Foo Fight­ers

Dave Grohl was sup­posed to spend 2017 lick­ing his wounds. In­stead he re­treated into the wilder­ness, loaded up on wine and wrote a schizophrenic new Foo Fight­ers al­bum ex­plor­ing his dark­est thoughts.

Classic Rock - - Contents - Con­crete And Gold is out now on RCA/Roswell.

Dave Grohl was sup­posed to spend 2017 tak­ing some time out. In­stead he ended up with a new Foos al­bum ex­plor­ing his dark­est thoughts.

Even a steam­ing han­gover can’t slow Dave Grohl down. It’s a sum­mer’s day in Los An­ge­les, and although the fraz­zled Foo Fighter rolls into the band’s Stu­dio 606 clad en­tirely in black, his con­ver­sa­tion is the usual kalei­do­scope of themes. His kids. Me­tal­lica. An­i­mal from The Mup­pets. And, above all these, the fiercely am­bi­tious ninth al­bum, Con­crete And Gold, that will scotch any lin­ger­ing no­tion of the Foos as Nir­vanalite. “This is some­thing,” he tells us, “I’ve al­ways wanted to do.”

By rights, Grohl shouldn’t be on duty. Re­cent times have been suf­fi­ciently tough for this hu­man dy­namo to breathe that dirt­i­est of words: hia­tus. To re­cap, there was the tum­ble from a Gothen­burg stage back in June 2015, the bro­ken leg and the makeshift set-up that saw him in­stalled on a guitar-be­decked throne.

“Well, it’s strange,” he re­flects, “be­cause I re­mem­ber right af­ter surgery, hav­ing the phone call with my pro­duc­tion crew. We had to can­cel four or five shows, but we wanted to fin­ish [the tour]. I knew I couldn’t walk for months, so I thought, ‘OK, I’ll sit down.’ And we drew this di­a­gram and made that crazy throne.

“The first show sit­ting in that throne was so fuck­ing weird. I’d never sat down and played a rock show in a sta­dium. And I was ner­vous, but by the end of the show, I thought, ‘That was weird, and I like things that are weird, so let’s do it more.’”

Grohl’s throne carved out its own small slice of rock’n’roll folk­lore – es­pe­cially when it was lent to fel­low hob­bler Axl Rose. “I went to see Guns N’ Roses and it was a fuck­ing great show, but I was sit­ting there watch­ing them, like, ‘That’s the most ridicu­lous thing I’ve ever seen in my life.’ It’s like watch­ing a king on a throne just sort of con­duct an au­di­ence.”

But when he de­throned each night, Grohl strug­gled.

“We did fifty or sixty shows af­ter I’d bro­ken my leg and I had a blast. The shows where I was sit­ting in that ridicu­lous throne thing, I fuck­ing loved it. But those were the best three hours of the day. It was the other twenty-one hours that were a chal­lenge, be­cause I was on crutches or in a wheel­chair. So not only was it phys­i­cally chal­leng­ing, but af­ter a while it’s emo­tion­ally dif­fi­cult, so I thought the best thing for the band would be just to stop and get away from it for a while. We’ve al­ways felt like if we get to the point where it’s just about to snap then we back off and say, ‘We should stop,’ y’know?”

This was to be the year the Foo Fight­ers lay low, dab­bled in rainy-day projects, caught up with their long­suf­fer­ing fam­i­lies. That was never go­ing to work out. As the sprawl­ing mas­ter tapes and wall-mounted plat­inum discs of Stu­dio

606 at­test, since he formed the Foos back in 1994, down­time has not been in Grohl’s vo­cab­u­lary. The front­man soon found him­self feel­ing rud­der­less, empty, bereft.

“I was ap­proach­ing other projects, like di­rect­ing movies and stuff like that, just to do some­thing other than the band, but my pas­sion wasn’t the same. And it ac­tu­ally seemed like work, this other project. I’ve never had to man­u­fac­ture some in­spi­ra­tion to be in the Foo Fight­ers. It’s al­ways been real.

And here I was try­ing to cre­ate some in­spi­ra­tion or en­ergy to do some­thing else. And I re­alised, like, ‘Oh, that’s what it’s like when your heart isn’t one hun­dred per cent in it.’ It was around then I started to re­alise, like, the best thing for me isn’t a break, it’s to make mu­sic with the band.

“It’s hard to spend too much time away,” he says. “I need to play mu­sic with these guys. It’s such a big part of my life

“I would drink a bot­tle of wine and then scream any­thing into a mi­cro­phone. It was like this un­fil­tered stream of con­scious­ness.”

that when you’re away from it for six months, eight months, what­ever it is, you ac­tu­ally feel empty in a way. I thought at one point that mu­sic was the thing that was mak­ing me ex­hausted and fuck­ing up my head. But then af­ter six months, I re­alised: ‘No, no, no, wait. Mu­sic is what keeps me from go­ing crazy, y’know?’”

