Q: Are we not metal? A: We are Probot!
It is a bright, crisp Sunday in Los Angeles, and Dave Grohl is
It is a bright, crisp Sunday in Los Angeles, and Dave Grohl issurveying a room full of young, half-naked women and smiling as ifit’s Christmas morning and Santa has brought him a brand-new dirtbikeand left that dirt bike in a room full of young,half-naked women. Grohl, who currently fronts the Foo Fightersand once played drums for a popular rock band from Washingtonstate, is here to shoot a video for “Shake Your Blood,” the firstsingle from his heavy-metal side project, Probot.
Theyoung, half-naked women are models from the indie-punk website known toone-handed Net surfers as SuicideGirls.com. They’ve left theirbedrooms, their webcams, and their collections of Death Cab for Cutie7-inches to come to this Hollywood soundstage and appear as backupdancers. Within the hour, they will be writhing and thrashing andplayfully assailing one another with leather whips on a set tricked outwith a round, revolving stage and more than $10,000 worth of rentedS&M-dungeon equipment. Some of them will be in cages.
But right now, they’re milling around the craft-servicetable, eating Gummi Bears and trail mix. The room looks like an opencasting call for a horny hipster’s naughtiest dream. There aregiggling, goth-pale girls; pierced girls with Pippi Longstockingpigtails; girls clad in latex hot pants, fishnet stockings, spikedheels, and, in at least one case, nothing but panties, rope, andstrategically placed X’s of black electrical tape. Ducking into amakeshift dressing room, Grohl grins and says, “I feel like I’m runninga fuckin’ brothel.” He politely declines the attentions of an on-sethairstylist. “I just need to make my hair kinda wet, so it looks likeI’m sweaty and gross.”
Grohl’s disinterest in grooming is understandable. At thismoment, he’s so clearly jacked that it’s hard to imagine him sittingstill. He’s looking forward to the release of Probot, anexacting re-creation of vintage underground metal at its most savageand uncompromising; it’s a vulgar display of ax-grinding powervirtually guaranteed to frighten Foo Fighters fans. The album began,humbly, as a collection of heavy-metal instrumentals that Grohl andfriends like ex-Zwan/Chavez guitarist Matt Sweeney recorded in thebasement studio of Grohl’s Virginia home. It then grew into a Satanicversion of Santana’s Supernatural after a friend urged Grohl toenlist the services of real metal vocalists, including Mercyful Fatehowler King Diamond, Corrosion of Conformity growler Mike Dean, andVenom postapocalyptic mutant disemboweler Cronos.
Grohl is also excited because Scott “Wino” Weinrich, ofWashington, D.C., doom-metal icons the Obsessed, is here to play guitarin the video. And most of all, he’s psyched about the imminent arrivalof Lemmy Kilmister-who sings on “Shake Your Blood” and who, asMotörhead’s founder and frontman, has embodied the speed-maddened,power-drunk, umlaut-misplacing spirit of metal since before most of theSuicide Girls were born.
“I’m more relaxed and comfortable around him now,” Grohlsays, applying a borrowed lighter to a bummed smoke. “But that firstday in the studio, I was really fuckin’ nervous. It was like going inthe studio with Paul McCartney. He walked in, said hello, and thensaid, ‘Who wants a drink?’ We went upstairs and mixed a couple Jack andCokes. It was noon. We started talking about World War II androck’n’roll. By three, I was fucking shit-faced, and he was ready torecord.”
Kilmister arrives a few minutes later. He’s 58 andbuilt like an equestrian statue, wearing tight black jeans and a whitecowboy hat and matching boots. He looks ready to rock or throw chairsin a saloon brawl, whichever comes first. He carries his bass-guitarcase in one hand and a copy of the dictionary-size Stephen King novel Wizard and Glassin the other. He cuts through the crowd of Suicide Girls, lookingutterly indifferent, and heads for the back room purposefully, like aplumber with a pipe to fix.
Someone asks him if he’s ready to shoot.
