Dave Grohl: Rock God, Workaholic, Movie Demon

Foo Fighters frontman spills all the blood and guts on his new film, the band’s plans and a whole lot more
Dave Grohl Studio 666
(Credit: Courtesy of Open Road Films)

“Let me just play this for you — I recorded it the other day,” says an enthusiastic Dave Grohl. It’s late January, and he’s sitting in his home studio, gearing up for the release of yet another project — one that’s different than anything he’s done before. Over Zoom, he fiddles around with knobs on his speakers. Seconds later, some demonic, bone-crunching riffs are blasting (or as loud as they can through my measly MacBook Air speaker), and the sounds of doom and gloom emanate.

“I’m recording the lost album that they were making before the singer kills them,” Grohl says of the fictional Dream Widow, a band whose spirit looms large in his first feature film, Studio 666. He adds that he came up with the idea days before and now has a few weeks to finish the “album” before the movie hits theaters. Just as a point of reference, the music is more Probot, Grohl’s 2004 metal side project than anything the Foo Fighters have done.

I ask him if he would ever take Dream Widow on tour, with his disco alter-ego band The Dee Gees opening for the full Foo Fighters/not-Foo Fighters experience.

“Dude, fucking Coachella 2022!” he quips excitedly in response.

 

Grohl has had a busy past few years. Even before the pandemic, he announced plans to celebrate Foo Fighters’ 25th anniversary in style: with a new album, a tour that replicated their maiden run in 1995, and a documentary about van life. There’s no sense in rehashing what happened since, but all of the band’s best-laid plans went to waste.

One of those included unveiling Studio 666. Not that Grohl was onboard with it at first.

Sitting in his office wearing all black, the spectacled musician and “entertainment mogul” (Soundgarden’s words, not mine) displays the mile-a-minute energy that’s defined pretty much his whole career. But tackling his first non-documentary feature was one of the rare projects that wasn’t his or the band’s brainchild.

“A friend who had just come out of a meeting with a movie studio texted me and said that they wanted to make a horror film with the Foo Fighters,” he says. “I texted back and said, ‘That’s the stupidest fucking idea I’ve ever heard in my entire life.'”

But as he started working on the music that would become Medicine at Midnight, the idea didn’t seem that stupid anymore. At that time, Grohl wanted to build out a studio at a house. Call it kismet, but his landlord from a decade ago called and asked if he wanted to buy a house since he was subdividing that property. He declined, but he did find a place to work.

“I brought my demo studio into the house to start recording,” he says. “While I was doing that, I thought ‘Holy shit, this is the perfect place to make that horror film I never wanted to make,’ and just started coming up with this ridiculous idea.”

The Foos have long been fans of artists on the big screen (“Whether it’s Help! or KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park or the Spice Girls movie — Pat Smear, big fan”), so this was their chance to take something and run with it. Little did they realize that by running with a self-financed film, it would take two and a half years through a pandemic (not to mention plenty of anguish) to complete.

As the idea ballooned, Grohl kept asking himself one question: “The whole time we were just cracking up thinking, ‘Oh my God, what if blank happens?'” he says. “‘What if we blank? Could you imagine if we blank?’ Which is the story of our entire career.”

The Encino estate seemed perfect for any type of recording session (although Grohl says his Hanukkah Sessions were done in Hawaii and Greg Kurstin’s studio in Los Angeles, adding, “I would never do Hanukkah Sessions in that haunted house! No fucking way.”). Alas, it was the ideal backdrop to a horror film.

 

Foo Fighters studio 666
(L to R) Nate Mendel, Taylor Hawkins, Chris Shiflett, Dave Grohl, Pat Smear, and Rami Jaffee star as themselves in director BJ McDonnell’s STUDIO 666, an Open Road Films release. (Credit: Courtesy of Open Road Films)

Grohl and his Foos bandmates managed to keep the project completely under wraps — an impressive feat in the age of social media and curious passersby, even in the secluded area. But there was a method to this secret madness.

“Part of the plan was that we were going to make the record, and then do a whole round of press where we told everyone that we had just made an album in a haunted house,” Grohl says with a sly grin. “You can look back at some of the interviews we did, where we totally fucking lied and told people that. The plan was to convince everyone that we had recorded in a haunted house, and then BOOM! We’d drop this movie out of nowhere. But then, we had to actually stop shooting at the tail end of the schedule, because the pandemic hit.”

But, as has been very well-documented, Grohl can’t and won’t sit still. We chatted about how the film finally came together and how it stressed out his unnamed bandmates. He also looked back on a strange two years, albeit some with some major highlights, including reopening several arenas, personal happiness and everything in between.