So be­gan Con­crete And Gold, the new ma­te­rial ini­ti­ated over five days at an Airbnb in Ojai, Cal­i­for­nia, where Grohl stripped to his un­der­wear, drank heav­ily then spat what­ever came to mind into a por­ta­ble stu­dio. “When I went to sing these songs,” he says, “I went into that house in the woods for a week just by my­self and I would drink a bot­tle of wine and then scream any­thing into a mi­cro­phone. It was like this un­fil­tered stream of con­scious­ness.”

If Grohl’s tes­ti­mony sug­gests that Con­crete And Gold is an al­bum of the route-one, three-chord, hit-and-hope va­ri­ety, that couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth. De­scribed by the line-up as “Motör­head’s ver­sion of Sgt. Pep­per”, this ninth al­bum is the most am­bi­tious of their ca­reer, walk­ing a tightrope be­tween sav­age hard rock and pure pop. The nat­u­ral con­clu­sion is that this schizophrenic qual­ity is down to a happy tug-of-war with Greg Kurstin, the pro­ducer best-known for his pop smashes with Adele and Sia (as well as his own off-kil­ter out­fit, The Bird And The Bee). Grohl says oth­er­wise.

“It’s some­thing I’ve al­ways wanted to do. I’ve al­ways wanted to make a record where mu­si­cally or in­stru­men­tally, or dy­nam­i­cally, it’s re­ally di­verse. So ev­ery record has its mo­ments of that, whether it’s the first record, or the sec­ond record with stuff like Fe­bru­ary Stars and See You, or In Your Honor, there’s the acous­tic side, there’s the rock side.

“But when I met Greg, I re­alised he’s the per­son that’s go­ing to do this big­ger and bet­ter than we’ve ever done it be­fore. Like, any­where you want to go, he’ll take you far­ther than you thought you could go. So if you say, ‘I want this to be re­ally trashy and noisy,’ then you get a song like La Dee Da, which is just re­ally, like, fuck­ing noisy. If I say, ‘I want this to sound re­ally huge, like a choir,’ then you get a song like Con­crete And Gold, where it goes from be­ing this re­ally spare, dark Black Sab­bath riff to ex­plod­ing into this mush­room cloud of fuck­ing choirs. I even­tu­ally re­alised that the [ti­tle track] not only serves as this hope­ful fi­nale to the al­bum, but it also does rep­re­sent the jux­ta­po­si­tion or the duality of the sound of the record. There’s that raw foun­da­tion of noisy rock riffs, and then that beau­ti­ful shiny melody and har­mony on top.

“I grew up lis­ten­ing to The Bea­tles when I was young,” Grohl con­tin­ues. “The songs I al­ways loved the most were the ones that were kinda dark and sin­is­ter, like She’s So Heavy. It’s al­most like the first dark metal riff. It’s like, you just close your eyes and it seems like this fuck­ing sin­is­ter, dark vibe. But the vo­cals are so beau­ti­ful, and the lyrics… I mean, the har­monies they would stack are so fuck­ing pretty, and I knew that when I was ten. So that’s sort of writ­ten into my DNA zip­per mu­si­cally – that’s my first love. And this time, we’ve ac­tu­ally got to the place where I feel sat­is­fied that we did that one thing that I al­ways wanted to do, y’know?”

Then there’s the Con­crete And Gold lyric sheet, whose of­ten bleak view­point is at odds with Grohl’s sunny-side-up per­sona, and prompted Josh Homme to note: “Fi­nally, Dave’s made a dark al­bum. It was about time.”

“Well, I had been watch­ing tele­vi­sion and think­ing about the state of the world and the state of Amer­ica,” re­mem­bers Grohl, “and I went to

Ojai and fuck­ing turned the tele­vi­sion off. I threw the tele­vi­sion out the win­dow and just wanted to play mu­sic; dis­ap­pear. But yeah, I mean, I think the cur­rent cli­mate here on planet Earth is a bit dis­parag­ing. It seems like there’s so much divi­sion and con­flict that ul­ti­mately all I want to do is bring ev­ery­one to­gether to feel some hope or sing a song.

“When you come to a Foo Fight­ers show,” he con­tin­ues, “not ev­ery­body comes from the same place. They’re from all walks of life and dif­fer­ent races, dif­fer­ent re­li­gions, dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties, dif­fer­ent lan­guages, but they all man­age to come to­gether and sing songs with us, and that to me is the ul­ti­mate goal. I don’t want to di­vide any­one. I want there to be this sort of co­ex­is­tence, though I feel like there’s a lot of in­sti­tu­tions that are placed upon us that re­ally split ev­ery­one into so many

“When we play live and you’ve got a hun­dred thou­sand peo­ple singing along, that’s what life’s all about.”

dif­fer­ent fac­tions that you for­get about ba­sic com­mon hu­man be­hav­iour.

