Foo Fighters: Now a dad band

Age­ing rock­ers hap­pily swap par­ty­ing for potty train­ing and pu­berty talk, writes Brid­get Jones.

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Rock’n’roll has long been re­garded as a boys’ club. Teenage lads start­ing garage bands, all sweaty, wild, pri­mal, awk­wardly hor­monal. But at some point, things change. You grow up, you set­tle down, you ma­ture, your band mates start talk­ing about the per­ils of toi­let train­ing.

Spoiler alert: even modern-day rock le­gends like the Foo Fighters aren’t im­mune to the re­al­i­ties of mid­dle-age and par­ent­hood.

‘‘A lot of times, when we get to­gether to play these days, it’s a lit­tle bit of a men’s club ther­apy ses­sion. We’re talk­ing about potty train­ing, or who’s kid is go­ing through pu­berty or what­ever it is,’’ the Foo’s bassist, Nate Men­del, says from his LA home. ‘‘We are like our own lit­tle par­ent­ing group at this point.’’

A dad-of-two, Men­del says away from the hype of be­ing one of the big­gest bands in the world and the ex­cite­ment of re­leas­ing their ninth stu­dio al­bum, Con­crete and Gold, there’s the fa­mil­iar feel­ing of be­ing a work­ing dad who wants to do right by his fam­ily.

‘‘Kids lit­er­ally do ground you – you’ve got this re­spon­si­bil­ity and you have to fig­ure out how to be a rock band, which is by def­i­ni­tion, some­thing that’s not par­tic­u­larly grounded and still be a ded­i­cated fa­ther.

‘‘It’s kind of tricky, but it makes it more fun. It adds to the ex­pe­ri­ence when you’ve done it for this long to throw that in the mix; how are we go­ing to main­tain our fam­ily lives and main­tain our cre­ative lives at the same time?’’

Af­ter 20-plus years, 11 Gram­mys and record sales of more than 25 mil­lion, it’s a les­son the band is learn­ing to­gether. But it’s a world away from what Men­del was fo­cused on as a 13-year-old with a new bass gui­tar.

‘‘I just wanted to go on tour – I was al­ways the lo­gis­tics guy of the band, which is a role that falls on bass play­ers a lot. So, in high school I sold drugs to buy a van so that we could go on tour,’’ he ad­mits. ‘‘And then I quit sell­ing drugs.’’

Men­del, along with two of his band mates – front­man Dave Grohl and gui­tarist Pat Smear – grew up play­ing in punk bands and liv­ing up to the DIY-mind­set they prize. He never re­ally stud­ied his craft, in­stead putting his en­ergy into plan­ning tours, mak­ing al­bum art and fig­ur­ing out how to get peo­ple to lis­ten.

‘‘I kind of got sideswiped by the suc­cess of the Foo Fighters. I cer­tainly never planned to be here. I’m happy I am, but be­cause I saw my­self as more of an in­te­gral part of this project – of mak­ing a band – I never saw my­self first and fore­most as a mu­si­cian.

‘‘Tay­lor [Hawkins, drum­mer] and Chris [Shi­flett, gui­tarist], they stud­ied their in­stru­ments when they were younger. They had a lot of re­spect and rev­er­ence for suc­cess­ful bands and wanted to be in suc­cess­ful bands them­selves. But for me, I looked at it as get­ting to­gether with my friends and do­ing some­thing fun. I never thought about do­ing it when I was 48. That never crossed my mind for a sec­ond.’’

Aside from Grohl, Men­del is the long­est-serv­ing mem­ber of the band. He had pre­vi­ously played in Sunny Day Real Es­tate, be­fore join­ing the Foo Fighters in 1995. He also launched Lieu­tenant, a solo project, in 2015 – ‘‘I wasn’t amaz­ing at it. It was my first time out though’’.

And while mu­sic trends, side projects and band mem­bers may have come and gone, the way the Foos make mu­sic has more or less gone un­changed over the past 20 years.

‘‘There are dif­fer­ences [in how we ap­proach mak­ing an al­bum], but more than that, there is a con­sis­tency in a way things have been done.

‘‘We’ll go out and tour, run through a bunch of shows, then get antsy and Dave will have al­ready started writ­ing and think­ing about what’s go­ing to be on the next record.’’

The way it goes, the band will spend some time apart, while Grohl nuts out the songs, and then, Men­del says, comes the cry to rally the troops and start work. And what’s it like when the phone rings?

