Dave Grohl on the Foos’ Tour, Classic-Rock Retirements and Lost Nirvana Reunion Footage
The Foo Fighters frontman talks about everything from the glories of Meg White to the loss of Tom Petty and why he could never replace Neil Peart
Dave Grohl had a day off in Memphis yesterday, so he dropped by Graceland, which got him thinking about Elvis Presley as just another kid with a guitar trying to deal with “the effect that young stardom can have.” But unlike Presley and certain other tortured souls, Grohl seems built for the long haul, in part because he enjoys the journey so much. He’s currently on a world tour with Foo Fighters, who released the strong, Greg Kurstin-produced Concrete and Gold in September. Twenty-three years into the band’s career, Grohl talks about the shows like he’s just getting started. “It’s probably uncool to say,” he says, “but honestly, I’m just scanning the audience all night trying to get each and every one of them out of their seats. And if I get a whole audience standing for three hours, then I walk offstage like, ‘That was a good show. We had them fucking jamming.’’”
So how much coffee have you had today?
Maybe six cups. A reasonable amount to get my day started.
You were having caffeine-induced chest pains. Any plans to cut back?
You realize you’re talking to someone that’s never done cocaine in his life. You can only imagine what would happen if I got my face in a pile of that shit. We wouldn’t be on the phone right now. But after I got my diagnosis that I should decaffeinate, I tried decaf for, like, a week, and I came to the conclusion that decaf blows.
Have you attempted to quit smoking?
You know, I quit smoking. I kind of go back and forth. I get on it and then I get off it and then I get on it and I get off it. I was off for eight years and then I got on it and then I was off it for years. With quitting anything, you have to have that gut feeling that turns into, you know, like a physical epiphany where you’re just like, “Oof, this is not good.” I remember I actually quit smoking in Nashville, ten years ago just from feeling like shit on the road and it took. It really lasted a long time.
How do you feel about seeing classic-rock acts retire?
I started thinking about it at the 12/12/12 concert, where you had all the greats — McCartney, the Stones, the Who, Roger Waters. And most of those people came from a specific time frame. I was thinking, “Well, God. Does that mean at some point there’s going to be that window closing, and it’s gonna dissipate really quickly?”
Have you grappled with the idea that you guys – and bands like Pearl Jam and Guns N’ Roses – will be stepping into their shoes to an extent?
I would never put ourselves in that category or that echelon. But it’s weird. First of all, I can’t believe we’re still a band [after] 20-whatever years. And I can’t believe we’re playing arenas and stadiums. And that it’s gotten to this point where I look out at the audience and I don’t just see Foo Fighters T-shirts anymore. I see people in their sixties and seventies. I see kids that are 10 years old, teenagers, and it seems to me that when we come to town, people hear there’s a rock show and they just come on out. So we’ve gotten to the point where I think that we represent something . . . um . . . general [laughs]. You know?
And what does reaching that point mean to you?
The band is such a huge part of our lives, but not the only part of our lives. So, when we’re out here doing it, we’re focused on what we have to do every night. I don’t think anyone’s really taken the grand scheme into consideration. In fact, okay, I mean I know I have to be down in the lobby in 45 minutes. So, I gotta pack my bag, I gotta take a shower, I gotta get down to the bus, I gotta go over to the gig, and then I gotta read a setlist, then I have to have a Coors Light, get up on stage and play for three hours, then I have to walk off stage and eat a piece of pizza and get in my bunk. Like, that’s all I’m focused on right now. [laughs] And there’s so many great rock and roll bands that I feel have the same opportunity that we had. The path isn’t overgrown. There are bands that can still do it. I mean, don’t you imagine that at some point the Arctic Monkeys will be doing the same thing? I bet they will. I was just texting with a friend of mine from Cage the Elephant. I would imagine at some point, they’ll be in the same position.
You played with Tom Petty. That’s a loss everyone’s still feeling.
I know. That was a tough one. I saw him maybe a week before he died. I saw his last show, and and it was wonderful. It was exuberant and beautiful and happy and sounded amazing and the band was better than I had seen them in a long time and … and then he’s gone. It’s hard to believe he’s gone, but fortunately we have his music. That was a real tough one. That one hurt a lot.
Listening to the new album, it feels like Greg Kurstin really helped you push your arrangements farther than you’ve ever gone. What did you learn from him?
Oh, my God. He is without a doubt the most talented musician slash producer I have ever met in my entire life. I honestly would put him up there with Brian Wilson or George Martin. It sounds insane, but I am not kidding. He can [co-]write and arrange a song as simple as “Hello” by Adele or make the most fucked up Beck song you’ve ever heard in your life. You can watch him draft and demo a quartet string arrangement in about eight minutes. All the strings and the harmonies in “The Sky Is A Neighborhood,” that crazy fucking Fantasia Disney section? He did that in about five minutes. And you listen and you’re like, “What fucking planet are you from, man? ” I thought it would be exciting to work with him because typically with the Foo Fighters, we don’t really work with people we don’t know. I had known Greg for a few years before we went in to make the record and I only met him because I recognized him from the band that he’s in, the Bird and the Bee. I didn’t even know he was a fucking producer. But I thought, you know, since he’s a friend and since he [won] producer of the year, why not still make a rock record? Which he had never done.
