(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
Q: We're going to talk about your new record, "Medicine at Midnight." But first I want to ask, how is your mother doing and has she gotten the shot?
A: Mom’s doing good. She has not gotten the shot yet, but she’s 83 years old. So she’s eligible. She’s doing really well. I mean, she is my favorite person to talk to. I love talking to her about music or politics or food or whatever. She’s an easy hang and very cool.
Q: I want to ask you about a solo on your new record — on "Medicine at Midnight," the actual song. Who is playing that solo?
A: Chris Shiflett, who’s a brilliant guitarist. I think he sits around on YouTube and learns stuff — okay, that’s just something we don’t do. And this is the recipe of the Foo Fighters. Drummer Taylor Hawkins and our bass player, Nate Mendel, they work together. Taylor works my band like he’s Buddy Rich. He’s the one that’s yelling like trying to make things right. And then Pat and I try not to care. We have a saying in this: “If it gets any better, it’s going to get worse.” We use this as our mantra.
Q: So you were in Nirvana with Kurt Cobain. But I was doing a brain twister, trying to think if there's another example of a fellow who's in a band where he plays drums or bass or whatever, and then he goes into another band later and that band is arguably more popular, bigger, and he's writing the songs and singing them. Is there a point late in Nirvana where you're thinking, "I've got all these songs. I'm like George Harrison here, how do I get them out?"
A: Well, it all goes back to that famous joke. What was the last thing the drummer said before he was kicked out of the band? “Hey, guys, I got a couple of songs I think we should play.” But listen, when you’re in a band with someone who’s arguably the best songwriter of that generation, you don’t really want to confuse the process with some “Yellow Submarine.” And it was not only an honor, but an incredible pleasure to play drums in Nirvana, because those songs, all they required was like disco drums on crack. Just make the biggest, most simple noise to push those songs through the speakers.
So in starting the Foo Fighters, I didn’t have a plan. I’d been recording songs on my own, but in a basement studio where I’d have these ideas and I would record them really quickly. And I was sort of nervous or embarrassed, too shy to play them for other people. But after Nirvana was over, I just didn’t know what to do. I mean, the world’s turned upside down. And I was kind of traumatized. And then I thought, “Well, I’ve been playing music since I was a child and it saved my entire life.” So that’s when I went in to record what became the first record.
Q: First of all, I don't want you to slag on "Yellow Submarine." It's an excellent song. It might be about a submarine. But in all seriousness, because, you'll brush it off, but you're an artist and you have the ability to do things other people can't do with songwriting and singing and melody. I mean, if people haven't heard it, this song "Waiting on a War" is special. But if Nirvana had continued on and on, it sounds like you never had a plan to come out and make your own music.
A: I mean, it’s really kind of fascinating to me to think — well, to be honest, it was something other than some sort of vanity project pressure release. One of the things that inspired me to do it was Stewart Copeland [of the Police]. You know, he did a side project called Klark Kent. So, someone played me that record before telling me who it was, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is cool. It kind of sounds like the Police.” They said, “It’s Stewart Copeland.” And I thought, “Wow, how cool that dude gets to be in the Police, but he’s also doing this other really cool thing.” And that really was a big part of the inspiration behind the Foo Fighters.