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The Tao of Foo

Sometimes Growing Up Means Being A Giant Hypocrite And That’s Okay

Upstairs at Foo HQ, Mendel, 38, is waiting for a haircut and stewing. Today’s big assignment is recording footage that will be shown at Wal-Marts nationwide, as well as bonus downloads that will be available with the new album exclusively at the retail giant’s online store. “Everybody knows that the way Wal-Mart runs is bad for small businesses, small towns, bad for the working class.” Mendel shakes his head. “I’m definitely conflicted about doing this thing.”

Downstairs, Hawkins, 35, offers a more blunt assessment: “It’s hard to sell records these days, man. Gotta suck some corporate cock.”

Grohl’s rationalizations are a bit more nuanced. Like Mendel, he cut his teeth in the hardcore punk scene of the ’80s. “We both still feel like our inspiration is rooted in that. But it’s kind of a different ball game now.”

With music retailers going under left and right, Grohl knows that Wal-Mart is just about the only game in most towns. “Anything that has to do with promoting the music through a chain that will sell albums we kind of feel okay about,” he says, sounding only half convinced. “I mean, we’ve had Ford come to us and say, ‘We want “Times Like These” for this commercial,’ and everybody’s begging us: ‘It’ll be a million dollars! It’ll be huge!’ But that creeps me out.”

Then there’s the family to consider. The way he figures it, if working with Wal-Mart means 15,000 fans waiting for the band in Boise, Idaho, and the ability to tour with his wife and child comfortably, Grohl will live with a few pangs of punk-rock guilt. It’s called selling out. Or growing up. You decide.

Minivans: Not Bad Actually

Chris Shiflett hates a lot of things about the San Fernando Valley: the broiling climate, the grueling commute. But at the moment, he’s piqued by his inability to find a restaurant open on a Tuesday morning.

For the past ten minutes, he’s been wheeling his hybrid SUV—”I bought it so I can be a guilt-free fucking jerk and drive around L.A.”— through an endless maze of strip malls. He stops at a California Chicken Cafe. Closed. Baja Fresh. Closed. Delicious Bakery. Sorry. “We could go to Starbucks,” Shiflett says finally, with an air of surrender. “They’ll have a fucking muffin or something.”

Shiflett, 36, whose bantam build and baby blues lend him a passing resemblance to Roger Daltrey, is hoping to slam some calories before a mandatory rehearsal at 11. “Right now we’re in that weird place where we’ve made this new album and we don’t know how to play it yet,” he notes between bites of ham-and-egg sandwich. “I looked at the set list, and I’m like, ‘Whoa. Don’t know how to play that one or that one, and, oh, that one we don’t have down either.'”

The pressure is magnified, in this case, because the Foos are slated to play a live set at MTVs Video Music Awards in four days that includes—at Grohl’s friendly insistence—guest appearances by half the musicians he’s ever played with and songs such as the Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia.”

This is actually the exciting part, Shiflett notes. “Is it a rush to play ‘Learn to Fly’ every night? Not really. It’s fucking boring. But you have to play it, because that’s what people who are paying money want to see.”

When Shiflett joined the Foos eight years ago, he was a bachelor, thrilled at his sudden access to, well, let’s call them the fringe benefits of stardom. Today, he’s the ranking dad of the band, with four-year-old Liam and one-year-old Dashiell.

“There’s never dull a moment at my house, believe me,” he says. “Going on tour used to be like work…and coming home was like downtime. Now it’s the exact opposite.” Shiflett is even considering trading in the SUV for—the very word seems to cause him physical pain—a minivan.

But for the most part, he’s made his peace with the rock star/daddy duality. There are, after all, points of overlap. “My oldest boy comes to shows. He’s obsessed with rock music in general and Foo Fighters in particular,” he says, adding with a grin: “He knows our new album better than I do.”

Democracy Is Overrated

“When you have a clear-cut leader, especially one who’s not a dick, it just makes things easier. We’re not going to sit around and squabble for three days like little fucking high school chicks over a T-shirt design or a lyric or a tempo to a song. At the end of the day, Dave can say, ‘Hey, this is it.’ And it kind of keeps the peace, because when it comes to making art, there aren’t many democracies.”

So sayeth the Hawk, who, in addition to being the Undisputed Silliest Foo, is also the most candid.

Fresh from a ferocious rehearsal session for the VMAs, Hawkins is now ferociously attacking a chicken quesadilla and a mound of guacamole and holding forth on the Benign Dictatorship of Dave. “Everybody here is rich because of Dave, and he cuts people in on an artistic level, too. If I was just sitting there, with Dave saying, ‘This is exactly the drum part you’re playing,’ I would bail.”

Shiflett agrees: “It’s annoying when you have everyone going, ‘Come on, dudes, do mine!’ That’s exactly what breaks bands up.”

And if they feel the need to write their own songs or play frontman? Hey, that’s what side projects (like Taylor Hawkins & the Coattail Riders, Shiflett’s Jackson United, and Mendel’s the Fire Theft) are for.