The Chosen Foo
Dave Grohl and his band of cut-ups can hardly contain themselves. From (sorta) saying no to drugs to using the other N-word, the Norah Jones-loving nicest guy in rock opens up.
The road to Studio 606, the new, multimillion-dollar Foo Fighters headquarters, isn’t paved with gold. Rather, it’s paved with common asphalt, marred by rush-hour traffic, and dotted with all the symbols of suburban sprawl: take-out chicken joints, chain drugstores, a drive-thru Starbucks. On the heels of the band’s 2002 back-from-the-brink-of-breakup album, One by One (like all Foo releases, certified platinum), singer/guitarist Dave Grohl could’ve set down roots anywhere. After all, Foo Fighters are that rarest of breeds—a remarkably consistent, longlasting rock band—and their global success, not to mention Grohl’s net worth from his tenure in a certain grunge trio, afforded the band the opportunity to build their playground wherever they fancied. So they chose a shady (in both senses) street in Northridge, California, nestled in the heart of the much-mocked San Fernando Valley, the porn capital of the world.
“Dude, I love the Valley!” says Grohl with a laugh, as he lounges in the complex’s upstairs kitchen. All of the fixtures are gleaming and the walls still have that Benjamin Moore scent. He and the other Foos (drummer Taylor Hawkins, guitarist Chris Shiflett, and bassist Nate Mendel) recorded their recent double album, In Your Honor, in the studio just beneath our feet. Grohl lights the first of many cigarettes and continues: “I grew up in suburban Virginia, and I’m no stranger to strip malls, but I love the Valley mostly because of the stigma. The Valley is not cool. I made a point of wearing an Encino T-shirt that I bought at the drugstore to the MTV Movie Awards, because I want Lindsay Lohan and fucking Hilary Duff to hate me because I live in Encino.”
Still, why choose to live in such an uncool place?
Grohl shrugs. “There are some really good delis out here.”
SPIN: Taylor said the biggest difference between recording here and recording at your house in Virginia is that he didn’t have to worry about spilling shit in your kitchen.
GROHL: It’s true. It makes a big difference when you don’t have to clean up barf from your carpet. I puked in my office once and there’s still a stain. That’s a nice souvenir. I look at it now and go, “Awww, our third record!”
The hallway that leads from the 606’s entrance to its massive, high tech studio isn’t paved at all, but it is lined with gold—not to mention platinum. Every inch of wall space is covered with framed plaques and citations, millions of records sold in what seems like nearly every country on earth, all of which feature the musicianship of 36-year-old David Eric Grohl. Each Foo Fighters record is represented, as are discs by Queens of the Stone Age, Tenacious D, and of course, Nirvana (but no Probot, his metal side project from last year). Grohl has had more rock’n’roll success in 15 years than most Hall of Famers have had in their entire careers, and here it’s all on display, enough bling glinting off the track lighting to make Jay-Z jealous. The whole thing seems ridiculously daunting—one can almost imagine the tremors felt by the three other Foos every time they show up for work. Dude, don’t let me be the one that fucks this whole thing up!
Are the records meant to intimidate people?
[Laughs] Naw, it’s just shit you wouldn’t want in your house. What you’re supposed to notice are all the photos in between the plaques: Johnny Cash, Jimmy Page, John Bonham, David Bowie, fucking David Lee Roth. Then you should see the gold record of Led Zeppelin II that’s hanging above the control room wall. That’s to make you go, “Okay, we have to do something real here. Don’t cheese out!”
But you otherwise don’t seem to hold on to much from your past.
Yeah, I travel light and have since I dropped out of high school to live out of a bag in a van with people I don’t know. I have mountains of old punk-rock posters and lyrics and tour journals, but ehhh…l don’t like stuff. It’s just more to miss when you’re gone.
You mentioned that the albums and photos hanging in the hall inspire you. What else do you draw on for inspiration?
It changes, but to this day, it’s when you hear an album that inspires you to write or play yourself. It’s just all about the shameless fucking naked passion. Like the new High on Fire Blessed Black Wings record. It’s the most brutal metal album I’ve heard in years. Or the first time I heard My Morning Jacket’s At Dawn—it still makes me cry. And I’m inspired by connection with other people. I’ve always felt like an outsider.
These are the two sides of Dave Grohl. Not electric and acoustic, like the discs that make up In Your Honor, but Unbelievably Humble Nice Guy versus Outrageously Focused Superstar. Luckily, it just takes a moment in his kinda hyper, ultrapolite presence to realize the first one wins out every time. It’s only after Grohl has dismissed his zillions of records sold that I notice the smaller accolades mixed in—awards from regional papers proclaiming Nirvana 1992’s “Best Up-and-Coming Heavy Metal Band” or the trophy for “Most Promising Drummer” of 1991.
Why make a double album?
When we came off the last year and a half of touring, I didn’t know what to do. Am I supposed to jump back in and shit out another CD and speed up my contract and make sure we get a bigger light show? It didn’t seem creatively rewarding. So I started writing this acoustic stuff because I wanted to find a movie to score; one of my favorite records is Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to Paris, Texas. But after demoing all this acoustic music and doing Probot, I thought, “Why can’t this be on Foo Fighters records?” I didn’t want to do a solo record, and who’s to say what we should sound like? And I think the band finally trusted me to try it.
Well, they joined the band knowing it was essentially a solo project.
Yeah, but we immediately started writing music as a band from the second record on. We’re a great band that plays well together, but it has to have someone at the fucking wheel.
Your lyrics seem much more up front and revealing on this record. You even included “Friend of a Friend” [written in 1990], the first song that you’ve admitted is about Kurt Cobain.
I used to back away from things that were too raw, lyrically. I’d shy away from saying something that was revealing—like, “Uh oh, they’re going to know what I’m talking about!” But finally I said, “Fuck it, that’s ridiculous. I can’t do that for the rest of my life.”
I hear it all the time: Dave Grohl is the nicest guy in rock. How did you get that rep?
[Blushes] I don’t know. Because I don’t do coke? I suppose it’s just not taking anything for granted and feeling lucky to be here. I don’t know—there’s fucking thousands of nice guys in the world! Maybe it’s because I have a goofy smile and people are like, “Awww, he’s like a little kid!” I’m 36! My fucking ankles are killing me!