Another bandmates and friend overdosed, Courtney Love was on the warpath again, and his band couldn't even get it together to record a new album. Dave Grohl was experiencing some serious Nirvana deja vu. But somehow, the Foo Fighters survived—wiser, and more metal, than ever.
When in Los Angeles, Dave Grohl and his girlfriend, Jordan Blum, stay in a rented Rose McGowan. For a place where Marilyn Manson may very well have slept, it's remarkably bright and cheery, and for a rock star's pied-a-terre, it's spotless—Grohl, 33, is apparently a real hot dog with the Lemon Pledge and the vacuum when journalists aren't around.
On the fridge: a Polaroid of Grohl holding a pair of Queen guitarist Brian May's underwear (long story), and some Magnetic Poetry ("Thou shalt marry rank peevish vixen"). On the coffee table: a book by Los Angeles artist Raymond Pettibon, whose deadpan, macabre illustrations have graced albums by punk-rock legends Black Flag, Minutemen, and Sonic Youth. Pettibon drew the human heart that appears on the cover of the Foo Fighters' fourth album, One by One, but in Grohl's book, a different image is marked with a blue Post-it note—a man's heavily inked head in silhouette, with a caption that reads: "I want it to be known that I exist. I do not wish it to be known what sort of person I am."
In the years since Nirvana came to its sudden end, this has been Grohl's basic policy vis-a-vis interviews. His reluctance to spill on a range of topics—his 1997 divorce from wife Jenny Youngblood; his relationships with Veruca Salt's Louise Post and former Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur; and, above all, Nirvana, and Kurt Cobain's 1994 suicide—suggested that he was genuinely uncomfortable leveraging his personal life to promote his music. For a guy who's been famous, albeit reluctantly, since Kennedy was still an MTV VJ, this seemed both noble and a bit naive.
But things are different now. It was a rough 12 months for the Foo Fighters. Drummer Taylor Hawkins almost died of a drug overdose in August 2001. Early recording sessions for One by One became an arduous four-month slog. And Grohl's drumming stint with ascendant stoner-metal superheroes Queens of the Stone Age led many—including his bandmates—to wonder whether the Foos' 1999 album, There Is Nothing Left to Lose, would be their last. Then there's Grohl and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic's ongoing legal battle with Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, over unreleased Nirvana tracks that may (or may not) finally be released this year.
By rights, One by One should've probably come out half-assed or not at all. Instead, it's the best Foo Fighters record since 1997's The Colour and the Shape. Grohl's songs still ratchet from power-pop shimmer to monkey-wrenched rage, but there's a new urgency to them, a hard-won richness of emotion. It's as if the band has converted its bruises into muscle.
Of Grohl's time with Queens of the Stone Age, Queens' singer-guitarist Josh Homme says, "He played like a guy with something to prove. He's playing his ass off on our record. He was like, 'Just in case you forgot'—boom! Droppin' bombs and shit."
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, Grohl, dressed in jeans and a plain white T-shirt that looks like it just came out of a three-pack, sinks into a patio chair in his backyard. He's goatee-less but sporting Spock-meets Skynyrd sideburns, and he's been up all night editing the video for One by One's first single, the buzz-saw—riff nail-biter "All My Life," which he also directed. Armed with a Heineken and a pack of Marlboros, he's ready to talk about the album, and more. "This time," he says, "I just thought, 'Fuck it.' I got nothin' to lose."
Spin: Now that the band has been around for eight years, do you feel like you're drawing an older crowd?
Grohl: I think we draw a more mature audience—not older. We attract people with mustaches. People with half-shirts. Strippers. And at the same time, we get people who dig Dashboard Confessional and kids in Green Day T-shirts. It seems like our band's sound is so general that it applies to all those people. On our second tour, with Shudder to Think, we were doing "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" by Journey. And [Shudder to Think's] Craig [Wedren] would come up and sing it exactly like Steve Perry. It was so killer. And you'd look at these kids in the crowd, with frowns on their faces, like, "This new Foo Fighters song sucks shit." But there'd be the one dude in the back, with the mullet and mustache, goin', "Yesss!"
You're one of the only '90s alternative-rock bands that hasn't lost a step commercially—a lot of your peers aren't really around anymore.
I don't know what it is that makes music so disposable. I just don't get it. I don't know why it's so easy for people to throw something away. I guess, in a way, our band actually represents something, which I didn't really consider until a few years ago. I didn't think we meant much to anybody. Why not? Well, it's a defense mechanism. From my point of view, I was in this band that people considered so important, and people thought it really made a difference, and it touched so many people's lives and changed the direction of popular culture. Now, that's not necessarily how I look at it, but a lot of people think about it that way. And it doesn't make sense to imagine that happening twice in your life. The Beatles were fucking great. But Wings didn't change the world. They had great music and great songs, but Jesus Christ, y'know? [Pauses] I can't believe I just made that comparison. That's so fucking horribly pretentious.
"Grohl says Nirvana were as good as the Beatles."
[Laughing] No, no, strike that! But you have to take that into consideration. Also, being the drummer and stepping out to be a vocalist/guitar player/songwriter, you don't expect much. And then, after a while, you start to realize, "Okay, I'm the oldest person at this awards ceremony. I'm the oldest person on this bill." And people come up to me—people from the headlining band—and say, "You guys were my first concert."
Do fans still approach you with questions about Nirvana?
I think people are afraid to ask me about it because of the demise of the band. They feel intimidated and don't know what to say. People will ask me questions, and they won't say the word Nirvana. They'll say, "Well, in your previous band...." It's funny, because I don't consider it a curse. It's not something I dislike talking about. I mean, shit, you can't avoid it, really. There's not one day that goes by that I don't think about it.
Really, every day?
People think of Nirvana as this sad, brooding experience. But I don't. I have a lot of great memories. And at the same time, I've forgotten so much, just because it was so insane. I mean, fuck, I joined the band in September of 1990, and by April of '94, it was done. Try to remember everything that happened to you during college. You can't.
Do you still have feelings that are unresolved from that era?
Well, there's still times when I read [Nirvana] lyrics and all of a sudden I understand them—like, "Oh, that's what [Kurt] was talking about." Or there are times when I remember something ridiculous that makes me laugh my ass off or something that makes me really sad. You never get over it. It's not the kind of thing that you wanna get over.
Do you still feel like the new guy? In Nirvana?
Yeah. Oh, always. Dude, I was like their sixth drummer. When I think of Nirvana, I think of Krist and Kurt. I was just the drummer.