­ily next time, just come over’. And I said ‘Oh yeah, I’ll just come over to the White House’. And he said, ‘No, re­ally. Come on over’,” Grohl says, sit­ting in the band’s Stu­dio 606 in Los An­ge­les.

“So a cou­ple of weeks later, I had my daugh­ter on a daddy trip, just the two of us, and I told her she could go any­where in the world, and she said Vir­ginia (Grohl’s birth­place).

“I asked her if she wanted to go to the White House while we’re over there. So we went to the White House. Be­lieve me, I un­der­stand it’s nuts.”

It would have been nuts for Grohl and his band­mates to con­tem­plate such an epic un­der­tak­ing as Sonic High­ways 20 years ago when he formed Foo Fighters in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s death, which brought the cur­tain down abruptly on his for­mer band, Nir­vana.

The idea was to record a song in famed stu­dios in Chicago, Wash­ing­ton DC, New Or­leans, Los An­ge­les, New York, Nashville, Seat­tle and Austin. Fear of cre­ative malaise may have fu­elled Grohl’s vi­sion but it was the suc­cess of his film Sound City, about the in­flu­en­tial LA stu­dio where ev­ery­one from Neil Young to Nir­vana recorded sem­i­nal al­bums, which ce­mented his de­sire to make the doc­u­men­tary. The pas­sion­ate mu­sic man wanted to in­spire oth­ers to re­con­nect with the art form in an age where sound is ubiq­ui­tous.

“Peo­ple would tell me they stopped lis­ten­ing to mu­sic be­cause it’s on the iPod or in the cloud and there’s too much to choose from and to me, that just means you are not in­spired to go and find it. You have to in­stil that mo­ti­va­tion, get peo­ple in­spired to fall in love with it, oth­er­wise it’s just a sound,” he says.

“Not ev­ery­one said ‘Wow, what a cool idea for a mu­sic se­ries’. We got the foot in the door (with HBO) and we re­alised ‘F---! Now we re­ally have to do it be­cause who else is go­ing to f---ing do it?’”

With pro­ducer Butch Vig in tow, they spent a week in each city through­out May and June, with Grohl in­ter­view­ing mu­si­cians and the mu­si­cally minded from Buddy Guy to Nora Guthrie, the daugh­ter of revered Amer­i­can folk singer Woody and sis­ter of Arlo.

The band fleshed out the mu­si­cal skele­tons they had de­moed back in LA and Grohl would write the lyrics on the fi­nal day, drawing phrases and sto­ries from his in­ter­views.

His four band­mates – Tay­lor Hawkins, Nate Men­del, Chris Shi­flett and Pat Smear – all agree the early ses­sions to write the mu­sic be­fore they hit the road were tough.

“We de­moed things six times and they wouldn’t change. I could see this un­ful­filled feel­ing in Dave a lot of the time. At one point he said, ‘This sounds like the record we threw away back in 2002 or what­ever’,” drum­mer Hawkins says.

“I think in a way he meant to push us to the limit of what we could do and play as a band. And then let it go. You did all that prep and then it’s ‘Press record. You guys sound great’.”

Once on the road, there were plenty of good, hi­lar­i­ous and just plain awk­ward times.

Like the mag­nif­i­cent feast of whole pig stuffed with sausage slow-cooked on a smoker by Zac Brown’s chef.

Or hear­ing Nora Guthrie’s sto­ries about re­peat­edly telling Bob Dy­lan to go away when he kept turn­ing up at the fam­ily home ask­ing to meet her dad.

The Foo Fighters were tested and pushed to the limit by Dave Grohl in the record­ing process for their new al­bum.

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