When you’re trying to make melodic hard rock, the two things can sometimes clash. What do you do to try to achieve some balance?
Well, it always starts with the melody. Always. So, all of those songs were written on an acoustic guitar. I mean whether it’s “Run” or “Sky Is A Neighborhood,” any of those. They were written on an acoustic and before I even take it to the next step, I make sure that they’d have some sort of melody braided around the riff. Noise is easy. I have to be honest. Like, I know that people are, you know, romanced by the idea of noise and drone, but the fucking challenge really is making something that’s simple with melody. And then it changes live. Like, I was listening to the studio version of one of our songs the other day that we play every night and I was just like, “Oh, my god, that sounds so tame.” Because then when we get out on stage, it’s just like a fucking bulldozer. And it’s a three hour show, so the 45 minutes we’re going on I feel like, “Oh, god. I gotta run this fucking marathon again.” And the first five or six songs, we don’t even stop. I don’t even say hello until we’re an hour into the show, and that’s when it starts to get fun. We just do what we do. I don’t really know how to do anything else.
You recently called Lil Pump the new punk rock. What do you actually like about “Gucci Gang”?
Pat Smear and I had this conversation as we both became huge fans of Lil Pump, because imagine playing a Germs record for your father who was a classically trained musician. What do you think he would think? When I was a kid listening to punk rock, all I wanted was noise and rebellion, whether it was satanic death metal or industrial noise. If anybody dug into my record collection then, it’s like, “This is noise!” I love a good trap beat and a nice 808. And one of the things I love the most about “Gucci Gang” is it’s two minutes long. It’s like a DRI song or a Minor Threat song. Look, I’m not going out and getting face tattoos anytime soon, but if [Lil Pump’s] “D Rose” comes on, I am down.
What’s going on with a second season of Sonic Highways?
Well, we’ve been working on it for six years now, and . . . I’m kidding. That door is always open. And a lot of great things have stemmed from that series. There are now kids in schools across the country making their own Sonic Highways about the little towns where they live. I still have the concept for the second season, so, someday.
The night of Nirvana’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, you and Krist played an all-star show of Nirvana songs at a tiny club in Brooklyn – and you filmed it all. What’s going to happen with that footage?
I don’t know. When we realized that we were going to do it, I just called the people from my production company and said, “We need to film this,” and we loaded some cameras in there and and shot it without knowing what would ever come of it. But it would be a shame for that evening to be only a memory and and we’ve got it. And it was fucking great. It was cathartic and everybody involved, I think, understood that they were part of something like a dream.. I remember playing and looking and seeing Carrie Brownstein in the front row in the pit singing along to every song and, you know, getting to play drums behind Joan Jett or, god, playing “School” or fucking “Pennyroyal Tea” with J Mascis. It really was amazing. It was something else. Someday, I’m sure everybody’ll see it.
When you play, say, “Everlong,” are you still connecting with the original emotion behind it?
Oh, yeah. There are nights where you’re thinking about what toppings are on the pizza on the bus and whether you need to do laundry tomorrow, but when you launch into a song like that, it immediately brings you back. We’re not robots. What chokes me up is when I see people singing lyrics back to me with the same emotion. So if you hear me kind of giggling in the middle of a song, it’s because I’m trying not to just fucking totally break down in front of everybody like a fool [laughs].
“There are nights where you’re thinking about what toppings are on the pizza on the bus. But when you launch into a song like ‘Everlong,’ it immediately brings you back.”
Neil Peart is retired. What would you do if Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson asked you to play drums for Rush on a tour?
I would say, “I’m not physically or musically capable, but thanks for the offer.” Neil Peart, that’s a whole other animal, another species of drummer. I know the arrangements, but I’m like Meg White to Neil Peart. And she’s one of my favorite drummers! She’s my daughter’s favorite drummer, too. My daughter plays drums to two types of music: White Stripes and AC/DC. I’m like, “That’s exactly what you need to be doing.”
Questlove had a lot of praise for Meg when I talked to him recently – he was explaining how she plays ahead of the beat in a really interesting way.
She is one of those drummers that if you hear 15 seconds of her recording, you’ll know who it is and that to me has always been the gold standard. That’s always been the challenge. You want to know when you hear it, like, you’re like, “Oh, that’s John Bonham. Oh, that’s Charlie Watts. That’s Ringo. That’s Stewart Copeland. That’s Meg White.” And that’s not easy to do. That means you’re playing from the heart. No, she’s great, man. I mean honestly. Like the doorbell song [“My Doorbell”]? Ugh. Come on. One of my favorite drum beats of all time. That’s a classic. It’s a riff. You know? It’s songwriting, but with sticks in your hands. It’s fucking great.
Finally, I was reading an interview with your mom where she said that her biggest fear about you becoming famous was that “Madonna would snatch him up.” Did she ever express that to you?
Yes. She did, actually. [laughs] Like, right around the Truth or Dare movie. “I don’t want you to date her.” I’m like, “Mom, don’t worry. As if.” She’s pretty funny. Gotta love your momma.