Dave Grohl is a lesson to us all: he was a model student until he started 'smoking pot' and discovered loud music. All he's done with his life since then is play in the best band of the '90s and form the Foo Fighters.
Twelve years later, the drummer grins as the memories come flooding back. Reclining in one of the many anonymous bedrooms of a typically faceless hotel deep in the heartland of America, he's fondly reminiscing over the follies of his youth.
Over the course of an hour, he'll talk about everything from the time he spent in Nirvana to the insane dreams he had last night, elaborating wildly about his love of hardcore and skirting around the issue of his current love-life. This, ladies and gentlemen, is 'Dave Grohl: The Inside Story'...
Can you remember much about your early childhood?
"I was born in Warren, Ohio, right around Kent State University, which is where four students were shot in 1969 on an anti-Vietnam protest. When I was three, we moved to Springfield, Virginia. My Dad worked as a writer for a newspaper company, and he needed to be nearer Washington. My Mom and Dad moved back to Ohio. I ended up staying with my Mom and older sister. The three of us were a very close family."
Did their divorce affect you?
"No, I was so young I didn't understand it. And by the time got a hold of the situation, it was too late for me to have a freak-out. It just seemed abnormal for all my friends to have a father. I thought growing-up with my mother and sister was just the way it was supposed to be."
What were you like as a child?
"Hyperactive. Extremely. I recently went back to my Mom's. I was rummaging through old photos and I started finding my old report cards, and all of them requested conferences with my mother to talk about my hyperactivity. They always said the same thing: 'David could be a great student if he could just stay in his fucking seat'. I got pretty good grades until I got into high school. Then I started smoking pot and I couldn't give a shit about anything."
Were you bullied at school?
"Not at all. I was able to get along with anybody. I got along with the stoners, I got along with the geeks - I got along with pretty much everyone."
Do you keep in contact with the people you grew up with?
"Yeah, there's a few. There's one friend I have who comes on the road with us. Usually, every time I go back to Virginia they're all still there. I think it's important to keep those people in your life; it keeps things in perspective."
Have you ever been back home and have somebody give you a hard time because you're famous?
"Yeah, but it's so ridiculous. When you're in a band that starts getting a lot of attention, and people start seeing your face in magazines and hearing your music on the radio, they think you've changed just because you're no longer the kid who sat next to them in science class. It happened a couple of times when Nirvana first became popular - I would go home and people would go, 'Oooh, he's a big rock star now'. I'd be, like, 'What's the problem? What did I do wrong?'."
You wrote the song 'Hey, Johnny Park!' as a plea for an old school friend to get in touch. Has he?
"No, and I'm pissed! I wanna talk to that guy. I'll find him. We're playing Washington DC soon, so I'll drag him onstage and exploit him."
What inspired you to pick up an instrument?
"My Mom and Dad were musicians - he was a flautist, she was a singer in these acapella groups. My mother bought my father this nylon-stringed Spanish acoustic guitar one Christmas. I just picked it up and played around with it. I drove my Mom insane. Eventually she just said, 'Go take lessons'."
What turned you on to hardcore?
"I had this cousin, Tracy, who lived up in Chicago. For three weeks every year, we'd drive up to visit her family. We showed up one year and Tracy was not the old Tracy we knew. She was now punk rock Tracy. And it was fucking wild, man. I'd only seen punks on TV, never in real life. She was part of this unbelievable underground network that I totally fell in love with. She took me to see a punk rock show, and from then on that was it. I had my first band Freak Baby, in Virginia when I was 14. Then I went through Mission Impossible and Dain Bramage, and in 1987 I joined Scream, who were quite a big local band."
Was it a big step to go from a cult act like Scream to a band like Nirvana?
"Not at the time. Scream ended in 1990 because our bass player, Skeeter, disappeared in the middle of the tour. The rest of us were stranded in LA, when I heard the Melvins were playing. I called Buzz (Osbourne, Melvins singer), and he said that Nirvana were looking for a drummer, and that Kurt and Krist had seen a Scream show in San Francisco and they really liked my drumming. I'd heard 'Bleach', and I thought it was pretty cool. I wasn't the biggest fan in the world, but I thought some of their songs were really great and some of Kurt's lyrics were really hilarious. I called Krist, and hey already had Dan Peters from Mudhoney. Then about four hours later he called back and said 'You know what, amybe you should come up here.'"
Did you expect things to take off like they did?