‘‘It’s a two-year process, and we’ve done it enough times now to know what’s in­volved. It’s ex­cit­ing but it’s also daunt­ing. So you take a deep breath and ask your­self, ‘Am I ready?’. Then you make sure ev­ery­thing is but­toned up at home and brace your­self for the hur­ri­cane, be­cause there’s go­ing to be high wa­ter.’’

This time, the band had com­pany in hur­ri­cane sea­son, al­beit a lit­tle un­ex­pected.

At the helm was the man who wrote songs for the movie adap­ta­tion of the mu­si­cal, An­nie, and pro­duced killer pop hits from Kelly Clark­son, Pink and Adele’s come­back hit, Hello.

Greg Kurstin was a left-field choice to pro­duce Con­crete and Gold, but Men­del says it came down to a nat­u­ral change and cu­rios­ity af­ter all these years to­gether.

‘‘It’s not like we were pushed to do some­thing dif­fer­ent, be­cause we are kind of set in our ways. It was more like we were ready to try some­thing dif­fer­ent, so let’s bring in some­one new, with a whole dif­fer­ent set of ex­pe­ri­ences and see what hap­pens.’’ It didn’t lead them down a path of pure power pop, in fact the band say this is their big­gest sound­ing al­bum to date. Even as the el­der states­men of rock, there’s still life in the old dogs yet.

‘‘In a rock band, you’re try­ing to make things more pow­er­ful a lot of the time – how do we get im­pact? A lot of the time it’s stack­ing gui­tars, but this time it was stack­ing vo­cals – there are Beach Boys’ har­monies grafted onto a lot of the songs. So it’s a lit­tle bit of a dif­fer­ent record for us. But it’s not a wild de­par­ture.’’

Added to the un­usual rock recipe, Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stock­man helped with some choral ar­range­ments, The Kills’ Ali­son Mosshart sang back­ing vo­cals – as did Justin Tim­ber­lake. They even man­aged to con­vince Paul McCart­ney to take a seat be­hind the drum kit for one song on the al­bum, which was a big mo­ment for Men­del as a bass player and mu­sic-lover.

‘‘Within mo­ments, he’s just a friend who’s mak­ing mu­sic and it’s so spe­cial and cool – it could eas­ily be some­thing so in­tim­i­dat­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing that you couldn’t en­joy the mo­ment. But he helps dis­pel that,’’ Men­del says of the band’s time in the stu­dio with The Bea­tle.

You’d think months of plan­ning and co-or­di­na­tion would go into lock­ing in so many big names, but it turns out these things are more about who you hap­pen to bump into in the hall­way of the record­ing stu­dio.

‘‘Then, one thing leads to an­other, and they’re on your record,’’ Men­del says. Sounds sim­ple.

While it’s fun to try some­thing dif­fer­ent, the way the band works – and has done for two decades – means that even the most un­usual of mu­si­cal mates doesn’t change the end re­sult all that much.

‘‘I think it would re­ally be fresh if [the col­lab­o­ra­tions] were a song­writ­ing thing, to col­lab­o­rate with some­body from scratch,’’ Men­del ad­mits. So far though, that’s still Grohl’s baby.

‘‘When we have peo­ple in to guest, that adds ic­ing on the cake. So it’s more like rib­bons on the present, than it is the con­tents of the box.’’

Will the Foo Fighters ever shake things up so dra­mat­i­cally the con­tents of that box are un­recog­nis­able? Like some sort of mad mid-life cri­sis in mu­si­cal form?

‘‘There’s a rich his­tory of rock bands, when they reach a cer­tain point in their ca­reer, de­cid­ing to go some place ex­otic and record with­out a bunch of songs al­ready in the bank. I think that path has been tried – I just don’t know if we’re go­ing to go down it.’’

So sen­si­ble. So grown-up. So rock’n’roll.

Foo Fighters and Weezer, Fe­bru­ary 3, Mount Smart Sta­dium, Auck­land.

SONY MU­SIC

The Foo Fighters say their ninth stu­dio al­bum, Con­crete and Gold, is their big­gest yet.

SONY MU­SIC

Af­ter more than 20 years to­gether, the band have well and truly grown up.

WAT­SON BEN

Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters caused a ‘vol­canic tremor’ when they per­formed at Auck­land’s West­ern Springs in 2011.

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