(WARNING: Major spoilers ahead)

 

SPIN: Man, that movie took some sharp turns as you get into it… as a horror movie does, eh?
Dave Grohl: Hollywood, right? The true magic of Hollywood. I turned into a major fucking demon and murdered my band to go solo. I don’t think that anyone in the band could be considered a horror aficionado, though everyone in the band has seen at least one rock ‘n’ roll movie. When the idea started to evolve, it went from being something more along the lines of an extended Foo Fighters video to then ballooning into this full-length feature film that involves me eating Chris [Shiflett] and decapitating Taylor [Hawkins] and chainsawing Rami [Jaffe] in half while he’s fucking Whitney Cummings. [Laughs.] With this, we had the availability and the right people to facilitate all of these ridiculous ideas. When Pat Smear first watched the movie, he texted me and said, “Oh, my God, we made a movie, an actual movie.” I’m like, “What the fuck do you think we’ve been doing the last six months?” So yeah, it definitely blossomed into something we never imagined.

How did you manage to squeeze making a full-length feature into your busy schedule?
This idea started about three years ago, even before I started writing the Medicine at Midnight music. Usually, before we make an album, I’ll demo a bunch of instrumentals by myself. I play the drums, bass, guitar, and I’ll either do it here in my home studio or down the street at our big studio. But I wanted to find a house where I could be completely alone to record and engineer all this stuff by myself. At the same time, I was looking in this area in Encino for a little house to build a temporary studio. Once that all came together, we started talking to screenwriters, talking to directors and building the product, to the point where it was it became an actual film. That was very simple and practically cliche in that “rock band moves into a haunted house, someone becomes possessed, kills everybody, and there’s a demon in the house.” It’s kind of Amityville Horror, kind of Evil Dead, kind of The Shining. As all of these ideas are being formed, we’re just laughing the entire time. I mean, nobody’s renting tuxes for the fucking Oscars. We’re just trying to have fun with this.

How did you get everyone to go along with their fictional personas? Or were these “fictional” personas?
Rebecca [Hughes] and Jeff [Buhler], the screenwriters, came to hang out and just witness the actual dynamic between the band. As they were writing, they were not just elaborating, but also embellishing it to the point where it would actually be funny or interesting. If you’ve ever been in a room with all of us, it’s like being hazed by comics. All we do is just fuck with each other all day long. So the first indication that we were going to have to act was the table read, which none of us, of course, have ever done. We were flipping through the pages, beginning to realize the characters that the screenwriters had painted us to be. I’m like, “Oh, my God, wait, is Rami Pauly Shore?” We definitely knew what we were there to do within each scene. And most of that was just to be ourselves, no matter how ridiculous the situation or circumstance was. So it was fucking fun.

Dave Grohl Taylor Hawkins Studio 666
(Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Stuart / Open Road Films)

Is that house really haunted?
Well, it’s funny. When I lived there 10 years ago, I didn’t think so. My kids thought so. We had a babysitter who thought so. But I never felt weird about it. It wasn’t until I was there by myself for days on end that I convinced myself it might be and got creeped out.

How did you come up with that other band that Taylor ended up saying were supposed to be the next Jane’s Addiction and the whole vibe of that 44-minute song? It definitely didn’t sound like Jane’s Addiction…
In the script, the singer is possessed and he’s writing this song that if the band completes the song, it will open the portal to hell and this demon will be unleashed. So when asked, they’re like, “Dave, could you record some crazy song with no ending that just goes on and on?” I have so many riffs here in my studio that I’ve never used, and a lot of them are old-school heavy metal. So I crunched a bunch of them together into a 13-minute song. I think that’s what we used, and I think it’s called “Lacrimas” or something Latin. I can’t remember what it was. It was funny to make music in that way. It’s so much fun to record from this fictitious perspective — from a place where I have no obligation to be myself or the Foo Fighters.

Foo Fighters Studio 666
(L to R) Nate Mendel, Rami Jaffee, Pat Smear, Taylor Hawkins, Chris Shiflett, and Dave Grohl star as themselves in director BJ McDonnell’s STUDIO 666, an Open Road Films release. (Credit: Courtesy of Open Road Films)

Outside of this, your schedule seems to remain non-stop. Is there anything else you’ve got in the can in addition to touring and everything else?
There’s always something. No grass growing out of these feet! Last year was a joy. We didn’t do as much touring as we usually would. But the energy of those shows made up for it. At this point, you just cross your fingers and hope that the gigs actually happen. Because that’s the best part. Making horror films is fun, but I kinda like rock shows the best.