"No, because when I flew up to Seattle I'd never seen them play before. We went down to the show and there were 2,000 people there. It was amazing, because they were'nt punk rock kids. Kurt would say, 'This next song is called 'About A Girl'!', and the place would just freak out."
Were you over-awed by their success?
"Fuck no. The first time we came to England, I thought it was great. We were playing places that held a thousand people, staying in nice hotels. When I was in Scream, we were living off five dollars a day, sleeping in the van, on floors. So to be playing in places, having my own bed and being able to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day was a big deal to me."
Were you ever tempted to live the rock 'n' roll lifestyle?
"Fuck no - it's so ridiculous. The DC hardcore scene was all about sharing, about being part of this big community. When I was 19, I took some acid and went to see this Monsters Of Rock show that featured Kingdom Come, Dokken, Metallica, the Scorpions and Van Halen. It was a fucking comedy - like, 'Why is this person leaping around in ballet slippers with bandanas around his microphone? What the fuck is that all about?'. Even when everything went haywire with Nirvana it made no sense to do that sort of thing."
Did the supposed rivalry between Nirvana and Pearl Jam bother you?
"It wasn't between me and anybody in Pearl Jam. I wasn't fueding with anybody. I didn't really like their music, but I'd met them before and they were okay people. The whole thing was really stupid. That sort of shit just makes really good copy. The Nirvana vs Pearl Jam thing was fuelled by MTV and lots of magazines. It turned it into something that it really wasn't."
Were you ever scared of going it alone with Foo Fighters?
"The first Foo Fighters album wasn't supposed to be this major release. It was recorded down the street from my house in five days. Had I intended it to be a full release, I would have spent more than five days on it! I just wanted to put it out without my name on it, then it turned into the band."
Were you ever tempted to join another band?
"Well, I almost joined Tom Petty's band. I really like him a lot. I was asked to play on 'Saturday Night Live' with them, and I had so much fun and they were all really nice people. They made me feel like part of the band. I was really close to doing it. This was two weeks after I'd recorded the Foo Fighters stuff, so I decided to stick with that. I had crazy offers - Danzig asked me to play drums with them. I very politely declined...
How do you relax when you're not playing music?
"I don't. I sleep, that's all. Music is everything. It's all I do. I swear to God. I don't have time to do anything else. Actually, yesterday I had the day off. It was the first day off I'd had in a really long time. You know what I did: I sat around and watched movies, then went down to the bar, drank tequila and played pool. That's a beautiful day off.
Do you stay loyal to your friends?
"Oh, definitely. I think that's a trait of all Capricorns. I worry about upsetting other people. I have no idea why. I guess it's because I've always been afraid of disappointing people."
What characteristics do you admire in other people?
"A sense of humor, real quick wit, mainly. Strength, integrity, honesty and loyalty, too. Pretentious posing is guaranteed to put me off someone. I really hate people who feel the need to act. I can tell when people are putting it on. I hate schmoozers. I can't fucking stand it when people kiss your ass."
Do you have any major character flaws?
"The inability to say no! To anything. Which goes hand-in-hand with my fear of disappointing people."
Do you ever regret anything you've said or done immediately afterwards?
"No, never really immediately afterwards. There are a few things that I regret long-term. Things that I wouldn't really want to share with anyone."
What was the last dream you had??
"Man, I had insane dreams last night, but I can't remember what they were. I had more dreams last night than I've had in ages, because I had about 10 hours sleep, and that's a lot for me - I only usually get five or six hours."
If you had to put your life in anyone's hands, whose would it be?
Have you ever visited a shrink?
"Oh yes, although I haven't done it in a while. When I was married, it was, 'Okay, we have to go see the marriage consellor'. It's too much to go into right now."
Do you ever think about old age?
"Not really. When I was 12, I thought for sure that I would die before I was 16, because 16 is when you get your driver's licence. When I was 16 thought I'd be dead before I was 18, because when you're 18 you're old enough to drink. I can't imagine myself being 50 years old. I just can't see that far into the future. I'm 30 next, and I don't think that'll make any difference to my life. I feel exactly the same as i did when I was 18 years old. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or not."
Have you ever thought about quitting music??
"No, not at all."
Could you afford to retire?
"We'll see what happens after my divorce!"
If you could change one thing, what would it be?
"If I could change one thing?...I wish that Kurt was still alive."
Words: Dave Everley
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