Dave Grohl is a very private guy in a very public circus, so it's ironic that his choice for our lunch locale is the restaurant at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood, a setting with its own subtext of tragedy and loss. John Belushi fixed up his lethal speedball in bungalow 3, while songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil penned the Righteous Brothers' hit "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" in room 2H. The 28-year-old Grohl has found his own lovin' feelin' once more—he's currently romantically linked to Veruca Salt guitarist Louise Post, whom he met when the two collaborated on a couple of songs for Grohl's soundtrack to the Paul Schrader flop Touch.
Despite the Hollywood Babylon backdrop, Grohl is painfully wary of becoming another bold-faced name in the gossip columns. He's experienced firsthand what happens when hard rock becomes Hard Copy, when Andy Rooney starts sifting through your bandmate's personal effects. After Nirvana, he's ultrasensitive about turning his life into the kind of tabloid fare Courtney Love, who he helped introduce to Kurt Cobain, has become infamous for. When it came time to do interviews for the Foos' first album, in fact, Grohl chose to let the record do the talking for him.
Which turned out to be a bit of a problem, since Grohl's lyrical approach can be summed up in a line from the Foos' first-ever single, "This Is a Call": "Riddling is easy, riddling is good." Well, okay, except it turns out that Grohl was really singing about the drug given to hyperactive children, 'Ritalin is easy, Ritalin is good," so go figure. Sometimes it's tougher than leather to understand exactly what Grohl is saying, and not even his bandmates know for sure: Hawkins admits he never could make out a word of "This Is a Call," and thinks the line "Don't want to be your monkey wrench" in Colour's "Monkey Wrench" is "Don't want to be your huggy bear," while Smear thinks "One more indecent accident" is "Want War and Peace an accident." For the record, I tell Grohl that I misheard "I'd rather leave than suffer this" as "I'd rather be your circumflex." "Yeah," he cracks, "then I guess 'What do you do when all your enemies are friends?' would be 'What do you do when all your enemies are French?'"
Qu'est-ce que ce, Dave? "It was nonsense," confesses Grohl of many of the lyrics on the Foos' self-titled 1995 debut, on which in Prince-like fashion he played every instrument (save one Greg Dulli guitar solo). "It was for fear of writing something that might reveal too much, or actually reveal something at all. I've come to the conclusion that it's so much more difficult to write lyrics that are meaningless, because the first thing that happens when you sit down to write is you start spilling emotions, and whatever is hidden inside you is going to make its way out. I don't want to let everyone else in on my problems or my personal crisis or my misery. They're mine."
Grohl is much prouder of his wordplay on the new album (the first to feature the musical contributions of other Foo Fighters), even including a lyric sheet this time around, though the songs still provide few clues to his inner workings despite the fact that his three-year-old marriage to photographer Jennifer Youngblood was unraveling as he penned them. On "New Way Home" he declares, "I'll never tell you the secrets I'm holding," and during our conversation that list of taboo topics includes:
Whether the scalding commentary of "I'll Stick Around"—with lines like "how could it be I'm the only one who sees your rehearsed insanity" and "I've been around all the pawns you've gagged and bound"—is directed, as is widely assumed, at Courtney Love: "I don't want to say; leave that to speculation. [Giggles, long pause] It's not about Kurt, that's for sure."
His impending divorce: "I don't want to get into it too much. [Looks off into distance, sighs] It sucks."
His relationship with Post: "Hmmm." [Shakes head, stares straight ahead, long pause] "That's a big no-no; next question."
What he thinks of bands shamelessly ripping off Nirvana's sound: "[Taps feet, long pause] I. don't like to slag,* but I feel very passionately about it. [Smiles, shrugs] I could really fucking go off. [Laughs heartily] You know who I mean!"
And whether scruffy Johnny Depp manque Skeet Ulrich was an influence on his current goateed look: "Shut the fuck up. [Laughs] Good Lord."
One matter Grohl will discuss, albeit gingerly, is the recent departure of drummer William Goldsmith. After a couple months of difficult recording sessions for Colour, Goldsmith—formerly Mendel's rhythm-section battery mate with the Sub Pop band Sunny Day Real Estate—left the Foos after Grohl rerecorded his drum parts on the album. "Will decided that he wanted to play with other people and not go on the road and tour for this record," states Grohl diplomatically. "It was kind of sad."
"There's no weird animosity or anything, I basically just wasn't happy is what it comes down to," explains Goldsmith, who admits to some tension over having two drummers in one group. "It got on my nerves, as far as expectations and that kind of thing. It seemed like a lot of people wanted me to be him and I would rather be me."
Fortunately for the Foos, Goldsmith's replacement, Taylor Hawkins, was easy to find. Grohl had struck up a friendship with Hawkins when the two had met last year in Europe, where Taylor was drumming in Alanis Morissette's backing band. The Foos had auditioned two other drummers before Grohl called Hawkins to ask him for recommendations, only to find out he was available. "If I was to not know Taylor and go see his band play in a club, I would approach him after the show and say, 'How much do you charge for lessons?'" enthuses Grohl. "He's 50,000 times a better drummer than me."