I mean the MSG reopening and the Forum show with Nandi Bushell were pretty memorable as far as that’s concerned.
The MSG one — we were asked to do that on maybe two and a half or three weeks’ notice. My manager, John [Silva], texted and said, “Hey, do you want to reopen Madison Square Garden?” I said, “Yeah, but when?” And he said in two weeks, and we hadn’t played a show in a fucking year and a half. We just bombed into the rehearsal studio and got ready. But yes, it was worth it.

As for Nandi, long before I was ever involved, she was perhaps the most inspiring person on the Internet. To see someone so filled with love and joy and hope and music. Then that, coupled with this incredible musical ability at such a young age, just blew my mind. I’m sure most everyone felt the same. But to be involved in something that surely brought people three or four minutes of joy in an otherwise really dark time, I was honored. The funniest part about her coming out to Los Angeles is we had never met. We met at soundcheck that day. I knew she was small. I didn’t realize she was that small. I mean, she’s fucking tiny! [Laughs.] I never questioned her abilities. I mean, she plays fucking Tool and Slipknot songs, so how hard could “Everlong” be? Nothing is going to eclipse that moment. When she came out, that same feeling or energy that radiates in every one of her Instagram drumming posts was amplified times 20,000. People were just fucking ecstatic. They were crying. It was fucking amazing.

 

Being at the show and watching Taylor watch her was something else. Just smiling at watching her work.
She’s got a lot of life ahead of her. And I don’t think anyone’s gonna be able to keep up, that’s for sure.

Speaking of that, the pace you manage to maintain — even in the pandemic — seems impossible. Between the book, the doc, touring, making movies and albums, how do you do it all?
2020 was different in that you were reduced to — or restricted to — this new sense of adaptation. So the things that you wanted to do, you could still do, but you had to find another way to do them. That sort of challenge was really exciting to me, to do things differently and be productive. None of this applies to school because I was a terrible student, but in the afternoons as a teenager, I could never take naps because I would hear someone mowing their lawn next door. Or I could hear my mother raking the leaves in the backyard. I’d have this overwhelming sense of guilt that I was relaxing instead of being active or productive. So now, 40 years later, having the opportunity or the availability to pretty much do anything I put my mind to facilitate these ridiculous fucking ideas — I just have the opportunity to do so much shit. Why the fuck would I sit on my ass?

But that being said, oh, my God, I’ve worked shitty jobs that seem like work. None of this seems like work. I hate telling people that my job is work. Every now and then it might seem like work, but it’s not.

Are you going to do any of the celebratory events you set up for the Foos’ 25th anniversary or has that been relegated to the backburner? Like the van tour of hitting the cities from that initial run from 1995.
We’re not doing it this year. I know. Maybe we’ll wait ’til 30 if that fucking van survives. You could imagine the complications of touring today. And then stick all of us in that fucked up old van? There’s no six-feet rule in that.

The other thing is that, to be honest, a lot of the promotional merchandise we had for our 25th anniversary expired in the pandemic. Coors Light made these beer cans that were for our 25th anniversary. I have a fucking case of them downstairs in my fucking refrigerator, and it doesn’t really mean that much anymore.

Wasn’t Chris holding a Coors can in the movie and was that it? Perhaps a little Wayne’s World-esque?
It’s one of those funny things that you don’t consider or realize until you’re making the movie. “OK, Dave, let’s do one more take, but make sure that you hold the logo towards the camera.” I was like, “I get it.”

What do you mean?
Well, this is what happened because we didn’t have any sort of studio funding behind the movie. We funded the whole thing ourselves in order to keep it a secret because we thought, like, “Oh, well also, because who the fuck else is gonna give us money to do something so stupid?” I mean that was the real job. When we saw the budget for the film, a couple people got a little nervous. But I’m like, “Dude, whatever. We’re gonna go do this world tour! We’re gonna play stadiums. All of this is a drop in the fucking bucket, and we’re gonna be on tour for the next two years!” And then the world shuts down…

Fans will be excited for this regardless. Look at the response to the Dee Gees.
I was amazed. And again, Dee Gees is another good example. I got a silly idea. “Let’s make a fucking Bee Gees tribute record and call it Dee Gees.” That was Taylor’s idea.

Well, that’s the other thing. Someone in another interview was asking me, “Are you concerned with what the critics will say about this movie?” I’m like, “Movie critics? No! Why?” I mean, I hope our audience likes it. I hope that people that go out and have a good time with it.

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