IN THE STUDIO: FOO FIGHTERS
WITH SOME UNLIKELY HELP, DAVE GROHL FINDS THE SWEET SPOT BETWEEN ’70S MOR AND MOTÖRHEAD.
How Boyz II Men helped Dave Grohl raise his game on the Foos’ ninth LP. Really…
Sometimes the mood of an album can shift in unlikely circumstances. For Dave Grohl, his most recent creative epiphany took place in a recording studio car park. Sitting on a stool “with an acoustic guitar and lyric book” he was unexpectedly approached by Shawn Stockman – one-time judge on the US talent show, The Sing-Off, and founding member of slow jam quartet, Boyz II Men. The pair began talking, a conversation that resulted in Stockman joining the Foo Fighters’ songwriter-in-chief to create a grand choir on the title track for the band’s forthcoming new album, Concrete And Gold. “It was a sea of beautiful voices,” laughs Grohl, recalling the surreal union that led to the “heavy, dark, Sabbath meets Pink Floyd” track. “The guy from Boyz II Men really raised the fucking bar on this record. It sounds strange but I swear to god, he came in and pushed us to do better.” Such are the lofty altitudes in which the Foo Fighters currently orbit. Having opted to record with Greg Kurstin of Californian synth pop duo The Bird And The Bee and producer to the likes of Sia and Adele, the six-piece (keyboardist Rami Jaffee is now an official member of the band) began recording 11 songs that rejected the lyrical parameters restricting Sonic Highways’ geographically-themed, “city bungee jumps” in 2014. “We went into a studio and made a fucking record,” says Grohl, succinctly. A four-month encampment in LA’s EastWest Studios began in December and drew vocal cameos from several fellow resident artists, including Alison Mosshart of The Kills. “But Adele’s not on this record,” says Grohl, dispelling a recently popular online myth. “There are names we’re keeping secret, though. If you can figure out the mystery of who, then I’ll send you a fucking lollipop.”
Locating the potential presence of Muse and Justin Timberlake – both in attendance at EastWest during Grohl’s residency – proves tricky. But with repeated listens, Concrete And Gold soon reveals itself as an album that blends honeyed, multilayered vocal hooks with “super heavy riffs”, working to a production MO that connects with Grohl’s sonic sweet spot. “My early love of ’ 70s AM Gold and AC/DC, Aerosmith, and hard rock,” he says. Opening with the quiet-loud dynamics of T-Shirt (“written after watching the American political fiasco”), it lands familiar, melodic footfalls in the stampeding rock of Run and La Dee Da. The sonic surprises arrive later, in tracks such as The Sky Is A Neighbourhood and the title track where lush, seven-part harmonies add a grandiose twist in a sound that Grohl has likened to The Beatles colliding with Motörhead. “I just wanna make Lemmy proud,” he says. “He’d understand, like on the 50 guitars roaring on Make It Right. I think we pulled it off.” Despite Grohl’s aims of recording in a more straightforward fashion, it wouldn’t be a Foo Fighters project without a little stab at some overly ambitious endeavour. “I’m a hyperactive musician,” he states, though, even by his standards, the briefly considered “Hollywood Bowl Project” – several live recording sessions held in front of an audience of thousands at the famous LA amphitheatre – seemed too much. “When I came up with that concept the band looked at me and said, ‘Are you out of your fucking mind?’ I was really excited. Then I saw PJ Harvey had done something similar on 2016’ s The Hope Six Demolition Project] and she’d do it a fucking million times better.” Their dramatic aims might have been briefly tempered, but if it can produce a record as satisfying as Concrete And Gold, who cares?
“THE GUY FROM BOYZ II MEN REALLY RAISED THE F**KING BAR ON THIS RECORD, I SWEAR TO GOD.” DAVE GROHL
Digging for …Gold: (clockwise from left) Dave Grohl in shred heaven; “OK, guys, let’s freejam” – Foos and friends in LA’s EastWest Studios; Grohl puts his feet up with producer Greg Kurstin (centre).