In Sunday’s Washington Post, I profiled Dave Grohl. We spoke about the long shadow of Nirvana, the 16-year trajectory of Foo Fighters and the eternal comforts of Springfield, Virginia. But Grohl is one of the most garrulous rock stars alive, which means we also talked about Gerry Rafferty, the Beatles and his personal punk rock Joan of Arc. Below are some interview excerpts that didn’t make it into the story.
On his first musical memories: I have two really strong musical memories from being a child. One of them was driving out to Pohick [Bay], sort of near where I lived and hearing “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty. I think I was maybe six or seven years old and we had this tan Ford Maverick... I’m in the front listening to AM radio with my mom, still wet from swimming in the lake, hearing Gerry Rafferty. It was this moment of adolescent introspection. I don’t know what I had to think about so deeply, but that song actually made me feel something. Another one is 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love.” Those two songs were really big moments in my musical memory. I can picture in my mind what I felt hearing those songs.
On the early influence of the Beatles: I think I really fell in love with the idea of being a musician when I heard the Beatles for the first time. There was something about the four of them together as a group that I thought was cool – like they were a gang, or they were brothers, or they were a team or something. It wasn’t just a person with an instrument, it was like this mini-army. When you’re a kid growing up in the suburbs, playing soccer and playing in the creek with your friends and spray painting walls with your little neighborhood gang, being in a band seemed like something similar. All I wanted to do was be in a rock band with my best friends.
(On why you shouldn’t let your kids listen to Psychic TV, and drumming with nerds in mind — after the jump.)
On his first time on stage: The first time I performed in front of anyone, I was in, I think, sixth grade. My mother was a high school English teacher at Jefferson. She was one of the drama coaches...They were doing a production of “The King and I” and my mom said, “You should try out for this, you’d really be great, you should try out for this.” And I did it just to sort of please her. But the day before my friend... and I were in my living room and I said, “Dude, I really don’t want to do this, I really don’t want to be in this play.” So I thought if I screamed as hard as I could, I’d blow out my voice and I’d get to the audition and be like, “I’m sorry, I just can’t. I lost my voice!” And so I screamed into a pillow for like two [expletive] hours. And it worked! I blew out my voice. But I still had to go to the audition. So I got there and the drama teacher, one of them, was like, “It’s okay, you can sing anything. Sing anything.” So I sat there with an acoustic guitar in front of auditorium in front of a ton of people and did “Rocky Raccoon.” And it sounded like [expletive-expletive]!
On the cousin who turned him on to punk rock: I got to Chicago that summer – I think it was 1983 – and we show up and my cousin is punk rock. She has Doc Martens and bondage pants, head shaved... I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. She was like Joan of Arc... She took me, a couple nights later, to see this band. And I had never been to a concert. I’d never been to a big rock concert. And I got to see the band Naked Raygun, who are a legendary Chicago punk rock band. And I got to stand right there against the stage and they were amazing and people were slam-dancing and it just [expletive] changed everything for me.
On the Washington’s early hardcore scene: There were cliques. There weren’t too many [jerks], but there were cliques. The skinheads hung out with the skinheads, the older punks hung out with the older punks... It was not unlike Seattle in the early ’90s. You had five or six venues, ten or twenty bands that played as hard as they could, a couple hundred people that you’d see at every show.
On his hometown of Springfield: I never wanted to live in Seattle. I never wanted to live anywhere but Springfield, Virginia. I really didn’t. I dropped out of high school. I worked jobs like furniture warehouses and masonry. I just assumed that that would be my destiny… I was never gonna go to college and be a lawyer or a doctor. I thought, “Well, as long as I work hard and I’m somewhat creative and have that spirit of independence, I’ll make it.” I don’t need much. I have friends who are freelance electricians that feed their families in Springfield.
On why it’s still hard for him to play the drums: Even when I first went out to play with Queens of the Stone Age, I had a picture of Krist Novoselic on my drums every night. And that was 2002.
On what makes a Foo Fighters performance great: To me, the most important thing is that the band is vibing with each other on the stage. There are some nights you’ll have audiences that are listening and not pummeling the [expletive] out of each other. And then there are nights when you have audiences that are pummeling the [expletive] out of each other. Both of those things can be inspiring.
On what it’s like working with “Nevermind” producer Butch Vig again: You laugh. You drink too much coffee. You turn things up. Make the chorus bigger. He keeps trying to put harmonies on everything. “I don’t want it that sweet.” [Butch is like,] “Make it sweeter! Make it sweeter!”
On how the new Foo Fighters documentary debunks his Mr. Nice Guy reputation: For years I’ve been called the nicest guy in rock and then people watch the movie. I’ve been asked by more than one journalist, like, “Wait, you’re kind of a jerk!”
On wild rock music and being a dad: Growing up on difficult music – the more dissonant, the more complicated, the more Satanic, the more brash and disgusting, the better. I don’t know how my mother dealt with that [stuff]. She let me be me and she’s an amazing person. But as a father now, if my daughter walked in with a Psychic TV single, I’d be like, “Get that the [expletive] out of here!”
On how contemporary rock drumming sounds too clean: My favorite drummers — Bonham, Moon, Jeff Nelson, Reed Mullin from C.O.C., Earl from the Bad Brains – nobody cleaned them up. That’s why we like them… I feel so sorry for drummers these days. They listen to modern radio and everyone sounds like a [expletive] machine. Don’t get me started.
On the importance of writing drum fills for nerds [ahem] to memorize: Not kidding — my intention when I write a drum part or go in to play drums on someone’s record is to make five dorks like you air drum... That’s what I would explain to Taylor [Hawkins, the Foo Fighters’ drummer] in the studio, too. He’d throw in some Phil Collins [stuff]. Dooh-dooh —dooh-dooh—dooh-dooh. And I’d be like, “No, dude! You want some, like, Tony Thompson, Brrrack-a-koo-brrrrak.!”