“They can shoot me anytime they want,” he rumbles, “butthey’ll have to get a 12-gauge.” He then begins mixing himself acocktail.
When the cameras roll, two things are immediately clearabout Dave Grohl, performer. First, he’s focused: He attacks the drumswith a feral fervor, barking lyrics through gnashed teeth. Second, heis not kidding. At one point, between takes, he gamely submits to amock whipping at the hands of two Suicide Girls while the site’scofounder, Missy, snaps photos. But there’s not a whiff of parody ondisplay here, none of the deadpan rock fealty that pals Tenacious Dhave made their trademark. Grohl’s not playing at being in a metalband-he’s playing metal.
From the infamous Mentos-commercial video for the FooFighters’ “Big Me” to his vaguely Ringo-esque I’m-just-playin’-me-drumsstint with Queens of the Stone Age, it sometimes seems like Grohl, 35,has spent his entire post-Nirvana career struggling to be taken lessseriously. It’s as if he’s tried to downplay his association with themost profound rock tragedy since John Lennon’s murder by living asgoofy a public life as possible. But while he’s aware that his metalmove will seem like another good-natured gag-especially since he’s soclosely identified with grunge, long posited by rock journalists as thegenre that killed metal-he insists it’s an utterly heartfelt tribute.
“There’s this rock irony that’s chic now,” he concedes,stressing the “i” word like a contemptuous slur. “You have bands likethe Darkness, supermodels wearing Motörhead shirts, Justin Timberlakein an MC5 tee. It doesn’t really upset me, because I don’t haveanything to do with it. But to me, there’s nothing ironic or funnyabout this album. I really do what I do, and I like the music that Ilike.
“When I drive through the canyons of Los Angeles, I don’tlisten to, you know, the new fuckin’ Linkin Park record. I’m rockin’some old Trouble or Saint Vitus or some Voivod. Most people don’t knowmuch about me prior to 1991, and it’s hard to imagine that someone in aband like the Foo Fighters grew up listening to Venom. It’s just theenergy, the spirit of the music, that I love, and that’s something thatI’ve never lost.”
A teenage Grohl first caught that spirit in the mid-’80swhen he was drumming in hardcore bands like Washington, D.C.’smetal-edged Scream and listening to the fastest music he could find.According to Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, the test pilots ofChuck Yeager’s generation believed that demons were waiting for thembeyond Mach 2; Grohl’s quest for sound-barrier-pushing rock led him toSlayer, which is basically the same thing.”From 1982 to 1989, the underground-metal scene was kind of hand inhand with the hardcore scene,” Grohl explains. “I remember the Cro-Magssharing a bill with Voivod and Venom or seeing 45 Grave and theObsessed or C.O.C. and Motörhead.”
The bond was a matter of values, as well as necessity:”Sluggin’ it out in vans,” he says. “Fuckin’ doin’ it yourself. Anunderground network of people getting it together to make it happenbecause they all love it so much.”
By now, Grohl is the punk equivalent of landed gentry, butwhen he invokes the DIY good ol’ days in talking about Probot, he’s notjust cranking the smoke machine. He sat on the finished record foralmost two years, looking for a label willing to promote it as a metalalbum rather than the work of a Foo Fighter on a headbanger’s holiday.Independent label Southern Lord ended up doing the honors, inconjunction with Grohl’s own Roswell imprint.
Asked if Probot is his attempt to stoke anunderground-metal renaissance, Grohl demurs. “I just wanted to make analbum that sounded great,” he says. “If it makes people want to go outand pick up some Trouble or Celtic Frost, kickass, but that’s not myintention.”It’s funny-when I was on the Queens of the Stone Age tour, some womancame up to me. She was in her 50s, totally straight, seemed likesomebody’s mother. And she said, ‘Hey, when’s the Probot record comingout?’ And I said, ‘Uh, I don’t really know if you’re gonna like it.’And she said, ‘No, no, I heard about it. I read the interviews, and Iwent out and bought Dimension Hatross by Voivod, and I love it!’ And I was like, ‘Oh, my God-what have I done?'”