The Once & Footure King
Montreal Mirror 1997
Mirror: I just heard that The Colour and the Shape is platinum in Canada [100,000 copies sold]...
Dave Grohl: Oh really! Wow, that's great!
M: And that Canada was the Foo Fighters' "best territory" in the world, as the record companies say.
DG: I think that it actually might be. Canada and Malaysia--or Thailand--I swear to God!
M: Does that mean anything to you?
DG: Not really. But it amazes me when someone gives me news like that. I always feel pretty blown away.
M: Does it still surprise you that this kind of music, pretty raw indie rock, is as popular as it is?
DG: Yeah, it still kind of blows me away. I never thought that the music I loved listening to as a teenager, when I was in high school, this kind of music... I mean, back then you'd get your ass kicked if you listened to punk rock or anything that wasn't Top 40 radio. And now it seems like you'd get your ass kicked if you didn't.
M: Since Nirvana, you've been in bands that have sold a lot of records. Honestly, despite your indie roots, do you think now you'd be disappointed if you put out a record and it didn't go gold?
DG: Not really, because our intention is not to go out and sell millions of records. I'm fortunate enough to have been in a band that's done that once, and I'm still amazed that our albums sell more than Fugazi records, or something like that. I remember hearing a long time ago that Fugazi had sold 100,000 records and that, to me, is still a lot of records.
M: The new album sounds different from the first one because you did it with the band this time. But beyond that, what were you shooting for with The Colour and the Shape?
DG: The first album was recorded in about five days [with all the instruments played by Grohl], and I really didn't pay much attention to the production or the arrangements. It was just "Get in the studio and get it done." But for this album we did pre-production, we hired a producer and we wanted there to be unconventional arrangements. We just wanted to go in and make kind of a slick rock record, and I think that we did.
M: I had the word "slick" typed down here too, but I do like the bigger sound. Did you seek out producer Gil Norton because of his work with the Pixies?
DG: We went with Gil because on all of his albums he manages to get some sort of clarity, even in the dirtiest sound. But the biggest reason we hired him was because of the arrangements on the last Pixies album, Trompe Le Monde. They're all so bizarre, and he let me in on how they did a lot of them. Some of them are mathematical, like the first half of a song would mirror the second half, and stuff like that. And he just seemed like such a character.
M: Do you think that the Pixies might have been Nirvana, I mean the first "alternative" group to break big, if the timing had been right for them?
DG: I think so. We were all kind of blown away that they never made it big. There are songs on their last album that really could have been radio songs. They could have been MTV's new favourite band, but they weren't. And they broke up just as Jane's Addiction were becoming huge, and then Charles went on to do his Frank Black stuff and Kim went on to do the Breeders stuff. But they were a huge influence on so many people because they were really a pop band, but they were fucking weird.
M: It's funny that we're talking about the Pixies because I regard you in a similar way as Kim Deal: you're both the dark horse to come out of these influential bands. I don't think many people bet on either of you, after those bands ended.
DG: I think one of the similarities between me and Kim is that we weren't the principal songwriters in the band, and the principal songwriters of each respective band were kind of genius, you know? I mean, I thought Kurt was amazing, I thought he was a genius. And I think that Charles from the Pixies is a genius. So when you're in a band like that, it's not that you're being so controlled by the person who's the songwriter, but you don't want to pollute the process. I didn't want to bring songs into Nirvana because they just weren't as good as the songs Kurt wrote. So I think when you make it out of a band like that and you do an album of your own, people are really shocked. They've always just considered you as part of the backing band.
M: So how did you react when a lot of people felt that Foo Fighters sounded quite a bit like Nirvana, that you sounded a lot like Kurt?
DG: Well, one of the reasons I joined Nirvana is because we all shared a love of the same types of music. I remember being on the phone with Kurt before I joined the band, and he asked, "What kind of music do you listen to?" And I said, "Well, I really like Neil Young, and I really like Hüsker Dü, and I love the Beatles, and I love Black Flag and The Knack and Public Enemy." My reaction to everyone who asked why the first album sounded so much like Nirvana was just that a) the drums probably sound the same because I was the drummer of that band as well, and b) loud guitar pop-rock-punk stuff is not something that Nirvana invented, you know? I always go back to Hüsker Dü: they were one of our biggest influences. So there's just nothing new about this kind of music, and it's the kind of music I really love to play. When I get on stage and bounce around I want it to be like it was when I was 14 in front of the Hüsker Dü stage, watching them rock out.
M: Is it a fine line to walk, trying to move on and do your own thing but always being tied to the fact that you were in Nirvana?
DG: No, I'm very proud to have been in that band. I mean, it's a huge part of my life. It was like four or five years of my life.
M: Not that you wouldn't be proud, but just trying to move on from that time?
DG: It's gotten a lot easier. I actually haven't talked about Nirvana so much in an interview in a long time. With the first album it was pretty taxing and it got to be a pain in the ass, but lately it's been pretty simple.
M: Fans must want to talk about Nirvana with you?
DG: You know, a lot of these kids that come to our shows didn't even have a CD player when Nirvana was a band. A nine-year-old kid will come to a Foo Fighters show and say, "Oh my god, that's my first concert." Or someone will say, "I really love Nirvana," and a little kid will say, "Who?" These are tiny kids, mind you.
M: But I think in trying to move on you might upset some people sometimes. Like the reader who wrote to Spin after the cover story on you [July 1997] and said, "I've got some news for Dave Grohl: If it wasn't for a certain band that was so 'nuts,' 'crazy,' and full of 'bullshit' and 'drama,' the Foo Fighters would still be playing for beer at the local hokey-pokey bar. The next time you talk about your Nirvana past, give credit where credit is due."
DG: Well, duh. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out.
M: But what would you say to someone like that?
DG: I'd say exactly what I just said.
M: But obviously he's ticked that you seem to be taking a shot at this band that got you where you are.
DG: Well, obviously he's wrong.
M: Okay. You announced at the MTV Video Awards that guitarist Pat Smear was leaving Foo Fighters. When did he let you know of his intention?
DG: He let us know about that a really long time ago, like four months ago. He just said that he was tired of going on tour and that he wanted to do more TV stuff [Smear, ex-Germs and former Nirvana sideman, is a correspondent for MTV's House Of Style]. And they're doing a movie about the Germs, and he wanted to work on that. So we totally respected that.
M: It seems as if you really looked up to him for his experience.
DG: Oh, definitely.
M: For example, you told Spin, "I'll be on stage and feeling insecure, like I'm ripping people off because I'm a drummer, not a singer and a guitar player, and I turn around and see Pat--"
DG: Right, no, I remember saying that. Well, imagine this: Franz Stahl is now in the band. I've known him since I was 16 years old. And here's the guy that kind of taught me how to play rock guitar and write songs when I was in Scream, because he was the guitar player for Scream. He's like a brother to me. So now I feel so safe on stage, looking over and knowing that here's this incredible musician who's like a family member to me, and I feel OK.
M: OK, good. Well thanks for enduring all the old questions, Dave.
DG: No sweat!
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