“When I’m writ­ing lyrics, I’m not so po­lit­i­cally di­rect that it would sound like a Rage Against

The Ma­chine al­bum, but what I’m try­ing to do is ex­press frus­tra­tion at how ev­ery­one is so di­vided. When we go play live and you’ve got a hun­dred thou­sand peo­ple singing along to a song, that to me is what life’s all about. Con­nect­ing all these peo­ple with a lyric or a song or what­ever. That’s what gives me hope.”

Ar­rows could be in­ter­preted as a call-to-arms against Pres­i­dent Trump: a song about a char­ac­ter with ar­rows in his eyes and war on his mind?

“One of the beau­ti­ful things about lyrics is that you wind up singing those songs for your own rea­sons. Ar­rows is ac­tu­ally writ­ten about my mother, and the strug­gles of be­ing a woman and a sin­gle par­ent, try­ing to raise two kids as a pub­lic school teacher, and the strug­gles that I’d watch her go through. Dirty Wa­ter, I think, is just about feel­ing pol­luted by that black cloud of op­pres­sion. Y’know, where you’re bleed­ing dirty wa­ter and you’re breath­ing dirty sky, you just kinda feel pol­luted by that sort of dark en­ergy.”

Other songs, like the ca­cophonous La Dee Da, with its ref­er­ences to cult leader Jim Jones, find Grohl look­ing in­wards and back­wards. “That song is about me as a teenager,” ex­plains Grohl. “When I was twelve or thir­teen years old, I started dis­cov­er­ing hard­core punk rock, un­der­ground mu­sic, and I was alien­ated from most peo­ple in my neigh­bour­hood where I lived. I was the only weird punk-rock kid, and there was some­thing em­pow­er­ing about that – I felt good about my­self that I was dif­fer­ent from ev­ery­one else. And this is in the 80s where there’s this con­ser­va­tive wave of pol­i­tics that was wash­ing over Amer­ica, with the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion and Reaganomics, and the coun­try was in this state of con­flict, be­cause in­stead of it be­ing pro­gres­sive, it seemed re­gres­sive. And as a for­ward-think­ing fuck­ing alien­ated freak, I just felt un­com­fort­able that: wait a minute, I don’t want life to be like it was in the fifties. I want life to be like it is fuck­ing now. To­day.

“There were times where it was dif­fi­cult,” he re­flects, “but I felt proud that I didn’t just go by the same stan­dards as ev­ery­one else in life, and so lis­ten­ing to Psy­chic TV or fuck­ing crazy in­dus­trial mu­sic in my blue bedroom, where I had mis­tak­enly painted Jim Jones on my wall. I didn’t mean to: I was paint­ing his face on a bed­sheet and it stuck to my wall. So when I tore it off, all the paint bled through onto my wall. So over my bed, I had this mu­ral of his face for years. And ob­vi­ously he was a fuck­ing vi­o­lent, ter­ri­ble, crazy fuck­ing per­son… but I wrote that song about how I still feel alien­ated in life in so many ways.”

Grohl is a teenager no longer. At 48, black must soon give way to grey, the first hint of the age­ing process an­nounced by his thick black spec­ta­cles. “Oh God, it’s the worst,” he hoots. “When I was young, I re­ally wanted glasses cos my sis­ter had them. She had braces and glasses. I was so jeal­ous, cos she had all the ac­cou­trements. And then fi­nally, when I turned 40, eight years ago, my op­tometrist said: ‘Well, you need glasses.’ I was like: ‘Yay!

I’m get­ting glasses!’ Now I’m like: ‘Fuck glasses!’ They drive me crazy. If I for­get them I can’t read menus. I ask peo­ple to read me the menu. It’s em­bar­rass­ing. It’s ter­ri­ble. C’est la vie, mon chéri.”

Break­ing your leg, sit­ting on that throne, get­ting glasses… have you ever won­dered if you might be get­ting too old for all this? “Oh, I’ve felt like that for the last fif­teen years, y’know?” Grohl says, laugh­ing. “I re­mem­ber when we first started the band, think­ing, ‘Well, I won’t do this in my thir­ties cos I’ll just be too old.’ But as you play, you don’t think about that. You just sort of feel like your­self. You prob­a­bly still feel like you’re twenty-five, un­til you see your re­flec­tion in a win­dow or a mir­ror and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, what hap­pened?’

“But no, I don’t think you could put an ex­pi­ra­tion date on some­thing that still has life.

I’ve al­ways felt like there’s still life in this band, and there’s still songs in the band, and we’re still a fuck­ing great live band, so I don’t know why we would stop.”

Game of thrones: the king of rock puts his feet up. Sane old songs: “Mu­sic is what keeps me from go­ing crazy.”

In­ter­view: Mar­cel An­ders

Foo Fight­ers: (l-r) Tay­lor Hawkins, Pat Smear, Dave Grohl, Rami Jaf­fee, Nate Men­del, Chris Shi­flett. “When I’m writ­ing lyrics, what I’m try­ing to do is ex­press frus­tra­tion at how ev­ery­one is so di­vided.”

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